Stop the Career Assumption Self-Destruction

Photo Brodie Vissers from Burst

“The least questioned assumptions are the most questionable.” - Stephen R. Covey

Far too often I hear clients say, “I don’t think that career pays well,” or “I don’t think they’re hiring,” and my favourite, “Everyone seems to have their career figured out but me.” Thinking and knowing are not always the same. Thinking tends to indicate an assumption, while knowing is often based on evidence and information.  Assumptions usually stem from a lack of current and relevant information and/or unexamined beliefs, which often operate as undercurrents in career decision making, and if you are not careful, they can sweep you away!

While assumptions are often convenient, they are not always accurate. Over-relying on assumptions can have disastrous impacts, such as: unnecessary stress, wasting time and energy, missed opportunities, misunderstandings, eroding confidence, and increasing self-doubt.

For example, you believe that you should have a career that requires a post-secondary education. The resulting assumption is that you cannot consider any careers that require less than a degree or diploma. You might also conclude that a successful career is one in which you commit to for your entire adult life. While some people have one job for the majority of their career, this belief is typically based on outdated information that doesn’t acknowledge current trends in career development, and more specifically, the increased frequency of change.

How do you stop the career assumption self-destruction? You need to examine your career beliefs to understand their impact on your career decision making.  Start by paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours to determine your underlying beliefs, and then gather information to validate or refute your beliefs. If you can’t articulate the evidence and information that supports your conclusion, you’re probably making an assumption.

Here are some common career assumptions and what you can do if you are making them: 

“Everyone else has their career figured out!”

What does “figured out” even mean? Do they know what they are doing for the next six months or the next twenty years? Do they have a vision and goals, or are they just going through the motions of getting up and going to work every day? Most people feel that they have their career figured out if they can articulate a job they will stay in until retirement. Don’t confuse career clarity with simply having made a decision. Many people confidently make uninformed decisions on a regular basis and are nowhere close to figuring “it” out. And, if you take a developmental approach to your career, you will have to continually figure your career out along the way. If someone believes they’ve figured it out and have taken their mind off their career, it’s likely they will find themselves thinking about what to do next at some stage in their career. Career decision making is not a once and done decision.  

You react negatively to careers without even considering the steps you could take to get from where you are to where you want to be.

For example, “An accountant? I don’t even know to do my own taxes,” or “A psychologist, how will I help people with their problems when I can’t even fix my own?” 

A significant assumption I see people make (especially young career clients) is their eagerness to rate their ability to function in a future career based solely on their current level of education and experience. If you are not currently engaged in a particular profession or possess related training and education, it does make sense that you may not possess the requisite skills and knowledge to pursue that career tomorrow. In fact, it may seem like the career you are considering is daunting when considering your current knowledge and skill level, but there are many ways to access what you need to function in an identified career. By doing so, you will learn new skills and knowledge so you can perform aspects of the job that you currently can’t perform. And even at that, many students report that a post-secondary education doesn’t prepare them as well as they had hoped for a particular career. You need to take responsibility for getting the knowledge and experience you need to do the career to which you aspire, and this responsibility never ends.

You ignore an entire industry because of one work experience.

One job in an industry does not reflect all the opportunities within that industry. I can recall a young client who was hesitant to explore a career in social media and communications because she had previously held two volunteer positions at her university updating campus clubs Facebook pages, which she ultimately found boring. Admittedly, she initially enjoyed the work, but found the role limiting in impact, and not being compensated was also an issue. Rather than looking at what she did enjoy and trying to determine how she could expand her role or her knowledge and experience to take her into a more challenging paid role, she discounted exploring the industry further. When we started exploring the crossover of social media and communications and explored some other careers within the industry such as social media strategy, her perspective began to shift. Not only had she discounted the entire industry from one experience, but she assumed all careers in the industry would be similarly unfulfilling. And, as a recent graduate, she also neglected the reality that sometimes people with less experience have to do entry level jobs to gain the experience for the jobs they aspire to. In fact, many people take a job and find some ability to “job carve” opportunities for themselves once in the role, hence a job description isn’t always an accurate predictor of what you will be doing six months after you start.

In another situation, a woman in a front-line position in the construction industry felt limited in her career and was curious about safety specific roles both within the company and the industry. When I asked her what her foreman said when she told him about her interest in safety roles, she said, “I haven’t told him; I didn’t think I could do that.” Wow! What a catastrophic assumption to make. She had the conversation the following week and was elated when her foreman supported her interest and began putting a development plan in place to move her to a position of interest based on her formidable work ethic and positive attitude. Sometimes, expressing your interest to your boss doesn’t always go as you planned, but a positive attitude, initiative, and an openness to learning, can create more opportunities for you than a job posting. 

In speaking to others about their careers, you are more influenced by how they said something versus what they said.

For example, “My Uncle John is a teacher and he hates his job. He told me to never go into teaching; it sounds like it would suck.”

All that we know from this statement is that John is a teacher who hates his job. There isn’t sufficient information from John to understand why he dislikes his job and whether you might like the things he dislikes. Does he dislike his boss? Does he dislike the tasks associated with teaching? Maybe John is in an unhappy relationship and close to financial ruin which could be influencing how he feels about his work. You must be careful when people share their career stories with strong emotion and conviction; listen to the message and not just the tone and emotion. If someone enthusiastically describes their career, you may want to pursue it simply because they’ve made it sound fun. But you must ask yourself, “Would I like it?” The same goes for when someone berates their career. You need to critically think about your interests, personality, values, skills, and beliefs to understand if you want to pursue that career.

You can’t point to, or articulate any evidence or data, that led you to your decision. 

Challenge yourself to take a more balanced approached to career decision making. While emotions, beliefs and wishes are important considerations, they also need to be balanced with reality and evidence. The goal is not to strip emotion out of the career decision making process but to link it to data.

For example, “I’m excited about this career because it aligns with my values, personality, and interests,” versus, “I’m excited about this career because the people I spoke to have so much fun at work.” You might benefit from slowing down to recognize why you continue to make certain assumptions. The two most common culprits are: 1) lack of information, and 2) FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real). There is a good chance that if your assumptions are fear based, you are also focusing on what you could lose in making a career move. However, it is equally important to focus on what you might gain. As the ass in your assumptions, stop doing it! 

Can you recall having made a career assumption? What was the assumption and what was the outcome? Leave your comment below for the career with a view crew.