The New Year’s Career Question No One Wants to Ask

Are you fully committed to your job or career? If not, Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison suggests how to use 2019 to get out of a rut.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see

It’s year-end and you’re taking inventory: where you are isn’t where you want to be.  And you ask yourself—how did you get so stuck in a rut?

It’s so easy to blame someone or something else: your boss, your colleagues, the customers, your commute. But here’s the hard question that, if you’re like most people, you won’t ask as you contemplate your career in the new year: Are you all in?

This question holds the secret to getting ahead in your career, not only for the work you do, but also for how you do it—ideally, by being indispensable to your boss, exuding passion and purpose, helping others and sharing credit with the team. No, you don’t need to be Mary Poppins, magically getting everything done as you whistle a happy tune. But you do need to step up your commitment to prove to your boss – and to yourself – that, yes, you’re really all in!

The hard truth is that most people just aren’t that committed. Sure, they want to get ahead and make more money, but they don’t really want to do the extra work to get there—not to mention the extra work that comes with being promoted to a bigger job. They’re among the 80% who do the 20%—like these characters:

Legend-in-His-Own-Mind Larry certainly isn’t lacking self-esteem. To hear him talk, he’s a real rock star – and will tell you how he was the one to land that big client or nail that last project. But everyone, especially the boss, knows that when it comes to real commitment and generating true value, he’s Larry the Lacking.

Entrenched Eileen has been there forever and knows everybody. If there are “bodies buried” somewhere, she makes sure she’s got the map. Eileen thinks all she needs to do is drop names and she’ll get noticed. What Eileen doesn’t notice are all those high-performers who are passing her by virtue of what they do, not who they think they know.

Waiting Walter tells himself that, one of these days, he’ll be plucked out of the sea! He just needs his boss to see what a “genius” he really is. And so, Walter bides his time in his “boring” job, doing the bare minimum. But when the economy shifts or there’s a shakeup, Walter doesn’t need to wait any longer—he’s the first one let go.

These hapless characters share a fatal flaw: they avoid taking an honest look in the mirror. They not only have blind spots—they guard them. They hold back, blame others, and spend more time gossiping and complaining at the water cooler than doing actual work.

But that isn’t everyone. There is another group—the 20 percent who accomplish the 80 percent—who are all in. They’re fully committed and indispensable especially to the boss. Their primary focus isn’t on getting recognized; that happens automatically because of the value they generate.

So how do you get there? Take a page from this cast of characters:

Self-Aware Sally knows her strengths and weaknesses, her skill set, technical competence and sense of purpose. Sally knows that to be all in on her career development, she needs to be open to and actively seek out feedback and input from others. She’s insatiably curious, learns all she can, takes assessments and seeks out regular feedback from her boss.

Helpful Harry is more focused on what the team accomplishes than being the “super hero” who goes it alone. He helps colleagues when they struggle (for example, he’s the go-to guy on Excel) and willingly jumps in to do what it takes to get the job done, especially when it comes to satisfying clients and making customers happier. Harry doesn’t need that old cliché of telling people he’s a “team player”—it’s clear by everything he does. He’s very much like…

Eager Erica, who doesn’t ask (and doesn’t care) if it’s in her job description. If the boss needs something done, she does it. Her reward for doing great work is to get more work. Erica takes on challenges that stretch her and expand her knowledge and skills. She’s already working at assignments above her current level, so it’s only a matter of time before the boss makes it official with a bigger title and the money that goes with it.

Big Idea Ben shows he’s all in by embracing change. He’s constantly on the look-out for the next big idea and is committed to helping himself and his colleagues adopt them. He’s all in with the latest technology, even when it impacts how he does his job. His tolerance for ambiguity—a common trait among high performers—is off the charts.

If being all in sounds like real work, it is. But being that committed is its own reward, with greater engagement, satisfaction and the empowerment to really advance your career in the new year.

A version of this article appears on