Anne Marie Mills
In today’s job market it is essential to keep your career ahead of the curve. But how do you plan your career when no one seems to have a definitive answer about what job titles and job responsibilities will be required once the pace of change slows? How do you plan career steps and strategies for development during times of uncertainty? The evidence is unfolding that after a few years of downsizing and restructuring, new occupations are being invented. Some once-safe jobs are becoming scarce and even none-existent. Some jobs have morphed beyond recognition only five years after they were created. Career advancement requires that you stay informed about industry and business trends, think creatively about career advancement strategies and adopt an active plan for personal career success.
Define Your Personal Mission Statement
The place to begin to take an active role in your career plan is to look at your present role, determine your interests and the areas for which you have a passion, discover what skills and experiences are required for your dream job, and actively work towards preparing yourself for that position.
Helayne Angelus, co-founder of the global innovations consulting firm Kalypso, says “Spend time to develop a personal mission statement and develop a ten-year plan, including goals and roles.” Angelus stresses that the plan must consider personal and professional interests and says that the goals can be as general as “I would like an international assignment,” or, “I would like to run a business with profit and loss (P&L) responsibility.” In developing your plan, it is imperative that you know your company, its products and services, its strategic initiatives, and its needs. “It is then very important to be able to communicate your career goals to your boss and anyone else in the organization who you have discovered may be able to advise and assist you, including your boss’s boss,” says Angelus.
Early on in her formidable career, Angelus was committed to gaining an international assignment with the global giant Procter & Gamble. Five years after she had clearly communicated her goal, through persistence and planning, the assignment materialized. Angelus believes that keeping your career ahead of the curve involves moving out of your comfort zone – which often presents the element of risk. She and her husband moved to Caracas, Venezuela with their two children, ages 5 and 2. “We took a risk. I had to learn the culture, the language, the business culture and be a mom in a new environment. I was proactive and committed to succeed, even taking Spanish classes every day at 7 A.M,” says Angelus. “I was the first woman in Procter & Gamble sales to be the sales director of a country and the first expatriate at that level. It was the greatest personal and professional assignment that stretched my abilities and belief in myself.”
Solicit Candid Feedback
Consultant and author John Beeson says that feedback is critical to career advancement, though he admits that, frequently, feedback is inadequate. “The aspiring executive needs to take the initiative and ask for candid feedback, without sending signals of defensiveness,” says Beeson. It is easier to give and receive positive feedback, but if an individual needs to develop a skill or improve his or her knowledge, not knowing about these deficiences has no value for any career advancement plan. “There are inhibitions within most organizations to giving people feedback, such as how you are viewed,” says Beeson. He suggests asking for specific examples of opportunities for improvement and prioritizing specific experience, skill and knowledge needs. Beeson says that, often, aspiring leaders have not demonstrated strategic thinking abilities, executive presence, creative and innovative thinking, or comfort with taking risks. Once you have determined what skills and experience you need, ask for opportunities to demonstrate your ability.
Eliciting candid information regarding how strengths and weaknesses are perceived requires active investigation, but it is essential to know what is expected from you if decision-makers are to award you the promotion you want.
Get a New Perspective on Your Job
Many careers stall because people focus on doing things right rather than on doing the right thing. Look beyond your job description. Think of it as a starting point and a guide about how you can add value immediately. Demonstrate initiative and add responsibilities considering department and organizational goals and strategic initiatives. Take a look at the outside experts that your organization brings in. Can you add value by filling that gap? Take a look at industry trends and changes in your field of work. What can you introduce to your organization to help support strategic initiatives?
Think about your organization’s headaches, worries, opportunities and goals. Find the gaps in knowledge and skills. Learn where the important work that has the greatest impact is taking place and move toward developing knowledge and skill in that area.
Playing it safe is not a good strategy if you expect to advance your career, although during times of uncertainty, it may seem like the best plan. Introducing new ideas, programs and processes involves risk and occasionally may result in mistakes. Mistakes happen when you take risks, but when things around you are changing, you need to change. When customer demand is changing, organizations need to change.
If the risk turns out to be a mistake, the important thing is to fall forward, learn from the error, make adjustments, and make more attempts. Hiding as a result of a mistake does not signal confidence, the ability to problem-solve, or creative thinking, and these are the very qualities that will move your career forward.
Be the Source of Ideas
Read current literature about your industry, and make contact with individuals who are passionate about a subject related to your business, particularly those who think in the future tense, even if you can only get ten minutes on their calendar. People with a passion for a particular subject are so excited about their work and so enthusiastic about sharing their ideas about it that ten minutes can turn into an hour of valuable insight.
Go to conferences and speak with exhibitors about how they support your industry and what’s new in theirs.
Be hungry for new information, and be the idea source and a resource of information for your organization and clients. Let it be known that when a problem arises, you are the go-to person for solutions or information.
Consider Advancing Your Education
Enhance your business education by earning an Executive MBA or by attending formal leadership programs which harness the knowledge and experience of local business leaders, or participate in certificate programs to gain skills in areas such as talent management and business finance. Enroll in online classes, webinars and seminars to gain the soft skills that are essential for leading, managing, influencing and collaborating. Consider your career goals, feedback you have received, your company’s organizational needs and current business trends when deciding among your options.
Cultivate Your External and Internal Networks
All top performers need a dream team to coach, exchange ideas, guide, inform and motivate. “Develop your networks,” says Anna Marie Valerio, psychologist, author and executive coach. “You will learn more about your organization, feel less isolated, and have people to whom you can turn when you need information about changes in strategies and goals. Nurture your networks of internal peers, managers, and others who know your work or need to know about your work. Grow your external networks that might keep you informed of opportunities in which you can apply your expertise.” Beeson conquers saying that the fires of creativity are often stoked through active participation in external networks. And networking includes participating in social media. “Social media is definitely important,” says Valerio. “Whether it is Linked In or Facebook, it is a tool and resource of information and exchange of ideas.”
Consider Lateral Moves
Beeson says that for some aspiring executives, staying ahead of the curve may necessitate moving to a different part of an organization to broaden one’s perspective of how one business affects another. Beeson says, “This may give you a chance to demonstrate skills that you are not able to show in your current position. “ Beeson made such a move himself earlier in his career, and he remembers the experience as being highly beneficial to his advancement. “I developed a much deeper understanding of how to get things done in an organization,” says Beeson, “The experience made me a much better executive, and much better consultant.”
When you move on to your new position, someone needs to be available to fill your old position. Be proactive and be a mentor and sponsor to a suitable candidate. Angelus comments on the importance, and inherent reward, of helping others, as well as yourself, stay ahead of the curve. “As you advance your career, it becomes more important to be strategic, make key decisions and enable and empower others to succeed,” she noted.
Angelus, whose mantra is “ride the waves of change,” offered the following parting words of advice: “Women at times fear failure so much that they never reach their full potential. Men are adept at ‘faking it till they make it’ as they don’t have all the answers either. It is really important for women to ‘embrace change’, be confident in their abilities and to be comfortable to operate in an environment of ambiguity. Sometimes you need take a risk and close your eyes−and jump!”