I have recently been presented with an interesting work opportunity. Since I've been mired in the agonies of academia lately I haven't felt in the best frame of mind to evaluate new possibilities objectively. So I contacted a client of mine who has been a good mentor to me in the past (let's call her Kari). She is VP at a large corporation and one of the most successful women I know in the very broadest sense of success - i.e., career, community service, family, contentment. She's an all around happy and encouraging person I am fortunate to know and work with!
Kari is a great encourager. First she listened to my circumstances and offered some broad summary comments to indicate that she understood where I was at and what I was asking. As we talked about the opportunity she suggested three questions for me to ask and answer (either in the interview or through my own research) to determine if this position could be a good fit for me:
1. Who are the role models in this organization? This question includes finding out who are the role models that the organization holds up as examples, and also who are the people that I might find to be role models in my own work. 3. What could my legacy be? My legacy is not so much about how people talk about and remember me as it is about what I actually accomplish and leave behind for others that follow.
2. What role could I play here? This question isn't about the position title. It's about what I would contribute to the culture and the output of the organization. Would I be a team builder? Would I be a knowledge leader? Would I be a catalyst for change? Kari - knowing me well - even semi-seriously asked, "Would you be on the lunatic fringe?" and pointed out that all organizations need those folks, and is this a role I want to play?
3. What could my legacy be? My legacy is not so much about how people talk about and remember me as it is about what I actually accomplish and leave behind for others that follow.
There are no right and wrong answers to these questions. In fact, it's very likely that a positive exciting answer to one of the questions will be balanced by a more sobering answer to another one of the questions. And herein lies the art of career development - it's about pulling together the various pieces of an opportunity to create a whole that is tangible and satisfying.
A good example from recent news...I wonder what Hillary Clinton really thinks about Joe Favreau's inappropriate behavior? My initial reaction as a woman, a mother of a daughter, and an HR Professional is that I hope she went to her new employer and let him know that she expects he will take appropriate steps to create a respectful, productive workplace that is not hostile to women, and that a formal, public apology might not be a bad thing. (Before you write to me that I am overreacting, ask yourself if you would feel the same if it was Dick Cheney and a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi?)
However, I know that Hillary Clinton is a smart, accomplished woman. So let's say that she has thought through the 3 questions above. Perhaps she does not care that Favreau is held up as some sort of role model for the young hipsters of the new administration and is instead focused on the role she can play and the legacy she can leave. With regard to the latter, maybe she has thought it through and decided it's more important to her to leave a legacy of sound foreign relations for the United States than a legacy of advocating for just and respectful behavior in Washington. At this time, either legacy would be an important and necessary contribution to US politics. And only Hillary can decide what will be the most satisfying career opportunity for her.
These three questions have helped me immensely as I have contemplated several options in front of me - I hope they are useful to you too!