Managing Your Career
Making the Best of Now, While Planning for Your Future
Janine squeezes onto her usual train, half listening to the same old music on her headphones, and tries to avoid her all-too-familiar co-commuters, with their sour faces and bad breath.
Is today Wednesday or Thursday? Which meeting is going to fill her morning? She can't remember. The days are blurring into one, on an endless loop. How did that happen? It really isn't what she planned for herself.
Actually, she's never really planned her career at all; she's just kind of hoped that things will work out for her. She always tries hard to do a good job, but where has it got her?
Janine has let her career take over and manage her. But she's not too late to take charge again and find her own direction. So, if you're one of the many people who, just like Janine, longs for change but can't see a way forward, don't despair.
Take control of your career by following these seven simple steps.
In this article, we'll look at taking a step back, to assess your current position and choose a strategy for moving forward. We'll also give you some practical tips to ensure that your actions in the "here and now" will help you achieve your long-term goals.
What Is Career Management?
Career management is all about ensuring that you make the most of your working life, both now and in the future. It's not a one-time event but a lifelong process.
Like any kind of management, it's also about being proactive, rather than waiting until you realize there's a problem that you need to fix. That way, you'll have the best possible chance of setting the right goals for yourself, and of choosing the appropriate path for achieving them.
How much control over your destiny do you believe you have? If your answer is "none," you'll likely be swept on the seas of life until you finally run aground – and that can be scary and dangerous. Try our self-test to check out your position, and follow the tips at the end if you find you need to develop an "internal locus of control." This will be important to help you take action later.
You might think that your next task is to figure out what your goals actually are, especially if you've been "sleepwalking" for a while. But it can be daunting to stop and think about the future: all sorts of hopes and fears may rush into your head, and they could make it hard for you to take the right perspective. A safer next step might be to learn more about yourself.
This exercise is all about being objective and clear sighted, so that you can be the person who's most informed about you. It is not about beating yourself up! Take a look at your thinking style and your personality type. They will likely shed some light on why you're not content in your current situation, and what might suit you better.
The classic Personal SWOT Analysis is a simple but effective tool to help you look beyond the simple fact of your strengths and weaknesses towards the opportunities and threats that they, and your environment, might hold. Once you're sure of where your strengths lie, you can plan to make the best use of them. And if you also know your weaknesses, you can decide where you need or want to improve. This can be the beginning of an adventure in self-development and reinvention!
Dream and Plan
Finding career direction is not as simple as matching a job to a strength. Sometimes, our strengths and abilities do not match what motivates us in a role. This can be hard for other people to grasp. After all, if we're good at something, why wouldn't we want to do it as our job?
But only you will know whether you'll be bored or uncomfortable in a role, and Schein's Career Anchors might help you understand why. These explore factors including autonomy and independence, security and stability, entrepreneurial creativity, and dedication to a cause. And your values can drive you towards, or away from, certain roles with enormous force.
So take a long, hard look at everything you've uncovered about yourself so far, let yourself dream about new possibilities, and then create some concrete goals. Avoid being reckless – unlike those of us who make New Year resolutions with no plan to achieve them and no real hope of success! You might be itching to move ahead, but give yourself the best chance of achieving your goals by planning realistically. Create a mission and vision and keep them at the forefront of your mind, so they can sustain your focus and motivation through any difficult times along the way.
Take the Initiative
Dreams can inspire us to be daring and innovative, and that's why we want to nurture them. But they can also leave us dissatisfied with our current situation. So, your priority now is to channel your desire for change positively, and to use your new, bigger perspective to transform where you are now. This can be a springboard to the better future you've glimpsed.
After all your research and thought, you should be much clearer about what you have to offer, and what you want from a job. So take the initiative and use job crafting to change your current role to suit you better.
Remember that you're aiming for a win-win solution for you, your team and your company, not a selfish and ultimately self-destructive disruption to business. So, be careful not to skip your core responsibilities, and always bear in mind any wider impact of your changes on your co-workers – but do be proactive and bold. In the end, the way you approach your role will have at least as much impact on your levels of job satisfaction as the tasks you perform. So this is an opportunity to impress with your new-found assertiveness and sense of purpose!
As work becomes more interesting, and you put more energy into developing yourself and your role, it might be easy to forget the balance in your life. But your relationships, diet, sleep, and hobbies are even more important than usual at such a challenging time. They will help keep you healthy, happy and productive as you work towards your goals.
Win Support and Look Ahead
You're really moving forward now, but it's important that others recognize your achievements too. If they don't, you'll likely be left behind when it comes to promotions, awards and new projects. Be careful to use appropriate and professional strategies to get noticed. Then, as your confidence, visibility and value to the company grow, it might be time to negotiate improved pay and other benefits.
For your success to continue, you'll need to keep "on top of your game." You might put time and effort into becoming the go-to person in your field, but don't neglect what's going on beyond your "realm" and business area. In particular, what are the emerging skills you'll need to future-proof your career?
Listen out for opportunities to progress – you might find that you hear about new roles within your organization because of your already strengthened position. But don't assume that one will land in your lap. Be patient and painstaking with your research, and work hard to keep your motivation high. You need to be ready for the long game.
Reaching Your Goal
How will you know when to stop? When will you have "arrived?" The answer is: it depends. You might find that the goal that seemed so far away when you started out, was well within your grasp when you put your mind to it. So, set yourself a new one! Never let yourself drift again.
That doesn't mean you always have to be aspiring to something bigger, bolder, better paid, or better staffed. Your outlook might shift and your next goal might be much more about service, or much less about responsibility, so that you can enjoy other aspects of life that are important to you.
The one essential is not to be trapped on that train with Janine, confused and fretful about what might have been. Take control!
By adopting an internal locus of control, and taking time to understand your strengths, motivators and values, you can set yourself aspirational but achievable goals, and begin to build your long-term success and happiness.
You'll need to adjust your mind set and enhance your current job, build your skills and confidence, and ensure that others recognize your hard work. Then you'll be well on your way to managing your career successfully.