Not every job you hold will be your dream job, but according to bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch, treating any job as a simple means to an end is a mistake.
Not only is it a mistake, Welch tells CNBC Make It, but your intentions will be clear to prospective employers — and that could kill your chances in a job interview.
"Would you marry someone who said, 'You're OK, but only until someone better comes along?'" she asks. "Obviously no — but that's exactly what prospective employers hear when you utter the phrase of death in any job interview."
That phrase? "Stepping stone."
The first time Welch heard these two words in an interview was when she was a hiring manager looking to add editors to the business magazine she was running. She was hoping to hire a particularly talented candidate, who seemed interested in the job. The interview went well, and Welch says she ended it by asking a classic question, "Where do you see yourself in three years?"
"Probably in communications for a bank," the candidate replied. "I'd love to transition to that industry, which makes this job such an excellent stepping stone."
Welch knew immediately that was the end of the road with that candidate, no matter how impressive her talent.
"Don't get me wrong — I actually admire people who think strategically about their careers," she says. "After seven years as a crime reporter, I knew I needed an MBA and a few years of consulting before I could legitimately cover business, and I've even advised my own kids to work at certain companies just to gain skills."
But though every job you hold won't be a lifetime commitment, you can't move throughout your career "using employers for your own needs." Doing this, Welch says, will inevitably backfire — even if you don't use the dreaded phrase "stepping stone," your strategy will become clear to employers.
And treating your job "as a means to an end" isn't a particularly satisfying way to live. "It's beyond strategic. It's beyond ambition. It's just kind of mercenary."
"I'm not only saying, 'Don't utter the words 'stepping stone' in an interview,'" Welch emphasizes. "I'm saying don't even think them. Even if you know a job isn't forever, it's your professional home while they're paying you."
Instead, approach every job opportunity as though it could actually turn out to be your dream job, regardless of how long you plan to be there.
"That's the only way to make true friends with your colleagues, earn a reputation as a team player and hopefully do something every day that's bigger than you," she says. "Maybe you'll leave someday. Maybe you won't. But if you do, in time, it will be with integrity — and that's a step worth taking."
Suzy Welch is the co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute and a noted business journalist, TV commentator and public speaker. Think you need Suzy to fix your career? Email her at email@example.com.
Video by Claire Nolan
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