Dear Mentor:

How can I cause a dramatic change in my career?

I hold an engineering degree from India and an MBA from what you might call an average school in the US. After completing my MBA in 1989, I did not have much success in gaining meaningful employment in the US. I returned to India with the mindset that I would be a hot shot here, because of my US education. It turned out different. Now at the age of 40, I feel that my career has hit a dead-end after a reasonable success. I can always have a good job, but nothing extra-ordinary. I would like to see a dramatic change in my career, of course for the better. I am considering going for a PhD program in the US. Do you think this move would provide me the lift that I want? What else might I be able to do? I am a married, family man, so I do have the usual constraints and responsibilities that come along with this situation.

Anonymous, Mumbai (Bombay), India

Dear Anonymous:

In our view, the success in career, or in life for that matter, comes from applying intelligence, knowledge, and motivation to the right things at the right time to maximize happiness (or returns). We do not know your definition of success, but it is more than the monetary returns. It motivates you to pursue your passions and interests, to make trade-offs between sacrifice and associated rewards, to focus on the happiness and success of your family, and so on. There are so many factors - personal and unique to your situation - that it is difficult to answer your question precisely.

Education is the accumulation of knowledge. As one grows older, accumulation of knowledge becomes less important than applying the acquired knowledge. At some point in our lives, educational qualifications become significantly less relevant than our professional accomplishments. Simply put, somewhere along the age spectrum the employer is less interested in which degrees you have earned than how you have leveraged those degrees for your professional success.

Employers recruit and promote those employees who they believe would be successful in specific roles. They typically want the employee to not only grow in the role, but grow the role itself. They of course consider your educational credentials, but they are also interested in what you have been able to accomplish thus far - that is, how you have performed in applying your knowledge, intelligence, and motivation to achieve results, given the demands of your roles. Moreover, the employer wants to see how you expanded your role and achieved personal growth through progressively more challenging situations. Your 40 years of history is a reasonable indicator of your future performance. You might argue that you would have performed far better, given different challenges and environments. We do not know if you feel this way or not. But if you do, then the prospective employers are likely to ask some tough questions -- if you could have performed better, then why didn't you? Are you someone who believes in controlling your own destiny, or are you someone who prefers to perform within the realm of what is presented to you? And so on. As your history continues to accumulate, an employer is likely to base the recruiting and promotion decisions on your history than on what you say your potential might be.

We can say this: if you want dramatically different results for your career, you have to build a track record. The promise of your potential carries the day in your early career, now you have to show your accomplishments. If you sincerely believe that you could have, and can have, far superior performance than what your current professional status and history indicate, we urge you to search opportunities where you can demonstrate this conviction. As you search for such opportunities, you may have to start from a lower level than you would like, but such are the breaks in life. Life is not a straight line. Sometimes you may have to take one step back to move two steps forward. Sometimes you may have to go from point A to point C to get to point B. But success is for those who dare to achieve it.

Now let's address the issue of further education, that is, doing a PhD in the US. In isolation from your own particular situation, doing a PhD is a good idea, if you have a keen interest in becoming an expert in a narrow area of a profession. The PhD will give the specialized knowledge, which you can apply along with your motivation and intelligence, to gain professional success and recognition. However, the PhD in itself is just the accumulation of knowledge. To be successful, you still have to apply this knowledge to become successful. To a prospective employer, you would still have to demonstrate that you can do precisely that: successfully apply this knowledge to become successful. So do you have the track record that demonstrates that you excelled in applying the educational knowledge that you already have? We do not know the answer to that, and we shall leave that up to you. You should do a PhD only if you believe that a lack of deep knowledge in a certain narrow field or discipline, and not your application of intelligence and motivation, is the reason for your hitting a dead-end in your career.

It is no coincidence that some employers would send certain high performing employees for further education because they believe that, given the superior performance of these employees, further acquisition of knowledge would further enhance their performance. Please note what the thinking of the employer is: high performance plus more knowledge should inevitably lead to very high performance. High performance comes before the acquisition of more knowledge. An employer would typically not send an average employee for further education, with the hope that more knowledge would improve the employee's performance.

So, what is the right answer for you - whether to go for the PhD or to seek a career change? Well, the answer is that it depends. If you believe that the lack of specialized knowledge in a narrow field is the cause of your current situation, then the PhD may be the answer. However, on the other hand, if the cause of your current employment status is your being in a particular industry or function or company, and/or your performance, then seeking new employment opportunities to demonstrate your true potential may be the better answer.

We recognize that it is a difficult decision, but it is a decision that only you can make. We wish you every success.

Dear Mentor: Mainpage More Questions and Answers


   Search Help

Tell a friend about this webpage!