Career Link: Career management, Step 1

A few months ago, I authored a column for SecurityInfoWatch titled "Six Steps to Managing Your Career". In the column I argued that by following six steps to manage your career -- understanding your values, skills and interests; focusing on your future profession; setting clear goals based on your strengths; knowing your next step; obtaining new learning and skills you will need; and establishing a diverse communication network -- you can increase your chances of job success and satisfaction. For the next few months I'd like to drill down on those steps individually.

Step One: Understand your values, skills and interests

This is the foundation upon which many of the other steps depend. Do an internal self evaluation that includes but extends beyond the things you like to do professionally, the types of tasks and projects and elements of managing and leading you enjoy. Self analysis is not an easy process, and I would encourage you to involve family and close friends. If you are like me, you can be too close to the subject, and can use an outside, candid perspective to aid in your journey.

Career counselors and organizations evaluating their leadership teams often use testing instruments that measure certain personal attributes. They do this because there is a correlation between the leader or candidate's personal attributes and how he or she will fit into the organization, as well as a correlation with how that person will do in certain types of jobs. If you want to increase the likelihood that you'll be successful in your next organization and your next position, it would be wise for you to examine these attributes in yourself.

The areas we often see measured include:

Intuition and empathy -- This includes your ability to see differences in people and their personalities and weaknesses. An intuitive and empathetic leader is a caring, kind relationship builder, someone who gives the benefit of the doubt, who is trusting and who brings passion and intensity to work. On the flip side, one might be too soft and trusting, which could be a problem in the security field.
Results orientation and decisiveness -- The ability to get people motivated, to see things through results, and the political and practical orientation that actually works to meet those objectives. How comfortable are you in areas that are not familiar to you? How do you gather information to make decisions and how much information do you need? Are you easily persuaded? Are you decisive and effective in making decisions?
Types of reasoning -- Do you like doing things that are routine? Are you creative in your work? Do you see your thinking as being right, as being black and white? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
Adherence and organization -- The ability to plan, structure and analyze ideas. Paying attention to rules, orders and logic. The ability and desire to submit to rules, policies and processes. These are all good things, but you have to figure out where you are on the organization scale, because if you are really structured and comfortable in your role, you may have a hard time dealing with a corporate culture. Exactly how rigid are you?
Self view -- How do you handle rejection? How do you handle challenges? How do you view your imagination and passion?
Self expectations -- Your personal goals and values. Do you tend to be open or stubborn, driven, or exhibiting a lack of direction -- do you let events drive you?

Sometimes people perceive certain styles or traits as negatives. For instance, some may see empathy as a weakness, regardless of how it manifests. It isn't. If you do this self assessment trying to second guess what you think the best qualities might be, you'll miss the mark.

If you are weak in one of these attributes or areas, it doesn't mean you will do badly. Recognizing where your strengths and weaknesses are gives you an advantage. If you understand that your preferred style may be a little different than what's needed in a certain leadership role, then you know 1) that you may need to look for a different role or organization, or 2) that you need to work on strengthening that attribute. If you develop your career management plan and complete this step before you're even in the market for a new job, you'll have lots of time for self improvement.

Another benefit to doing this type of self assessment in advance is that it really prepares you for the upcoming job search process. Potential employers are likely to ask about your style and preferences and ask for examples, so you're laying the groundwork to think about these things and to develop sincere and well-thought-out responses. And because you'll be better in touch with your own preferences, as you're talking with potential employers you're going to more easily pick on up whether you truly want the job they're offering you.

It's important to look at your skills and preferences and match those to the kinds of job you're looking for. An honest self assessment will help you decide what company you want to work for, whether the position and the organization's expectations are a great fit (past the paycheck), and will prepare you to interview there when the time comes.

Jerry BrennaAbout the author: Jerry Brennan is co-author of the book Security Careers, and content expert faculty for the Security Executive Council. He is also founder of Security Management Resources, the leading global executive search firm specializing exclusively in corporate security. The new edition of Security Careers includes more than 70 security job descriptions and career paths; up-to-date compensation trends for each position; tips on how to get the best compensation for yourself and your staff; comprehensive lists of certifications, member organizations and job resources; and resume tips and samples.

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