Essential tips for managing your own career

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Diana Peterson-More.

If you could give one piece of advice to young women entering the workforce what would it be and why? That was the final question in a recent thought-provoking interview on women’s leadership. Unlike the majority of the questions that caused me to dig deep, there was an almost automatic response to this one.

Answer:  Manage your own career: be both strategic and tactical. Figure out where you want to be and when, and then develop the tactics to get there. Finally, execute!

Why? I may be going against the grain; however, I have long thought that if we all just focused on one career – our own – we could do so with precision, accept responsibility for how it unfolds, and be intentional about our actions.

Will the Boss Notice Me? Many of us work hard: we over-perform, stay late, do whatever it takes, while awaiting accolades for a job well done. Sometimes the praise comes, and sometimes it doesn’t. We are waiting for someone else – the boss – to validate our contributions, and to facilitate our careers. No question, a good boss will do so. She will listen, give feedback in an upbeat and positive manner and provide career guidance. Maybe she will even mentor us. Sadly, many will not.

Is it the Boss’ Job Anyway? Whether or not the boss initiates or even engages in the career dialogue, perhaps the more fundamental question is whether it’s his job to do so? Shouldn’t we take the proverbial “bull by the horns” and chart our own course? Scarier yet, shouldn’t we ask for feedback – the positive and the areas in which we need to improve?

The How To’s? Assuming we decide to manage our own careers, what do we need to know and to do? The following are some tips to follow; they worked for me so perhaps they will work for you.

1. Be Strategic: “Begin with the End in Mind” (to borrow one of Stephen Covey’s seven habits). But, what does that mean? How can we operationalize it? Start by asking yourself the following questions:’

  • Where do I want to be in 3 – 5 years?’
  • In order to get there, what do I need to do year 1, year 2, year 3 and so on?
  • What skills do I need to acquire?
  • Do I have the requisite educational or experiential background?
  • Should I seek out a mentor, a coach or another to provide guidance? If so, how do I get one?
  • How about initiating the dialogue?

“Boss Bill, I want to supervise a customer service group next year, with the goal of being the customer service VP in five years. What do I need to do to get there? I’ll come and ask for feedback, and if I achieve all you believe I need to in one year, will you help me get that job? Will you talk to the VP so I can cross-train in her department?

2. Become Tactical: What are the “bite-sized” pieces or milestones, or tasks/duties that will get you there?

  • How will I acquire them?
  • Do I need to stay here, take a lateral, even a demotion to acquire the skill sets?
  • What about school?

3. Be Determined, yet Flexible:

  • What if the year passes, you sought feedback from Boss Bill and he didn’t have the conversation with the customer service VP?
  • Or, he came through, you get the job, only to find out you don’t really like it so your initial goal of being VP in five years is now the farthest thing from you mind?
  • In either case, you learned valuable lessons. In the first scenario, you could: a) speak directly to the VP about the job in her department; b) decide to leave the company since you now have the skills to be in customer service elsewhere; or, c) take the transferable skill-sets and aim for a different job.
  • In the second scenario, refocus your goal, take the transferable skill-sets and apply them to a different career path.
  • If nothing else, you were the captain of your own ship.

Conclusion: Take the plunge, decide where you want to be in three to five years, and then go for it!

Diana Peterson-More, employment lawyer, corporate officer and consultant left a Fortune 200 to launch the Organizational Effectiveness Group, LLC. Her company focuses on aligning people with organizational purpose and strategy. She is the best seller author of Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times, and is a sought-after coach, facilitator and speaker.    

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