“Why is he so thankful? It seems like he already knew what career path to pursue.”
So asked, one of the younger consultants at when he reviewed a heartfelt thank you e-mail sent to us in relation to a recent career counseling program.
One of the older consultants responded: he needed the interaction to create the action.
I will keep the details vague to ensure anonymity.
“Jerry” was miserable in his job and career path. But, he felt stuck. He was 32. Young, from my vantage point, but old, from his view, to switch careers.
Having graduated from college mostly clueless about his career path, he wound up working in a small business. After a couple of years, he knew he didn’t want to work in the business for much longer. He thought he might want to switch into a larger company within the industry. He applied to a couple of companies but then did not further pursue with any real vigor.
Jerry realizes now that his lack of continued pursuit stemmed from not wanting to be in his company’s industry at all. He slogged onward. He mastered his job so it became easier but he also had reached the point of limited upward mobility. He was bored. But, directed his energy into long distance running and other hobbies and tried not to think too much about his job.
As Jerry approached 29, he resolved that by 30 he would change careers. In forging his career exploration, he did all the right things. He reflected on what he wanted to do. He talked to dozens of people, including a career counselor (not me). He even saved his money for his planned escape.
Before his 30th birthday, Jerry found an answer to his career question in the form of a specific industry that genuinely interested him. Even better, he had an entry point into the field as one of the people he had spoken to was willing to take him on in an entry level role.
But, Jerry didn’t act. Venturing into the new industry would require trade-offs. He was trading a middle management role for an entry level position. The money was not radically lower but he would also take a cut in pay. He would be going backward or so he thought.
Jerry didn’t quit his job before 30. Or 31. Or 32. He was making the classic mistake of underestimating opportunity cost. By staying at something he didn’t want to do, he was giving up the opportunity to build a career in something he wanted to do. He was also overestimating transactional cost. While he would take a step back in title and pay in the short term, he likely would catch up in title and pay to the current levels of his dead end job.
Most of our career counseling clients are “lost”, in the sense that they really don’t know what to do or they have vague thoughts about their preferred career direction. The content of our conversation provides the primary benefit of meeting. Specifically, our career programs are what helps our clients figure out what to do with their careers.
With Jerry, our comments on what he should do (he already knew!), risk analysis (he understood that he was not risking much in the long term), and opportunity/transactional cost (he nodded his head readily as he had thought the same thing many times) were not the primary benefit.
Instead, Jerry needed some type of interaction to give him the energy to make the move. One month after our meeting, Jerry started on his new path and wrote the aforementioned note.
We said nothing magical. Instead, the career interaction created the career action.