“Back in the day”, to a large extent, your organization managed your career for you. Significant campus recruiting led to a variety of first job offers. Once on the job you were put on a career “track” and, if needed, you could always switch to another organization to explore new opportunities.
Today’s economy is different and certainly more competitive. Younger grads complain there is a lack of meaningful work and they struggle to get a good start. Engagement surveys, conducted by many employers, suggest that many employees are disengaged – put simply, “I need the job but I am not motivated or realizing my potential”.
So, what are some things we can do to enhance our career success. Here are five (5) keys:
1. Take Stock: Don’t put the cart before the horse. You need to understand what makes you tick before you can start canvassing your capabilities. This will allow you to be more confident when talking about yourself, and also more in sync with your goals.
Take time to understand what matters most to you, and what strengths you bring to the marketplace. This is easy to do as there are lots of books and online sources that allow you to take a personal “inventory” of your skills, interests, motivators, de-motivators, and values.
Author Barbara Sher once said, “Do what you love and the money will follow”. Kathryn Petras noted that people spend more time choosing the colour of the first car than they do planning their career. Your car will be replaced every few years but your career lasts a lot longer.
2. Take a Broad View of your Skills and Strengths. Young people in particular see a “catch 22” in not having the experience which prevents them from getting hired to develop the experience.
It is important to realize that all of your experiences – summer jobs, volunteering, outside activities, school committees – developed skills and abilities that are marketable.
One useful technique for identifying skills and experiences is to develop your STAR stories.
That is: (i) What Situation (S) or Task (T) were you involved in that had a positive outcome? (ii) What actions (A) did you take, individually or with others, that contributed to this positive outcome? (iii) What result (R) occurred? (Note: It is important on our resume or in discussions with others to be able to quantify or speak to results).
3. Use Your Network . We all have a rich network, we just don’t realize we do. If you do banking, engage in community activities, help your neighbours, coach a team, you are building relationships.
It is said that each of us knows between 250 – 500 people. That means, if you connected with even four (4) friends or acquaintances, you would be accessing over 1000 possible leads.
The key is to stay open to whom you are meeting and, when the opportunity arises, engage in dialogue. Typically, up to 80% of job opportunities reside in the “hidden” job market – that is, these positions are not formally posted or advertised, but exist at any one point in time.
Once you’ve developed your career profile (see #2 above), make a point of letting people know what you are looking for. Treat it as information sharing versus job getting. That also takes the pressure off the other person. It is amazing what job opportunities and roles can be accessed through a more informal, social, and focused approach to networking.
4. Be Proactive. Today, you have to see yourself as a “brand” (i.e., your unique offering of skills, strengths, and experience) and be willing to put in some time and energy accessing the marketplace. As I noted above, much of this can be done informally through networking and is even fun. Certainly you will meet lots of people, some of whom may not be able to further your career goals but will still become part of your network.
You also need to remain open to the advice and feedback you are receiving. Present your goals in a broader versus narrow way. Don’t limit yourself to seeking one specific job or role. Instead talk more generally about what you have done and how you can contribute. You will discover that people will suggest opportunities that you might not have considered, but these will still be a good fit for your skills and experience.
5. Don’t Go It Alone – Buddy Up. See if you can partner with another friend or colleague who also wishes to advance their career. You can even form a small committee who can act as each other’s “board of directors”. That way you can encourage each other and spend some time sharing results. Perhaps you formalize a monthly meeting – that can be both fun but also keeps you on track since you are meeting to share results. Career planning is not a solo sport. You need to give to get – so form a group or buddy up and act as each other’s career coach.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep our energy up and our attitude positive. By partnering with others, you feel more engaged and can be mutually supportive. Career planning sometimes stretches us outside our comfort zone – partnering with others will make the journey both fun and rewarding.
Robert Harris is co-author of the Navigating Your Career workbook. Robert has published three books, most recently: Leading Change – Inform, Involve, Ignite. Robert is also certified in ProSci’s ADKAR change methodology and a frequent conference speaker on career and other management related topics.