Building a fulfilling professional career

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I get asked about career development quite a lot in LinkedIn. Here’s my perspective on building a fulfilling professional career. A lot of this is benefit of hindsight, learning from my mentors and self-reflections.

Following are the steps that might help you build a fulfilling career:

1. Purpose Statement

To have a sense of fulfilment when you hang your boots, its essential to first start searching for your purpose in life. Japanese call it Ikigai, loosely meaning “reason for living”. It is highly beneficial to have your life purpose defined fairly early to guide your career decisions. It’s natural to change the purpose or refine as you learn more about yourself.

Think about it, with current life expectancy, most people will have 20-25 years post retirement age ahead of them. It’s important hence that we look at professional career as a phase that prepares for an active retirement phase that is dedicated to fulfilling your purpose that gives meaning to life.

A well defined purpose will also help you reframe and refocus whenever there’s a point of indecision or anxiety.

2. Choose an organisation that has a purpose aligned with yours

It is said that your first job chooses you. Be that it may, there are 3 principal parameters you might want to consider while choosing an organisation whenever you get a chance:

  • Purpose, Vision and Value System: What is the Purpose and Vision of the organisation? What are the stated values? Do they align with yours? How much commitment do you see towards this in the words of the leaders and visible actions of the organisation?
  • Mentorship: You need multiple mentors to guide you. Does the organisation have HR practices that allow for mentorship beyond your supervisor?
  • The Role: Does the role allow for learning opportunities both within and beyond the scope of work? New learning can only come through taking risks. How much empowerment there’s towards risk taking in the said role?

3. Establish yourself in the organisation

Know your organisation: Understand all about the organisation. The purpose, value system, history, leadership perspectives, P&L, the HR practices, last but not the least Strategic priorities. Try to connect all this to your role and how can you make an impact in the organisation. Be inquisitive, pay attention to the annual reports and email updates on best practices across the organisation, they all add to expanding your world view.

Seek clarity on current role: Leading from the previous point this is critical for being relevant in the context of what organisation is trying to achieve. Understand expectation from two perspectives, that of the organisation (Your role card if well written, will give you an indication otherwise seek clarity from senior leaders) and of your supervisor.

It is recommended that performance reviews are initiated by you monthly rather than your manager. This shows your intent to seek feedback and learn.

Start learning: Having been part of hundreds of internal/external candidate assessments made me realise that experience is a factor of how much a person has invested in learning and self reflection rather than number of years spent. First focus needs to be on learning all you can while in the current position. You cannot come back and have this experience, cherish the role while you are in it!

Build your network: Find a way to collaborate with as many people as possible. Your reputation of being a professional will be built on your ability to work with others for common good and how much of a value add you are to the coworkers. Organisations are always looking for people who can work through influence rather than power of their title.

Another reason to build network is to let people know of your strengths and the work you do. No one in a busy corporate life has the bandwidth to follow your work. Reflect on how much you know of coworker’s roles, responsibilities and contribution and you will know what I mean. It wouldn’t be blowing your trumpet if the intent is also to know about others as much as sharing about yourself.

Impact: Focus on making a lasting impact and legacy so people remember you for the contribution even after you leave. This can be achieved if you think of not just yearly deliverable, but also on how to transform the role and related work processes to meet changing needs of the organisation and its customers. This helps build your experience in reformation that at higher levels you would be expected to do and of course, your reputation.

4. Build your Experience

Identify your future role: Employees who perform many a times get attracted by positions and titles. And organisations respond by creating nice looking titles to retain talent. This neither help people focus on learning and gathering diverse experience nor benefit the company. Such practices start having a domino effect across the organisation pushing everyone to crave for better sounding titles.

Every role should be seen as a stepping stone that takes you closer to your purpose. Take risks and go for challenging assignments with broader learning opportunities than incremental step ups.

Win over Craving: It is natural to feel anxious at times about one’s career and even act based on a craving to get the results quickly to get over this anxiety. Reaching a position underprepared to deliver will only put you in further misery and deeper anxiety. It’s good to have ambition, only when that is self-centred and desperate others wouldn’t want to collaborate for the fear of you trying to get all the credit.

Prepare for your future role: First step is to understand the role requirements. I recommend knowing 3 perspectives; the organisation’s, the future hiring manager’s and the incumbent’s The role card will give you the organisation’s perspective. The supervisor to that role will have his/her own additions/interpretations to what is written in the role card. Finally the incumbent will be able to give further details on how to excel in the role when you get there. This will give help you prepare a development plan with your mentor or supervisor.

The Assessment: Assessors are looking for someone who is prepared to do a good job in the role that they are trying to fill rather than someone who is excellent in their current role. Give examples of projects you have done in preparation for the role as proof that you are ready to take on the challenges of the new role.

An internal candidate can have 3 factors working for him/her; a reputation built in line with job requirement, influence with internal stakeholders for getting things done and know how of organisation processes. A lack of focus on these three factors by internal candidate prompts the hiring manager to insist on a ready made external candidate as a wrong selection is his/her headache to manage!

5. Give Back: Take time to mentor youngsters in the organisation. This further helps reflect on your learning and experience, organise your thoughts and build your wisdom.

A related reading might be another blog I have written: “Two phases of a professional career“.

Do you think there are aspects I might have missed? Leave your comments, let’s start a dialogue!

You can find all my blogs at


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