As the New Year is in full swing, many people take the time for personal reflection, making commitments to lose weight, change their attitude, stop wasting money, improve themselves, or change jobs. I get more calls from people regarding career advancement at the start of a new year and having had several of these conversations this year, I felt it appropriate to give my perspective.
Frankly, you – and no one else – are responsible for your career. Do not depend on your spouse, boss, professor, human resources, a recruiter, or anyone else to drive your career. Sure, each may assist you along the way, but in the end, your success depends on how well you plan and manage it. With this in mind, here are some things to consider:
Have a documented personal career plan that you actively review and edit. I am not referring to a resume. I am referring to a document structured like a business plan and centered around you as an individual. Most people are so busy with their current role that they are ineffective at managing their own career. From my own experience, if you start a new business or product line, the entity that controls the purse strings (banks, financial executives, etc.) expects you to put a business plan together that outlines your game plan. So, let me translate a similar game plan to your career:
Executive Summary – This is your personal elevator speech. Think of it as a summary of content you would share about yourself in twenty to thirty seconds while in an elevator speaking to a potential hiring authority.
Market Analysis – This is where you realistically and honestly assess your value against your competitors in the market. There are many variables in play here including competitive landscape (internal and external to your company), location, supply versus demand, education, experience, etc. Be careful as most people tend to overvalue themselves based on the market. You need to do the homework and put together a true market analysis.
Company Overview – This is where you assess the company and its position in the marketplace. Are you with a company/industry that is growing, flat, or contracting? Who are the movers and shakers in your company/industry? Take an active role in learning where the company plans to go from here.
Organizational Structure – This is where you look at the company’s organization structure and seek out your own opportunity. Are there positions for you to grow into within the timeframe you are looking to move? Are you with a company where people are moving up or out in order to provide a natural path for you? Are you realistic about your timeframe and skill set? Is your role in this company beneficial to your career plan? These answers will help you outline the path(s) and compare potential (internal and external) opportunities.
Sales & Marketing Strategy – This is where you outline how and where you will market yourself. A short list may include colleagues, ex-colleagues, trade shows, recruiters, online applications, LinkedIn, alumni networks, door to door — yes, I know this is old school but it still works. Consider how you will differentiate yourself from everyone else out there.
Service / Product – This is where you list what is truly unique and special about you. Points that are specific and measurable speak more than flowery descriptors. You can deliver real impact when you demonstrate the value or benefit you bring to the organization through your achievement and past performance.
Funding Required – This is your cost to execute your personal career plan: time, energy, money. You may be early enough in your career to leave the workforce and advance your education. Do you have enough in savings to carry you through? You may be mid-career with designs on living closer to aging parents. Are you ready to allocate the time to research opportunities and living costs in the target area? You may be late career and driven to make a lasting impression with another company. Are you willing to put in the energy to earn your keep? One very strong consideration here is what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your career goals as there will be tradeoffs and sacrifices along the way.
Financials – This is where you assess your current pay, itemize all elements of your total package (base, bonus, long term, medical benefits, 401k, pension, flexibility, proximity to family, etc.) and set your financial goals. It is natural to want to make more money than you make today. Educate yourself about market rates for your expertise by industry and geography. In many cases, location will carry different market rates for your function. In your research, you may find the markets in some appealing locations actually pay less than where you find yourself today.
Maintain a professional resume and keep your public information up to date. As a recruiter, I see more poorly written resumes from people you would never expect. Most issues fall into resume length, fonts, format, content, or flat out grammar. Have your friends or a recruiter critique your resume. Mirror your resume on LinkedIn and keep the two up-to-date and synchronized. From there, build your connections. Be open to phone calls from other companies or recruiters and compare what they are offering to your career plan and, if it lines up, go for the ride. If it does not, graciously back out and help them by referring people in your network.
Set up quarterly meetings on your boss’s calendar and share your career plan. Give them permission to give you candid feedback so that you can work on development plans for yourself – whether it is advancing your education, getting executive coaching, fixing a character flaw, etc. Listen and be receptive to what they are sharing and choose not to be frustrated by their feedback (I know this can be difficult). Then close the gap.
Note: for those of you who have an unsupportive boss, find another executive in the organization who you can meet with quarterly and share your career plan. If there is no one in the organization you can turn to, it is time to leave or give up on your career plan and accept your circumstances (something I would not recommend).
Locate a recruiter or executive coach and build a strong relationship. Share your career plan with this person and set up quarterly or semi-annual calls to talk about how you can achieve your career aspirations. Some organizations will extend executive coaching to their professional workforce. If you lean on a recruiter, make sure this person specializes in your location, market, vertical, or function and can help you move forward in your career; there are many generalist recruiters out there and that is not what you are looking for.
In summary, take responsibility for your career. Put the time and effort into preparing for your future. Be honest and realistic with yourself. Find people who will be honest with you. Forge ahead and drive your future.
Categories: Practical Advice