What do you want?
Last month I wrote about the foundation steps necessary to manage your own career. This month I want to dig a little deeper and give you some practical steps for how to take control of your career.
It’s hard for a senior person to help you if you don’t know what you want. However, knowing how to articulate what you want in your career or even as a next move isn’t easy. First, be clear in your own view whether what you need next is to develop expertise or to broaden your experience. If you are not sure, ask other people whose opinion you respect what they would do next if they were you: deepen or broaden.
At some point, you will be ready to broaden your experience outside of your current product, function, division or region. You will then need help in thinking about what might be a likely next move. To make these conversations you need a goal. Think 10 to 15 years out, what would you love to be in a position to consider as a role? It’s far enough out that you are not committed to that goal forever and it’s far enough out that someone can help you think about how to prepare for it. And, you aren’t asking for a job now. You can afford to dream.
Consider the following questions: Do you want to be head of a unit or do you see yourself as an able number two? Do you prefer a functional role or a business role? Are you great with clients, or technical details?
Once you have a dream role, begin asking people the following: “If someday I wanted to be in a position to go for X role, what experiences would I need to have between now and then to be a strong candidate?” Knowing the answers to these questions is a great place to start with taking control of your career.
Understand when and how career discussions occur
Most companies have some form of succession planning, talent reviews and promotion discussions. Learn as much as you can about the criteria that are discussed in each of those. Find out as much as you can about who would typically participate in those discussions. And, discover when the discussions occur in the course of the year.
The more you know, the better you can present yourself in the right way, at the right time and to the people that will have an impact on your career progression.
Increase your presence
No matter how good you are at both, keep improving. This is a learnable skill regardless your starting point. Presenting with executive presence – having charisma and authority – requires hard work. Most organisations offer some level of training, but it’s usually not enough to become truly proficient.
That’s on you to make the time. Read up on it. Watch other great speakers: review TED talks online, as most of the presenters there are truly phenomenal. Know your subject matter. Work at it.
Prepare for concise communication
Throughout your career, you will find that you must be prepared to give the short version of what you have done, what you know and what you think should be done.
For example, it’s common to be invited to a management team meeting to present something about your work. You are allotted 30 minutes and you have rehearsed the presentation and are prepared for that time frame. However, when you arrive at the meeting location, the agend has run over. You wait. And, you presentation is now expected to last 5 minutes. Anticipate this and learn to communicate any key message in 5 minutes or less. If you have the luxury of 30 minutes, so much the better. Short and to the point is always smart. As Ray Thompson says, “CEO’s want to know three things: 1) What’s the point, 2) How do you know, 3) What do you want from me.”
Stay in touch with stakeholders
You will meet and work with a broad range of people over the course of your career. Some will be peers. Some will be senior leaders that you work with on a project, see in a charity event or meet while recruiting new hires. Some will be sponsors and advocates. Some will be former bosses. Stay in touch – don’t let the connection go cold.
Expand your network
Great networkers know it’s not about who you already know, but who you get to know. Your network should be constantly expanding. And that requires more effort than the average person expends. It means going out to that event when you are tired and have an early start the next day. It means staying in touch with people you meet in those circumstances. Many great opportunities – career and otherwise – evolve from a relationship formed through networking. Don’t forget to keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and make sure industry headhunters have a clear understanding of your career path and what you are doing now.
Networking happens inside the company too. You can be constantly expanding the number of friends and supporters you have in the organisation. You never know when you can help one of them and when they can help you.
And successful networking always comes from a place of giving, rather than receiving. What do you know that someone else would find useful? Being the person with insight and connections who is willing to share, makes you very valuable.
The end game
How many times have you been asked to say what it is exactly you want to do with your career? If you cannot answer this question, you are not putting yourself in a position to achieve greatness. You are also not able to activate your network, sponsors and mentors to help you find it.
Some questions you might want to ask yourself include: Do you know what your dream is for you and your career? If not, how will you get there? Do you want to be head of a unit or do you see yourself as an able number two? Do you prefer a functional role or a business role? Are you great with clients, or technical details? Knowing the answers to these questions is a great place to start with taking control of your career.