You Don’t Want to Become Known as Someone Who Just Checks Off Career Boxes

Many, many years ago I was working for a very large company (Fortune 25) in New York City. I had responsibility for managing the company’s summer intern program. We hired a couple hundred interns — mostly MBA students — every summer, many of whom ended up joining us once they finished their degree.

I remember one HR intern in particular. She was a young woman from somewhere in the upper Midwest who was quite dazzled by the bright lights and big city. She did a nice job as an intern and we offered her a full time position once she graduated. She was ambitious and made it clear to us that she wanted to climb the corporate ladder – and do it at the NYC headquarters.

Fast forward several years. I was running my consulting business. The Plant Manager at one of this company’s manufacturing sites in New Jersey asked me to help him develop his leaders. When I showed up at the site, I ran into this woman. She was living in Manhattan and doing a 75 mile round trip reverse commute to New Jersey every day.

I was kind of surprised to see her there. I knew that she thought of herself as a city girl. When I asked, “What are you doing here? I thought you wanted to work in the city.” She said, “I’ll only be here for about 18 months. This is just a ticket punching stop for me. I don’t really like what I’m doing but I think having some manufacturing experience will help me down the road.”

I thought about this woman the other day when I read an interview with Andy Bryant, the Chairman of Intel. He said something very interesting…

“People inside Intel often come to me for advice and they might say, ‘I’ve got these two job offers inside the company. I don’t know which one to take.’ I’ll say, ‘Which do you want to do?’ They’ll say, ‘I want this one, but the other one is the next step up.’

“And I’ll say: ‘The thing I learned is that if you’re not doing the job you want to do, it will reflect on your performance. You’re better off to take a job you’re excited about than to do the one you think somebody wants you to do.’ People are successful when they’re intellectually and emotionally engaged as opposed to when they’re just checking the box.”

The young woman I was describing earlier was checking the manufacturing box – punching her ticket to use her words. Her story didn’t have a happy ending. She failed pretty miserably at her ticket punching job. She never got intellectually and emotionally involved – and it showed. She spent only 12 months in that role, because the site leader and her boss, the Director of HR for the site couldn’t wait to get rid of her.

Instead of punching her ticket or checking off the box, she gained a reputation as someone who wasn’t committed to her work and the company.

The common sense advice here? Don’t see your career as a series of jobs in which you check off the appropriate boxes. Choose opportunities that will engage you – even if they are a lateral move, or a half step down. Do your best every day. Take care of the details. Brand yourself as someone who is committed to your company. Things will work out well in the end.

Your career mentor,


PS: I write this blog to help people create the life and career success they want and deserve.  Now I’m going one step further.  I’ve created a membership site in which I’ve pulled together my best thoughts on success.  And, as a reader of this blog, you can become a member for free.  Just go to to claim your free membership. You’ll be joining a vibrant and growing community of success minded professionals.  I hope to see you there.

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