Roads not taken: Considering the opportunity costs of career choices

Most of my conversations with job-seekers focus more on finding jobs than on making career or life changes. This makes sense. My corporate clients are practical: they need to know if and how the candidate’s leadership skills, motivations, and competencies match the needs of the organization. Most of my candidates are not out of work; they tend to view their career as a linear trek up the ladder. They’ll ask if the opportunity provides more responsibility, challenge or pay.

And yet every step up the ladder has an opportunity cost: the road not taken. The conversation on “career changes” forces executives to ponder deeper questions relating to their basic motivations, aspirations, and dreams. What am I good at and why? What if I did follow my dreams? What are the consequences of not taking the big leap? How realistic are my aspirations? What’s blocking me from achieving them or even taking the first step?

Most of us don't take the time to envision our future. The recent Great Recession forced many executives to re-examine their careers only after they found themselves out of a job.

When is the right time to ask these questions? Probably every year if you want to make sure your career doesn't head off down a track you didn't intend.

These are meaty conversations for career coaches, spouses, mentors, priests, and best friends – someone with no axe to grind, who has no other agenda than to help with your career choices and life goals. There are books written on the subject and you’ll also find links on the right side of this blog. Most of these articles or guides provide "tips" rather than start with the unique needs of the career-changer.

It wouldn’t hurt to open up to executive search consultants when you get the call – if you can find one that will care about you, the person, not you, the candidate. But the conversations need to start somewhere. If it doesn’t start here and now, then when is a better time?