How to manage your career effectively

Written by
Wanda Wallace

27 Oct 2016

27 Oct 2016 • by Wanda Wallace

Today, it's clearer than ever that the responsibility for managing careers falls on the shoulders of the individual. Managers are overwhelmed with responsibilities as is HR. Having said that, as an HR professional, you have to manage your own career of course, but you are also a valuable advisor and can help offer advice to your internal clients about how they can take control of their career. 

I thought it might be helpful to address some of the steps you can take to be in firm control of your career. Think of this as a check list to be sure you are doing the things you should be doing for your career.

There are four areas of focus in the topic:  

1) What you need to do for yourself;
2) What you need to know about career progression;
3) What you need to know about the business;
4) Understanding the “rules” of career development.

So what can you do for yourself, and how can you can think about your career in order to take control of it?

See the whole picture

First and foremost, you must see your career in an holistic sense. People usually say “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” and that is true. What you do at work needs to fit into the entire context of your life over the long run if you are going to be successful, feel a sense of purpose and thrive. Your career is one part of life.  

Think also about your goals for family, social life, health and values. Don’t just focus on what you want today but think about what you want in all of those areas in three to five years from now. What works for your whole life (career included) today may well be different in five years. For example, with a young family, people often think they cannot take a stretch in their career. Today that may be true, but in three years the family needs may make a stretch assignment feasible. Thinking long term means you do not cut off opportunities but that you pace them.

Be willing to take risks

If you don’t take risks, you don’t get broad enough exposure to keep a career interesting in the long run. And, you don’t stretch yourself and develop new capability. Recently, I interviewed Marc Howze, vice president, global human resources and employee communications of John Deere & Co. He said that at each new opportunity he asked four questions:  

1.    Would the new role offer me an opportunity to learn something new? 
2.    Would the role give me a chance to develop new relationships he wouldn’t otherwise be able to do? 
3.    Can I have an impact in the role?   
4.    Would the role make me more marketable? 

Each yes answer points towards taking the risk with the new opportunity. In the first half of your career, you will be building expertise. In the second half, you should be seeking breadth.  

Develop capability

The skills that make you successful today may be important for the long run and there will likely be new skills that you need to acquire. For example, 10 years ago knowing about data and analytics probably wasn’t very important to a successful career.  Today, data analytics is playing a much bigger role in decision making and may be a skill that is needed for future success.  Managing your career means keeping track of what matters and learning new skills. 

The following skills are most critical for leadership today:  

1) Presence and communication
2) Ability to navigate change and sell change to others
3) Ability to inspire
4) The ability to work with almost any personality. 

Obviously managing your career takes serious thought and serious effort. Developing critical skills, making great decisions and staying focused on being in control of where you are going.