Is your career something that has happened to you over the years, or have you happened to your career? Managing a career is the ultimate balancing act of risking everything and holding steady.
In her book “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg describes a career like a jungle gym. Career advancement is messy, which is why Sandberg defies the typical “ladder climbing” in lieu of the jungle gym approach. Sometimes you go up. Sometimes sideways, sometime back. And there is no one way or clear path of how to get to the top.
Sometimes described as “personal branding”career management is the art of simultaneously building career momentum and managing performance in your current position.
Here is the No. 1 secret:
Never, ever take your job description at face value. There is a lot of strategy involved in managing a successful career, but the No. 1 strategy should be hard work. Treat every position you have as an opportunity. Find your strengths and capitalize on them. Push. Lean in. Question the status quo. Ask the hard questions like, “why can’t we do the (seemingly) impossible?” Be dependable. Use your job as a learning experience and vehicle for meeting people who will help you in your future.
Adding in the strategy:
• Do your time. But not like a prison sentence. When the concept of a “millennial” first surfaced, we were accused of expecting advancement immediately without properly “doing our time.” Many of us were one or two years out of college and wondering why it was taking so long to get promoted. In hindsight, the years spent waiting and watching in supporting roles had immense value. There is an art to time-biding.
Advancement within a reasonable amount of time can be difficult in any organization, but especially difficult in small organizations. Changing jobs, or even career paths is common as we find our way up the jungle gym. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but we also must guard against job hopping. Consider these points when deciding your next move:
• Culture evolution and change are constants in every organization. Sometimes waiting it out has a big payoff. The situation you’re in today can look very different in six or even 12 months.
• On the opposing side, sometimes an opportunity is worth risking a bit of reputational capital. This is especially true when you have a strong sense that your new position will push you far beyond the boundaries of where you sit currently.
• Eye on the big prize; hands on the task before you. People who have mastered career management have this down. They are incredibly adept at keeping the overall career vision in mind and working toward that, while still mastering job performance in the day to day.
How to eye the big prize: Decide what you want to do and where you want to go with your career. Start preparing now. Studies show that you can become an expert on any subject matter by spending a year immersing yourself in the topic. Maybe you don’t know where you’re going, but you know you want to be a leader. Read everything you possibly can on leadership. Listen to podcasts, take classes. Perhaps your ambitions require more education. Going to school and working full time is a difficult thing, but it can be done.
• Relationships. Are. Key. Without relationships, you can expect twice the work for the same destination. People sometimes say, “It isn’t what you know, but who you know.” Actually, it’s both. Who you know might help you get the job, but what you know will help you sustain it, grow it and turn it into your next opportunity.
There is no meeting or new face that is not an opportunity. And the street is two ways. You never know where you might find your next mentor, connection to an industry, good friend or future boss. Regardless of your personality type, push yourself into knowing these people. Give as much to those connection as you get. Relationships are one of the greatest investments in life; they pay dividends.
• Managing your career is the most important management role you will ever play professionally. Be strategic, thoughtful, and never let up. We spend far too much time at work to leave our passions and dreams on the table when the curtain closes. Go get what you want.
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” –Steve Jobs
P.S. You’re invited to the Chamber’s Ugly Sweater Party at 5:30 p.m. tonight at Proximity Space, 210 E. Main. Cover is $7 for drinks and appetizers. Prize for ugliest sweater!
Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation, City of Montrose. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.