Take a strategic, active approach to managing your career that will improve your odds of achieving success this year and beyond. In other words, don’t just float around in an ocean of opportunities hoping the currents will take you to an island of your dreams. Instead, actively search for that island and then start swimming! In this spirit, adopt these three career essentials and avoid the dangers (stagnation, layoffs, “settling”) that come with a more passive approach to your career.
1. Develop a vision for where you want to go with your career. Having long term goals helps you to make better short-term decisions. Center these long term career goals around creating a purpose-driven, meaningful life. According to research, you’ll achieve a deeper sense of wellbeing from your chosen path if you choose your career vision with this in mind.
To develop your vision, imagine your desired career situation one year, three years, five years, and even 15+ years out. Paint a picture of your life in words at each point in time by asking yourself a series of questions. Start with the end-point, say 15 years from now, and then work your way back to the present, to better understand what’s needed to achieve the long-term vision. The questions you might ask yourself include:
- How do I want my career and job to fit into or support the rest of my life?
- What type of work do I want to be engaged in, and at what level? You may find that these assessment exercises will help you to figure this out.
- What industry or sector do I want to be in?
- What type of organization do I want to work for (including potentially my own)? Is it the same as the one I’m in now or something different? If different, how is it different?
2. Come up with a plan. Figure out how you’re going to get from where you are now to where you want to be at each point in the vision you layed out. The best plans are highly specific around actions, metrics, benchmarks and timeframes.
As an example, one of my clients wanted to leave financial services and make a career change, but she was feeling daunted by the challenge. She still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do next or in the long term, much less how to achieve it once she decided. She just knew that her current career path was no longer right for her.
To help her move forward, we created a four-month plan that included three phases:
- A decision-making phase around job targets, which included taking self-assessment exercises, developing her long-term vision, and several other several sub-steps.
- A planning and organizing phase, which included her contact management strategy, her positioning, filling any gaps in knowledge, and her job search marketing materials (resume, LinkedIn profile, pitch, and emails).
- A getting-interviews execution phase – where she would join the right associations and prioritize her network and cold outreach over job postings and search firms (that is, she prioritized tapping into the hidden job market).
The result: among many options, she decided to re-orient her career towards higher-education, targeting business planning and analysis leadership roles. Then, within the four month time-period, she landed an offer she was excited to accept through effective contact management, a strong pitch, networking and cold-outreach.
As another example, one of my clients was looking to move up in his current organization, where he felt he was being overlooked. We created a strategic success plan that ensured his superiors perceived him as ready for the next level, that he was included in the right meetings and project teams, and that his relationships were optimized with all the influential stakeholders. The result: he positioned himself effectively to finally receive the promotion he had long sought.
Some plans to achieve your vision may involve taking a financial risk. For example, you may be contemplating quitting your job to start your own business or make a big career change. If this risk is holding you back, try to assess a) how likely the risk is to be realized, b) if there are ways to mitigate it, and c) what the opportunity cost is of not taking the risk, via this “Fear Setting” exercise.
3. Build and maintain your network of relationships. In a job search, whether internal within your current organization or at a new place, the best opportunities are usually found through your network. Take these three actions to derive the most benefit from your network of relationships.
- Think broadly about your network. Your network is not just the five people you talk with every week. Include people you worked with years ago but you haven’t talked with since, or like one of my clients, someone you went to business school with 18 years ago yet hadn’t spoken with since then (my client re-connected with this former classmate and ended up getting an interview). Include family, friends, and anyone else who might be open to helping you.
- Let “everyone” know what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s a really small world out there, you never know who knows someone. For example, one client decided to let her neighbor know of her search, even though they were just acquaintances. It turned out that the neighbor’s husband’s brother’s wife worked for the CFO of this big media company; my client got an interview with the CFO.
- Keep in touch. This is essential. You must stay on the radar of all those in your network, so when something comes up they think of you. If you aren’t keeping in touch, you aren’t a good networker!
Also, if you’re trying to move up within your current organization, building your network and optimizing your relationships with those at all levels of your organization will be key to your success.
As an added benefit, building and maintaining relationships, even those that are based on “loose ties,” will make you happier.