Mid-career choices: ‘What’ you do vs ‘how’ you do


While careers are planned for some, for others it is circumstantial.


Mid-career professionals are mature choice makers. They are eminently capable of deciding what works for them. And more importantly, decide whether or not they wish to work for a boss or a CEO.

While every day is similar yet different from the previous day, every century— despite its uniqueness— is left behind for the new order to emerge. The hopes and anxieties at the dawn of one’s career are best felt when the concerned people check back on what they were thinking when they started their careers.

A career can be defined as a sequence of positions, successions, roles or jobs held by one person over a relatively long time span, usually ten or more years. It can also be defined as a sequence of separate but related or connected work/life activities that provides continuity, order and meaning to a person’s life.

In today’s world, careers are about connectivity with a connected world. Career is not confined to one organisation in a traditional way. It could cut across organisations and roles, each interrelated with the other.

Large business houses, such as the Birlas, Lalbhais or Tatas, have mastered the art of offering employees an opportunity of transfer within their group companies to fulfill their multiple career needs.

A career represents an organised path taken by an individual across time and space, with a horizon. It is planned for some, while for others it could just happen on account of circumstances, situations, current location and so on.

A career happens for those who wish to make it happen. The smarter, mid-career planners turn their career changes into career choices, by deploying behavioural careers as against skill-based careers.

One immediate observation of careerists, which contrasts with many less-satisfied career professionals, is that they try hard to keep central control to a minimum, compatible with the fulfillment of their objectives.

To be able to do that, of course, they must first have a very clear understanding of what those objectives are. As people further down also understand the broad objectives, it is rare for these companies to use their control systems for slamming on the brakes. On the contrary, a fulfilled careerist is rather like a lively horse and trap, where both the animal and the driver know where they are going. All that is needed is an occasional gentle tug at the reins.

Career planning and development is strategic in the human resource management priorities because many of today’s employees have high expectations of their jobs. But once they enter the organisation, the job they are given is not up to their expectations. They want more. In a survey conducted by Psychometric Testing Canada, it was found that respondents rated the following as most important to them in a job:

1. Chance to do something significant and clear that makes them feel good about themselves
2. Chance to accomplish meaningful difference; something worthwhile and meaningful
3. Chance to learn, intake and bring new things and contribute with the new learning, training, development
4. Opportunities to develop their skills and abilities and job-related competencies.

Chances of gaining commercial growth or promotion ranked way below. Hence, it is not good enough to set goals and timetables for employee advancement in the organisation and believe that with promotions career planning will take place and that employees will also feel the same way. Specifically, they must consider the career interests and aspirations of individuals in the organisation, advise them about opportunities for advancement in the organisation and provide developmental activities necessary to reach the goals mutually agreed upon.

Individual functionaries will give way to flexible careerists organised around specific jobs, assignments and projects. These professionals will have to be fully empowered to deliver the cutting edge to products, individuals and services. The traditional role of ‘controllers’ in the hierarchy above will have to give way to ‘coaches’, ‘facilitators’ and the ‘strategic apex’, who will add value through coaching to the operational core, helping solve problems and transferring learning apart from connecting the operational areas. The most significant change needed will be in the direction-giving role to a facilitating role.

Natalie Lam, Lorraine Dyke and Linda Duxbury in the Journal of Public Sector Management, state that, “Many of the best-practice companies have in-house training facilities in addition to utilising external resources for the training and development of their employees.

For example, Bank of Montreal has an Institute for Learning in Toronto, which offers more than 70 individual courses in four major areas. Hewlett-Packard has multiple corporate education departments responsible for core management development for first and middle-level managers, as well as leadership development for senior management. Xerox has training centres in Montreal, Toronto and Calgary.

IBM has an Education and Training Centre in Markham, Ontario, responsible for ‘education’ and ‘technical training’. At IBM, the Management Development Group is tasked with identifying and providing learning activities for all IBM leaders below the executive ranks. For the executive cadre, IBM Canada makes use of the Global Executive Programme offered by the IBM Learning Centre in Armonk, New York”.

Career choice makers tend to ask questions.

Asking right questions
The questions asked differ from level to level, as follows:

Junior level: Substantive skills, technical, knowledge-based—What?
Middle level: Dominant, conceptual, sharp—Know Why?
Top level: Aggressive, behavioural, clear—Know how? Know whom?

1. What are my skills, competencies, behaviours? What are the possibilities for developing them or learning new ones? Am I being paid a fair compensation for the skills and behaviours that I display?
2. What do I really want for myself as far as work is concerned?
3. What is possible for me, given current abilities and skills?
4. What really is required for certain jobs?
5. What training will I require if I choose to pursue a certain career objective?
6. Why do I seek a career? What is in it for me? Can I do without one?
7. Would I be better off without this job/role? Will it be better to simply remain idle?
8. Would I be happier in another enterprise?
9. Am I fulfilling my life goals?
10. Am I having fun at this workplace?
11. Do I like people around me? Do they like me too?
12. Do I really care for this company, its leadership and its vision?
13. Is my BOSS worth working with/ for?
14. Have I truly aligned with the values of this company?
15. What would I be most willing to sacrifice for this:
  • Job?
  • Company?
  • Boss?
  • My team?
  • Clients & Customers?
  • Community?
  • Family?

Lam indicates that, IBM, for example, was willing to invest significant value to get the Career Vitality Centre (now called CareerNet) to operate since January 1997, to bring together almost all the vital services and information that employees need for assistance in career management (e.g., self-assessment tools; career counselling; workshops; library of books, audios, videos, job news, competency profiles, etc.).

In the same year, IBM invested several millions in employee development (including high-value training programmes).

(The author is an HR Consultant.)




  1. Very good and guiding article. Actually we need to realize that career is a part of your life and not the other way round. Hence we need to plan life, and keep modifying this plan to the extent of unforeseen events.

  2. I’m a mid career professional making some pertinent choices based on a combination of my behaviours, skill set, value system and life goals. Your article has been reassuring.

    Thank you Kavita.

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Prajjal Saha is the editor and publisher of HRKatha, which he founded in 2015. With nearly 25 years of experience in business journalism, writing, and editing, he is a true industry veteran who possesses a deep understanding of all facets of business, from marketing and distribution to technology and human resources. Along with his work at HRKatha, he is also the author of the Marketing White Book. Thanks to his extensive experience and expertise, he has become a trusted source of insight and analysis for professionals across a wide range of industries.