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Posts tagged ‘career advice’

Managing Your Career – 4 Rules for Taking Charge

joyce Midd graduationOver the weekend, my Facebook feed was full of posts and pictures from proud friends and family attending graduations.  These events are not only full of pomp and circumstance, but also full of hope and optimism.  For the graduates, that great careers lie ahead in their chosen fields.  For the parents, that their emotional (and financial) investment will pay off in happiness and security for their offspring.

The photo here is of me and my proud mother on my graduation day at Middlebury College in 1978.  By that day, I’d already taken a very hard knock on my dream – which was to attend medical school.  Graduation was bittersweet – an accomplishment and a disappointment.  I didn’t get into any of the American schools I applied to, so I had to come up with a different plan.

I was recently asked to contribute to a career advice article in Business News Daily.  For anybody who’s worked for a living for a while, you know that dreams come true through (mostly) hard work and some luck.  And your dreams will change over time, due to circumstances and your own self awareness.  For the new graduates out there, as well as anybody thinking about their next career step, here are 4 rules that have stood me well during a 36 year career.

1. You are responsible for planning the path to your dream job.

You are responsible for managing your career – not the boss, not the mentors, not the career services office at the school you attended – you.    You need to articulate what success means to you – including the aspects of your life outside of the job.  Before you can chase that dream job, you need to write your personal vision statement, making it as detailed as possible.  If having the flexibility to work remotely or attend your child’s soccer games is a priority, it should be incorporated into your career planning. Only once you have a clear vision of where you want to be in the next 1-5-20 years, can you construct a roadmap to get there

2. Building a career map requires work.

  • First, you need to identify the skills and experiences required for success in your dream job.  These may include academic degrees, certifications, organizational experiences, tenure in certain roles, etc. that are non-negotiable.
  • Use publicly available sources of information to broaden your understanding of what it will take to be successful in your desired field: professional organizations and publications, social media forums,  company websites, etc.
  • Talk to people who are working in the field and (ideally) doing the job you covet in order to educate yourself about what it will take to get there.   Use your personal network to identify contacts for informational interviews.  Social media channels like LinkedIn and twitter can be extremely helpful in connecting you with people who can help you determine your path.
  • When you network with people, ask lots of open ended questions.  Most people like to talk about themselves.  These informational conversations are your opportunity to make sure that you understand the rewards AND the costs of performing that role.  Every job has its highs and lows.
  • As you add people to your network, ask them if you can check in once in a while to update them on your progress.  This helps you build a “board of advisors” who can help you grow over time.  And make sure that you’re also thinking about how to help them over time.  Reciprocity is key to keeping these business connections alive.  You may not be in a position to provide somebody with business advice, but you may be able to help them get their child a summer job.
  • Do your own cost-benefit analysis, incorporating the on- and off-the-job consequences of achieving your desired role.  Be ready to revise your plan as time  goes on and your priorities change.

3.  Sometimes you have to change your plan.

Not everybody aspires to the corner office, but many people aspire to something different or better than the job they currently hold.  One of the downsides of mastering your current job is that it can become monotonous when it is no longer challenging for you to meet your objectives.  When considering a professional change, the best first question to ask is “Am I running toward something or away from something?”  If it’s the former, go for it.  If it’s the latter, the change you need to make may just be a change in department, manager or company, not your current career track.  This is the time to revisit #1 and #2 above. Revisit your career map and adjust your strategy accordingly.

4.  Chance favors the prepared mind.

This is a quote from Louis Pasteur that I have always loved.  Successful people create their own luck by putting themselves in the direct path of opportunity.  Knowledge (about your organization, customers, products and market) is power.  Actively managing your network keeps your name front and center with people who can help you. The more diverse your knowledge and experiences, the better prepared you’ll be to take advantage of opportunities that come your way.  While there are few absolutes in career planning, every successful person I’ve met thinks more broadly about his or her job than just the role and objectives immediately in front of them.

When Does Your Paycheck Start in 2008?


Creative Commons License photo credit: ToniVC

A colleague just sent me this link regarding “Work Your Proper Hours Day” in the UK. This day is celebrated on February 22nd – the average day on which Britons working unpaid overtime pass the mark where their unpaid labor ends and they begin to work for themselves.

