It’s no secret that the challenges of career management in midcareer have greatly increased in the last 20 years. The possibilities of being downsized are ever-present, regardless of one’s performance or position, and it often is not easy to be rehired at the same or higher level of salary and benefits. Promotions are harder to find, much less get, and the pressure to work long hours is increasing. From a positive perspective, however, people have more choices about how they develop their careers than ever before; also, changing employers, even involuntary change, has less negative connotation and the growing complexity of our working world provides many more varieties of work than it did 20 years ago. Taking advantage of these new opportunities, however, means taking more time and responsibility for your own career management.

I believe that people need new conceptual guidelines for their career management because employment dynamics have changed fundamentally. Building on what I have learned over the years from teaching the Management: Challenges and Purpose course, I have developed a Work-Oriented Midcareer Development Model for just that purpose. Here are some of the model’s highlights.

First, find your own direction by developing a personalized definition of your work rather than simply relying on your employers’ job descriptions. Ideally it will relate to your work experiences and will build on your current worth as an employee. This definition should have objective components that help determine what you want to do in the working world, but it also should have subjective components that highlight what you are most interested in. For example, your subjective component might revolve around a product you find fascinating, an industry in which you want to have impact, or helping certain types of people. This personalized work definition establishes the fact that you are in charge of your career (not your employer), guides your information gathering, and encourages you to take the time and energy to build on your interests. 

Second, think about the immediate future of your work. What do people involved in your work believe will characterize excellent performance in the next three to five years? What are the primary issues that need to be resolved and what challenges must be faced? This kind of information can provide the knowledge you need to make wise decisions about which development opportunities to pursue so that you have the skills and knowledge employers will be seeking. It also will make you a better employee now. This type of information is available in business databases and in most libraries that have articles from large numbers of professional and industry publications.

Third, think about the role and setting in which you would like to work. The options are many. For instance, you could be an accountant, manage accountants, specialize in a particular type of accounting, work in a role where you are critical to the organization’s accomplishment of its strategic goals, or in a role where you are considered staff support. While all involve accounting, each role or setting requires different skills and knowledge, and each has a different impact on your working life and your life outside of work. Today, because of greater mobility, we have an opportunity to choose the roles and settings in which we work. Those choices allow us to adjust our work to our evolving interests and life commitments.

If you know what type of work you want to do, how it will probably develop in the next three to five years, and what kind of setting and role you would like to fill for your employer, you are ready to make wise decisions about the skills and knowledge you choose to develop and the employers you seek out. This all takes time and energy. Time and energy that was not needed during the industrial era of stable employment and employer-determined careers. The rewards for those of us who manage these new challenges well are working lives that are more attuned to our evolving interests and our larger lives.

Sally J. Power has been on the College of Business faculty since 1981. In March 2003 Power’s and Teresa Rothausen’s article, “The Work-Oriented Midcareer Development Model: An Extension of Super’s Maintenance Stage,” was published in The Counseling Psychologist and designated a significant contribution by the journal. She was one of the creators of the course Management: Challenges and Purpose for the Evening MBA Program.

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