By Justin Klavan
“I am not responsible for your career”. That phrase came from my manager at my first job fresh out of Graduate School. Looking back on those days I remember feeling overwhelmed and lost, lacking a clear direction and unsure what to do. I wanted so badly to be given some type of guidance. Try as I might though, it never came. I spoke with my coworkers and learned as much as I could from them but I still had a hard time finding my path.
Finally, I decided I needed to take one step at a time and hope the picture would become clearer as time went on. In graduate school, we were taught that becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) should be something we strive for. So, I made my first career decision; become a CIH. It had some elements of a good five year plan:
- Learn and grow technically,
- Gain the necessary real world experience,
- Increase my value to the company.
So that’s what I did. I focused on my goal of becoming a CIH and tried to make sure every aspect of my work contribute in some way to meeting that objective. My hope was once I obtained my CIH, I would be able to figure out my next step and it would open a wider aperture of opportunities.
I took the exam in the fall, around the time for end of the year assessments, and was fortunate enough to pass. After four years of focusing on the exam I was looking forward to having a meaningful discussion of “what comes next” with my manager. When we met I still had not thought much beyond becoming a CIH. I was expecting my manager to give me the next step but again was disappointed. I had no aspirations and he had no advice to give. Again, he reminded me that “he was not respon
sible for my career”. Once again I was no longer on a path and I felt lost professionally. I tell this story because I have seen it played out over and over again as an AIHA Mentor and as I moved through organizations. Young EHS professionals tend to have trouble figuring out what direction to go and are unable to pull out the desired guidance from their leaders.
So what is the solution? How do you find your path? Unfortunately there is not a single solution for every situation, but there is a wealth of experience from other Professionals to help you make decisions. For this article, I will simply give my perspective.
Try as I may to forget the phrase “I am not responsible for your career,” I cannot. It haunts me and is a constant reminder of an undeniable truth. In the end no one is responsible for your career but you. But there is hope. Just because you are responsible does not mean you are alone. If you have a boss, you have a resource.
As a leader with direct reports, I can most certainly say that leaders are responsible for their team’s professional successes and failures. In other words, if you make a mistake, your leader is accountable for allowing it happen and responsible for righting the ship. On the other hand, if you succeed, so does your leader. What does this have to do with your career? Your manager is invested in your career whether they realize it or not. By helping you be successful, they help their team be successful. I am by no means condoning taking a back seat to your career and letting your manager drive, but I am saying they are a wealth of information that can benefit you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Another resource I will shamelessly plug is a mentor from the AIHA Mentoring and Professional Development Committee (MPDC). The committee and subsequent mentoring program is an amazing resource with dedicated EHS professionals available to give help. I am lucky enough to have been associated with that group for the last 4 years and I can honestly say it helps. Having and external resource to help work through problems and offer a different perspective can help you find your path. If you are unfamiliar with this Committee or the Mentoring program, then check out the “Mentoring Corner” of this newsletter has more information.
Having resources is one thing, but using them effectively is entirely different. Remember that quote that haunts me? I would submit my slightly altered version of it:
“I am not responsible for your career, but I am available to help you.”
The key word there is “available”. Available does not mean it automatically comes to yo
u, it means it is there to use. You must be proactive and use your resources as you would a tool! You have to get their undivided attention and to do that requires effort on your part. Find a time and set up a meeting when you are both available. Be sure to find a place you both can go where distractions are minimal. Think of specific questions prior to your meeting and have something with you to take notes. When you speak with them about your thoughts, try and avoid lamenting or complaining. Ask probing questions such as “I want to lead a team in the future. What types of skills do I need to develop?” Ask them about their experiences and what decisions they made a difference in their careers.
One topic I believe to be a “must” is a discussion around identifying your weaknesses. Knowing your weaknesses is powerful. You cannot get better if you do not know what to improve. Use that conversation to establish goals to help improve. Having the ability to confront those weak points is an essential skill for any professional.
In the end taking control of your career is all about being proactive and finding those leaders, peers, friends, and family that can help you. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not sitting back and letting things happen. If you want to excel, if you want to grow, and if you want to one day look back and admire where you are, you have to take the steps yourself. Use your resources wisely and take advantage of their knowledge. I would not be where I am today if I did not finally realize that I am the one responsible for my career.
Justin Klavan is Senior Manager of EHS and Facilities at Textron Systems located in Hunt Valley Maryland. He is currently a member of both the Mentoring and Professional Development Committee and the Student and Early Career Professional Committee.