Today’s post is part 2 of a 3 part series on the career myths that can hold you back professionally. Part 2 focuses on managing yourself at work.
Myths About Managing Yourself at Work
You need to be outgoing and liked by everyone to succeed.
- True: It may be easier to forge productive working relationships if you are outgoing and people like to work with you.
- False: It takes all kinds of people to help an organization be successful. Not all successful people are outgoing and likeable– but they advance by earning trust through their contributions. It is important to be aware of how YOU are perceived and manage your behavior accordingly. You don’t have to be Little Mary (or Johnny) Sunshine all the time, but you do need to ensure that your personal brand conveys reliability and quality. Getting too personal with too many co-workers can become problematic. Building relationships with your coworkers is a positive. Just be sure that there is not a clear distinction from life inside the work environment and life outside the work environment.
You need a mentor to be successful.
- True: A mentor who is interested in helping you develop can be important to your success.
- False: Your success at work comes from your ability to consistently deliver a great performance, and from making it clear you’re able to take on more by doing so without waiting to be asked. That being said, mentors (plural) can help accelerate your progress. Some organizations have formal mentoring programs – which often entail a 1:1 relationship with a more experienced mentor. That’s great if you have that, but it’s not the be all and end all. A long time ago, I heard a senior female executive talk about her personal board of directors, and I’ve leveraged that concept ever since. You change and your job changes over time. Building a network of advisors over time who take an interest in your career and can serve as sounding boards is very useful.
Networking is most useful when you’re looking for a job.
- True: Networking is one of the best possible ways to find a new job.
- False: Successful people are continually networking. And they understand that you need to give to get. If you only reach out to people when you’re looking for a job, without having some relationship collateral in the bank, your network won’t be as effective. There are lots of ways to network.
- Familiarize yourself with professional associations – national and local – where people in your field get together.
- Talk to your manager about paying for your attendance at these professional conferences as part of your development plan. If you can’t attend in person, you may still be able to access conference presentations in online forums connected to the event.
- Make sure you’re a member of online communities that are active in your profession. This can be a great way to “meet” people. I’ve made some great connections by complimenting people on their content in forums then connecting with them by phone or in person later.
- SOCIAL MEDIA! You have LinkedIn – you can find your way to just about anybody you’d like to meet. Twitter is another way to connect with people. Share interesting information on your feed. Compliment others on theirs.
- Actively look for ways to contribute back to your network – send people information you think will be useful to them, make introductions for them.
You need to focus on becoming the best functional expert possible. Success means knowing all the answers.
- True: Growing your career does depend on others’ perceptions of you as reliable and competent. Knowing your stuff is part of being competent. Investing in expanding your expertise in your field will make you more valuable to your colleagues and managers.
- False: No one knows all the answers all the time. One of my favorite tips is from Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. In it he says, seek to understand before you seek to be understood”. By asking questions of others and making sure you understand the fullest extent of a situation before you offer solutions, you’ll be more effective. Most things that happen in organizations require teamwork. If you’re the smartest person in the room, but unable to work effectively with others, your path will be a lot harder.
Taking risks can be bad for your career.
- True: Taking uninformed or unnecessary risks can be bad for your career.
- False: Since nobody can predict the future, there are risks associated with most of the decisions we make in life. The difference between good risks and bad risks is the diligence you perform in understanding the pros and cons of these decisions. Attitude also plays a part in determining the difference between good and bad risks. Most of us have qualms when it comes to making changes, yet change is what propels us to learn and grow. Expanding your career means you are going to take on new responsibilities without knowing exactly how to perform. You need to learn to prepare, then trust yourself to learn and respond. Taking risks is one of those areas where having built your network of advisors comes in handy – not just to help you decide when to make changes, but also to help you be successful once you make a change.
Today I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the Emerging Leaders Event of the Association of YMCA Professionals (AYP). This event is a gathering of young Y professionals who’ve been identified by their leadership as rising stars, and this event is an investment in their development. You can see a few of the participants enjoying themselves below.
I was invited to speak at this event, and asked to focus on career management strategies. I put together a talk titled The Top Ten Career Myths and How They Hold You Back. Today’s post is part 1 of that talk, myths about getting started in your career. I’ll post parts 2 & 3 over the next couple of days.
Getting Started in Your Career
Your twenties “don’t count”. You can get the job you really want later, just take what’s available now. You just need to try a lot of different options to figure out what you want to do when you grow up anyway.
- True: You need to make a living, and sometimes your “ideal” job isn’t available.
- False: Making purposeful job choices in your 20’s is possible. If you’re still unsure of your career path, choose options that will expose you to as many different skills as possible. This builds your resume while helping you refine your vision of the path you want to be on. Internships are a valuable tool during this period. Look for companies that actively offer development programs that will provide you with training and the opportunity to move around the organization.
The best way to find a job is to search online job postings.
- True: Online job postings are one good way to determine the types of candidates that companies are looking for. Often career websites will also tell you something about company culture, what it’s like to work there, etc. (And of course, remember they are marketing themselves to you).
- False: Online job postings are only one way to find your way to a job in an organization. Networking is very important – and easier than ever to accomplish. LinkedIn can help you find connections through the people you already know. Online discussion groups for professionals in the field you’re interested in are incredibly helpful. Go to conferences and networking events.
It is impossible to advance in a large organization.
- True: It can take a while to advance to a senior position in a larger organization.
- False: Large organizations can often offer more options than smaller ones. Larger organizations are more likely to have resources for training and development – and purposeful programs to help you grow. Benefits like tuition reimbursement, travel to conferences, and formal mentoring programs are more likely in larger organizations.
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:
- Do whatever Irene tells you to do and don’t embarrass me. This 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?