Stop holding yourself back from opportunity

A fulfilling career starts with an open mind

4 min read

November 2019

Action shot of basketball going into hoop with Progressive office building in background

Do you ever think back to what you wanted to be when you grew up? A teacher, a rock star, an astronaut? There was a time in my life when I wanted to become a DJ. Yes, seriously. And when I really let my imagination run, I dreamed about being the general manager of a major sports team. Never in the course of my daydreams did I aspire to work in insurance. Yet I’ve spent nearly 30 years at Progressive Insurance and have had many of my career aspirations met. Along the way, I’ve learned that if I hadn’t been open-minded about my possible career paths, I may have never gotten into this profession.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Trite, but true. I hear a lot of people write off a company or an industry before really learning much about it or looking beyond the surface. The fact is, you might be surprised at the myriad of places you can find a fulfilling career. More directly put: Don’t shut down a potentially great opportunity because of your own misconceptions about the company or the industry, overall. Want proof of the possibilities? Just look at Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work. The list runs the gamut of industries and company types. And the award is largely based on employee surveys, which means the folks working there vouch for the company.

If an opportunity knocks, or if you’re proactively seeking one out, take the time to better understand the potential it could hold for you. Some things you might consider:

1. What kind of company you’d keep at work

People tend to stay at companies because they like who they’re working with. It’s common to want to work alongside co-workers who will help them learn, grow, and stay challenged. Being among the best of the best tends to help us up our own game. And these days, it’s easier than ever to learn about the type of people working at a company.

Many organizations include staff details and employee profiles on their website. And you can usually get a peek behind a company’s curtain by perusing their LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram channels. What you’re likely to find is that many industries could offer you the kind of peers and culture that suit you. From an up-and-coming company to those in long-standing industries, plenty offer vibrant cultures and opportunities to work with the latest and greatest.

2. What kind of hands-on experiences you’d get

Great experience can come from the most unlikely places. The Karate Kid thought he was just waxing cars and painting fences. He hadn’t realized yet that he was gaining valuable experience for his big opportunity. When considering a potential role, dig into the kind of day-to-day work it involves. What kind of new experience do you stand to gain? Will you have the chance to work with innovative technology, products, and services? Will you have autonomy at work and room to risk, learn, and grow? Will you learn skills that will transfer to a variety of roles and help propel your career? These are all things to think about as you assess the potential an opportunity might hold for you.

Again, you can find a lot of information on the company website. And there are resources such as Glassdoor that offer company overviews and reviews from employees. You might also consider finding current employees on LinkedIn in roles that pique your interest. Reach out to see if they’d be willing to share about their work experiences. Yes, people really do this, and yes, it’s really helpful. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to share about the work they do with someone who genuinely wants to listen.

3. What career pathing options it’d create for you

A telltale sign that you’re honing in on a good company for you is when you feel your career aspirations can be met there; that you’ll have opportunities to move around or up or any direction you need based on your motivating factors, location, work/life balance needs, life events, etc.

And in the spirit of finding success in unexpected places or roles, I encourage you to think beyond traditional career paths for your degree, skills, or work experience. You’ll be surprised how many possibilities you’ll start to notice. That communications degree could tee you up for a job in PR, content marketing, or more. That past teaching experience might translate into a great corporate trainer. In my time at Progressive, I’ve worked as a claims adjuster, a trainer, a manager, a human resources director, and a business leader in Talent Management and Recruiting. Just underlining the point that leveraging transferable skills can open up a lot of options.

Imagine the possibilities

The fact is, if you’re putting your strengths to use and your motivational factors are being met, then it doesn’t really matter what industry you do it in. Great companies and work environments come in lots of shapes, sizes, and locations. Keep your mind open. Start exploring and challenging your assumptions. And rethink your options.

As the leader of our Talent Acquisition group at Progressive, Neil Lenane strives to find diverse and quality talent who thrive in a high performing, collaborative, and innovative culture. On the personal side, he’s a GSD (Get Stuff Done) type of guy and a big believer in creating your own opportunities through continued development and the desire and ability to be agile.

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