WYPH day is the brainchild of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). This organization, with roots going back to 1868, advocates for working people. Their Worksmart site provides tips for employees on how to manage work life balance, and provides a calculator you can use to figure out your individual WYPH day. I took a quiz on their site – it looks like my day is today – March 3. Hmmm – I think I still have a couple of months to go before I stop working for the Government and get to keep the rest.

Many of us have New Year’s resolutions relating to achieving better work life balance. Mine was to get home in time to cook dinner (link to a wonderful cookbook) a couple of nights per week. I’ve been doing ok with that one. Mark Bittman, another one of my favorite cookbook authors, wrote this article in yesterday’s New York Times about taking a break from virtual reality each weekend.

What do you do to draw boundaries between work and life outside of work?

My Top Ten Career Management Tips for 2008

As this is the time of year that many people start making their New Year’s resolutions – personal and professional – I thought I’d share some of the best career management tips I know. Some of these I learned from others and some I learned the hard way. In any case, here goes:

    1. Do whatever Irene tells you to do and don’t embarrass me. whale-watch.jpgThis one comes courtesy of my father. My first job was doing the payroll, manually, at his codfish processing plant in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. (Photo is my family in the harbor in front of that plant last summer). Irene was the long time office manager who knew how to make things happen. Getting to know the Irenes everywhere I’ve worked since has saved me time and embarrassment.
    2. Speak up. This one applies when you have a good idea and/or when you know that something just isn’t right. Organizations rise and fall on the quality and openness of communications between people.
    3. Assertions absent data are just your opinion. This is a corollary to #2. If you want to promote your idea, you need to be able to substantiate its merit with objective data.
    4. The workplace is different for women. Even as organizations have welcomed women into the workforce in the last 30 years, the realities of childbearing and rearing can still throw them for a loop when it comes to contemplating alternative career paths and flexible work options. The world has come a long way since 1985 – when my then employer asked me to sign a letter committing that I wouldn’t get pregnant. See this article in yesterday’s New York Times regarding what organizations are doing to provide more flexibility for workers.
    5. The company’s money is the company’s money. In the interest of encouraging employees to be frugal, companies often exhort them to “treat the company’s money like it’s your own”. This seems to confuse some people – whose behavior can lead you to believe that they must live like sultans from Dubai on their own time. Don’t waste company resources and don’t play games with your expenses. If you need a history lesson on this one, think Enron.
    6. There is power in silence. This is a thesis topic in its own right. Relationships and careers get derailed when things are said in anger, ignorance, or just because the speaker decided to keep talking while s/he shouldn’t have. Keeping your mouth shut at the right times gives you time to think.
    7. Email is both friend and foe. I’m old enough to remember the workplace pre-email. It’s a fantastic tool for conveying information and agreements quickly to lots of people. The dark side of this ease of use is how much workplace productivity is sacrificed to individuals coping with volumes of email that get in the way of “real work”. It’s a rotten tool for negotiating agreements. And it makes it way too easy to communicate something in haste that you’ll regret later. In 2008, make a promise to yourself to pick up the phone or walk down the hall more frequently.
    8. Selling is the most important skill of all. The years I spent as a sales rep were among the most valuable of my career. Planning and persuasion are key to success in sales – and in business in general. I don’t care what your functional expertise is. If you can’t persuade others to take action, your own success will be limited.
    9. Management has its ups and downs. This one could also be called “be careful what you wish for”. It’s great to manage a team of capable, creative and motivated people (as I do now). However, as your responsibilities, compensation, and access to information increase, so does your risk. Your mistakes become more costly and visible and the time you need to invest in doing a good job increases. You have to make tough decisions that can lead to unemployment for people you care about. Not everyone can or should be a manager. Organizations need to continue to find ways to retain highly talented individual performers whose goals don’t (or shouldn’t) include people management.
    10. Keep your job in perspective. This one isn’t always easy, but is probably the most important of all. Jobs have their ups and downs. Organizations do, too. Be respectful of other people, work hard while you’re at work, don’t be defensive in the face of obstacles, and when you go home, shut the door on the workplace. Much is written about how organizations can help promote work life balance. Ultimately, though, only you can define and protect the work-life boundaries that work for you. If you can’t honor that balance in your current job situation, then it’s up to you to find one that will work for you.

That’s it for my top ten career advice tips. What would you add to the list?