December 2, 2010

Managing Your Professional Career

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything in life just fell into place? It would be so much easier if you could just relax and not think about your career. Imagine going to college, having a perfect job waiting for you, keeping on track for 40 or so years, and finally retiring in comfort. There are a few souls for whom this is possible. They were born into their destiny. For those of us who were not descended from royalty or didn’t inherit the farm, it is a bit more difficult.

Chances are you were not born into wealth or you would not be reading this article. Most people have to work hard at figuring out their purpose in life, making things happen, and keeping things on track. Managing your career in this day and age is absolutely essential. Having a job doesn’t absolve you from this obligation. Once you get the job you need to show up on time, have a good attitude, and do your best work. But that will only get you a paycheck.

If you are going somewhere in life, and want to have a little stability, you will have to take over the control panel and push the right buttons at the right time to keep your career and your life moving forward.

Rules for Managing Your Career Life:

Manage Your Manager - Start by finding the very best leader you can, and tie your string to that kite. If you find you are working for a dolt, find another boss. Work your way around the organization and see who is sharp and innovative… aim to get into that group. If there are no smart managers to work for in the organization- find another place to work. You need to be challenged and you need to be happy. You won’t be happy if you’re not challenged.

The smart employer empowers you to do your job and encourages you to ever more amazing feats of brilliance. This ensures the success of the organization. The bad manager is just killing time (and the people under him) until he can impress his boss and get a promotion… not the best guy to work for.

Never Stop Learning – It should go without saying but so often I see people who have stalled out… Track down every training opportunity that is available to you - technical training, computer training, management training, communications training, conflict resolution training – go for it!

Get a Graduate Degree - Good organizations not only encourage you to continue your education but they will also pay for your master’s degree. You will have much more flexibility in a layoff situation if you are more highly educated than the next person.

Get Licensed - If your profession has a licensure requirement or option associated with it- get the license, even if it is not necessary for the organization you currently work for. It is a no brainer and it is an insurance policy for the inevitable ups and downs of the economy. You will have more options if you get the license. You can always set up a home office in the backyard and go after business.

Maintain a Contact List - Keep in touch with other professionals in your field who work for other companies. They will be your life-line if you need to move quickly to another job. They will also be a good resource when you are stumped by a problem.

Join Professional Organizations - This is the absolute best way to keep up with what is happening in your field. You will receive journals and email newsletters that will keep you informed about all things professional- technological breakthroughs, emerging fields, political issues, licensing changes, and job listings. You will also know when there are conferences and events that will put you in contact with other people in your field. This is soooooo essential to your success. You need to be able to connect and network with people who are in other organizations that might provide you with upward career opportunities. Here is how it will happen: You will meet someone at a conference who has a new contract and there you go- an opportunity to move up!

Take on Responsibility – Smart companies in crisis look to keep the high performers. No one ever made a good impression by shirking responsibility. Stop hiding and volunteer for that big project. It will get you noticed!

Anticipate Change and Be Prepared – Most people can expect to change jobs about every three to five years and will most likely make a major career change three times in a life time. Even the most charmed life has disruptions. You will discover that between technological, political, economic and social change – stuff happens.

Be Aware of Changes Around You - Read technical journals, business publications and a weekly news publication in addition to your usual news feed. Stay informed - big disruptive events rarely happen without warning.

Know what your next move will be both inside and outside of your organization. Stay informed about what is happening in your profession and in your industry. Keep abreast of the broader field you are in to identify areas of growth and companies that are innovating. Pay attention to world news - global events can reek havoc on the economy - and thus your job.

Maintain a Solid Financial Cushion - When the economy is good it seems like it will last forever- it never does. Have a back up plan- a solid savings and investment plan goes a long way to helping you weather any storm that occurs. Have enough resources to last up to two years. It is as simple as spending less than you earn and paying off your debt immediately. Do both. You will sleep better at night if you know that you are covered even if you never use it. Lets face it- if you have ever been a starving student you have learned to live on less.

Maintain a Career Binder – Include in your binder:
1) An ideas section.
2) An accomplishments diary with pictures of projects and products you have worked on.
3) A problems encountered, problems solved diary.
4) An updated version of your resume and a cover letter template.
5) A list of potential companies that you might consider allowing to employ you.
All of these items put together will help you hit the ground running if the unthinkable happens- you lose your job.

Managing your career is not that hard. It just requires that you tend to it over time in a consistent way- just like watering the plants. You will be glad you did.