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Hi. I’m Joey. Nice to meet you. Would you like me to write about the number one thing holding people back from growing their careers?
An awkward way to start an article, yeah? It’s awkward because I’m asking for permission to talk about what I’d like to talk about instead of just talking. I’m waiting for permission to do what I’d like to do. Now this is silly for sure, but it’s not a whole lot different from how most people approach their careers. We wait for permission to get hired, get promoted, and grow in our careers. So often we let our success ride on what someone else allows us to do. So, I’m going to go ahead and talk about the number one thing holding people back from growing in their careers—we wait for permission first.
Being Outside Focused
Let me explain what I mean. When most people look for a job, or try to climb the corporate ladder through promotions, they focus on how to convince other people to think they’re awesome. They ask questions like:
• How do I write an effective resume that will get the employers’ attention?
• What are the “right” answers to the interview questions?
• How do I ask for a promotion?
• What can I do with this major or this job experience?
These are all legit questions, for sure. But the assumption behind all of them is that to advance we have to get permission from someone else, and that becomes the sole focus. To advance we write and re-write resumes, study interview questions, and read books on promotions and career aptitude. These are all activities that represent an outside focus. With an outside focus we try to solve our job search or career problems with a better resume, submitting more applications, being friendlier to a boss, and things like that.
The other option is to have an inside focus. When people focus inside, they honestly consider how valuable their skills and knowledge set are. If they’re not finding success in their job search or getting paid what they’d like, they first think about how much the marketplace needs their skills. When people are inwardly focused, they ask questions like:
• How can I improve this skill to make it more valuable to the marketplace?
• What skill can I learn that would advance my career?
• Is there any knowledge I lack that’s holding me back?
Definitely a different starting point, wouldn’t you say? When someone is inside focused, they take ownership of their career. Instead of hoping other people will make opportunities for them, they make their own.
Outside vs. Inside Focus
The best way I know to illustrate the difference between an outside and an inside focus when it comes to careers, is to talk a bit about resumes. So first off, raise your hand if you’ve ever exaggerated some of your past job responsibilities on a resume. Let’s be honest, we always exaggerate in our resumes. Most of us don’t outright lie (and if you do, stop), but we certainly imply that we had more responsibility and more success in our previous positions than we did in reality. For example, in one job I had after college at a corporate law office, I spent about 35 hours a week looking through old newspapers from the 20s and 30s looking for certain advertisements. (Don’t ask). That mindlessly unimpressive task earned “Performed detailed research to obtain and gather case-relevant data and materials.” Technically, that was true, but it definitely implies I was more impressive than I actually was.
Now why did I “pretty up” my crappy job task? Well, I was outside focused. I wanted to portray my experiences in a way that sounded impressive to an employer so that he’d give me permission to work. What would I have done if I were inwardly focused? Well, the first thing I would have realized is that that task in no way represented any real skill I had. If I had to include that bit of information in my resume, then I really needed to build some better skills…quick.
Moving from an Outside to Inside Focus
First of all, no career focus can be completely inside focused. We’ll still have to convince someone else to hire us, or promote us, or purchase our product. But if we are primarily inside focused we’ll build more valuable skills, and experiences, and achievements that will make it significantly easier to sell ourselves. Now it’s all well and good to talk about Outside versus Inside as an idea, but it means nothing if there’s no way to implement.
So here’s my call to action for you. I recommend you start this process by going through your latest resume and re-writing it by being brutally honest. So, “Performed detailed research to obtain and gather case-relevant data and materials” is now “Sat in front of a microfilm machine looking for ads in old newspapers for 35 hours a week.” After you finish and have a brutally honest resume (don’t send it to an employer) take out everything that you wouldn’t want to talk about in an interview. Look for the holes and ask yourself these questions:
• What are my biggest strengths and selling points?
• Which skills do I need to enhance or build more proof for?
• What skills should I start learning
• What can I do now to start adding value to what I can honestly support on my resume?
That brutal self evaluation is the best way I know to start focusing inside for your career search so that you can move away from waiting for permission, and toward taking control of your own destiny.
So think about your own life and career situation. When it comes to your career do you have an Inside Focus or an Outside focus? How are you waiting for permission to grow? What’s the one thing you can start working on today?
About the Author: Joey Weber is an expert on career growth and marketability. You can learn more about what he does at his personal site www.joeyweber.net.
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