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Don’t disregard the ugly duckling

  • Posted 23 Oct 2020
  • Richard Holmes
  • Article

We’ve all heard the story of “The Ugly Duckling”. It was written by author Hans Christian Andersen in the 1800s. The story tells of a homely little bird born in a barnyard who suffers abuse from the others around him until, much to his delight (and to the surprise of others), he matures into a beautiful swan, the most beautiful bird of all. The story is beloved around the world as a tale about personal transformation for the better.

As an observer, we admire and appreciate the resilience and the change experience that the little duck goes through and in some ways, we all appreciate this story more when with think of our own growth and some of the adversity we’ve had to overcome in our own journey.

However, the curious part about this when it comes to career decisions, is that many people are obsessed with finding the fully developed “swan” when considering their next job and career move:

The great brand.

The great job title.

The great salary

The irony is, that these things do not sustain and the context of what is “great” about them starts to diminish over time.

Think of it this way.

When you were first appointed as a Management Accountant (for example), it would have felt “special” to get that title at the time, then later, a title like Finance Manager would have felt better. And later, some other title to justify your new status or level of experience. 

Brand vs Achievement

When it comes to a company or brand, a similar phenomenon plays out. It is exciting to tell your friends you work for XYZ company that has a reputation or brand profile that might be “sexy” for some reason to others, and we convince ourselves that this is going to be meaningful later on in life, and perhaps that “brand” will surely give us career opportunity. Surely brand and career opportunity go hand in hand.

And of course, this is not true, because every person that worked for Coca Cola, Apple or Google in their finance department has not necessarily realized their career goals, albeit all great companies.

When it comes to your career decisions, it makes sense to consider your career choice around developing your own “ugly duckling” story. This is not to suggest you would want to be picked on by your peers, but really to find an opportunity that requires improvement, growth, change or transformation to demonstrate your own success.

Ask yourself:

How can I take my personal growth and experience from ugly duck to a swan?

Does this job contain features that allow me to explore my ability to create a swan?

Breaking down your Growth Path and Career Story

The metaphor for the swan really relates to your professional goals or career trajectory. What is “great” for you? What is rewarding? What is going to allow you to create a sustainable or fulfilling career?

When we talk about “ugly”, we are really saying that this is our current state. By definition, we are not ugly, but we have yet to grow to the next phase. Let’s face it, we are always learning and always growing.

So, when you are selecting a great career opportunity, don’t be dazzled by the swan and think about: 

  • What are the challenges in this role that will act as an opportunity to shine?
  • By making an impact in this role, what will I learn and develop which will pay dividends later in my career?
  • Does this environment offer the resources and opportunities to make that growth a reality and do they really want this “swan” state to be a reality (or is it all talk)?

When you do this, all of a sudden, the way you consider a career move changes. It doesn’t mean you won’t be working for a great brand or receive a great job title. But in many cases, you won’t.

We’ve seen individuals with the title Financial Accountant (paid $180,000 + bonus), almost 30-40% higher than the market. This salary reflects the complexity and nature of change the financial accountant was required to deliver in the role. Yes – an inappropriate title, but a great job for someone nonetheless.

Equally, we’ve seen talented people take on roles that may appear less desirable on paper, only to realise that the role creates some of the exposure and ability to demonstrate value to key people in the business, acting as a career catapult. Based on the job description or title, many would overlook it.

 Be curious and find the ugly duck!

Richard Holmes is Co-Founder & Director of HPR Consulting, a leading Accounting & Finance recruitment business in Sydney, Australia.

He has been in the Executive Search & Selection Industry since 2003 and has developed a track record of recruiting senior Accounting, Finance and Commercial professionals into leading ASX listed, private and multinational organisations. Passionate about connecting talent, he has an in-depth knowledge of the Sydney market and brings a significant amount of intellectual property to his clients and candidates.

Contact Richard on 0403 513 720 or richardh@hprconsulting.com

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