How big a role does luck play in your career? Is it a good idea to, in essence, put your career on autopilot and trust to luck to work things out advantageously for you? Even if you tend to be a great believer in luck, I have a few words of caution for you: Remember that luck comes in two varieties–good and bad. Letting luck take charge of your career could be a really bad idea.
How Do You Make Your Own Career “Luck”?
When I started thinking about this blog topic, I decided to Google “career luck” and see what popped up. It turns out, this is already a popular topic! One of the first things I found was an article titled “8 Ways to Make Your Own Career Luck” by Allison Kade, posted in April 2012. Of course, some of the links my search turned up didn’t really have much, if anything, to do with career luck, but that’s par for the course in many searches. The point is, a lot of people seem to think about luck in connection with their careers, as evidenced by a report on a LinkedIn survey of employees in several countries regarding how lucky they believe they are in their jobs.
Certainly, good things sometimes come to people who don’t seem to have tried very hard–if at all–to make those things happen. It’s known as serendipity, although sometimes we find that serendipity (luck) had a bit of a helping hand. Regardless of that, I’m assuming you would rather not trust completely to luck to ensure having a successful career–emotionally fulfilling, financially rewarding. In that case, you might find the following tips worth pursuing:
- Determine what you want from your career and the obstacles and challenges that could get in your way, keeping you from achieving your goals. Identify practical steps you can and should take to prepare you for those–as well as some you might not specifically have thought of.
- Do your best to connect with and surround yourself by people who have a strongly positive attitude about their own careers and a tendency to reach out helpfully to others when they can.
- If you aren’t already actively engaged in continuous professional enhancement and engagement activities, start now! The presence you create becomes associated with you in the minds of others, and you never know when that will pay off in more ways than just making you feel good about yourself.
What Can You Learn from “Lucky” Career Events?
If you experience a good-luck career event–such as an unexpected job offer or a promotion you didn’t dare hope you would land–enjoy the moment, but don’t become so wrapped up in the thrill of it that you fail to examine it a bit. Did it really just fall into your lap, or were there contributing factors that put you in the right place at the right time? For example:
- Your voluntary contributions to a major outreach activity in your community could bring you to the attention of someone inside or connected with the sponsoring organization that either has or knows of a position you would be great for.
- If you worked particularly hard and well on a critical project that made your whole group look great in the eyes of senior management, that just might have had something to do with the promotion you received.
- Supplying job leads to people you know who are looking–and might have been unsuccessful in their search so far–can brand you as more of a giver than a taker, and if one of those people lands a position because of your sharing, it’s a good bet he/she will remember you when an opportunity comes along to return the favor.
One definition of tunnel vision is “narrowness of viewpoint resulting from concentration on a single idea, opinion, etc., to the exclusion of others.” Tunnel vision in relation to career management indicates that you are concentrating too narrowly on something in a way that affects or could affect your career negatively—but what? And how bad could it be for your career success and longevity?
Career Focus versus Tunnel Vision
Focus not only offers help in your career progress but could actually accelerate it, when used right. A generic, all-over-the-map approach, on the other hand, might well hinder your career advancement. So focus is a good thing, right?
Yes and no. Focus, in and of itself, is a neutral term. It can be either good or bad, depending on how you apply it to managing your career. When taken to extremes, focus too easily morphs into tunnel vision. At that point, you could risk making serious mistakes or missing desirable opportunities—or both. For example:
- You concentrate 99% of your attention on making sure the organization you manage accomplishes the goals you have set for it. In doing so, you fail to check periodically to determine whether those goals still mesh with the larger goals established for the company as a whole. Potentially major repercussions could result.
- You focus so hard on your goals, your vision, that you ignore the possibility others might have a different vision. At least two problems can result here: their vision might actually turn out to be better for the company than yours or you might end up in a conflict you could have averted if you had been paying broader attention.
- Someone offers you an opportunity that doesn’t fit the specific plan you have mapped out and focused on, and you decline the offer without giving it careful thought. Down the road, you might realize the opportunity would have enabled you to move in a new, exciting and career-expanding direction. But by then it’s too late.
Tunnel Vision: Correction or Prevention
As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to tunnel vision in your career management, this saying definitely holds true. If you can strike a balance between lack of focus on one hand and tunnel vision that might derail your career on the other, you’ve increased your odds of long-term success and satisfaction.
The key, as you might expect, is to adopt the focus necessary to achieve critical goals without overlooking potentially relevant external factors you should take into consideration. Of course, it’s possible you could make a course-correction that gets you back on the right career path, but avoiding derailment in the first place makes a lot more sense and is almost certainly much easier to manage.
In reality, hindsight might be the only career management “vision” that is 20-20; however, hindsight is not the best career management tool. It can give you insight into mistakes you have made in your career management, which is potentially useful after the fact, but heavy reliance on it will put you seriously behind the curve in terms of making wise and successful career moves. Hindsight is re-active; 20-20 career management is pro-active. It doesn’t take a genius to see that 20-20 career management offers many more benefits.
What Smart Career Management Can Do for You
Although you might not be able to make your career management planning and execution truly 20-20, you can take a number of steps that bring you much closer to that goal. Just to name a few:
- Realize that you don’t need to and shouldn’t try to “go it alone.” Smart career management recognizes that seeking out a variety of experts and other valuable resources maximizes your time and expertise. Others might well see red flags you miss and alert you in time to take corrective action.
- Keep your periscope up when you’re under water, so you can spot trouble looming on the horizon. In other words, even if you’re swamped with work or otherwise preoccupied with things you have to accomplish, you can’t afford to relax your watchfulness about what is going on around (and above) you.
- Think strategically and long-range, not just short-term. Although your situation might appear smooth and satisfactory right now, you don’t want to assume it will continue that way indefinitely–or even that it really is as smooth and satisfactory as it seems. Alertness and contingency planning are your friends.
- Focus on building and increasing your value to employers (current and potential) every day, in nearly everything you do as a professional. What is “good enough” today might fall short tomorrow, and although you can’t anticipate with certainty the events tomorrow will bring, you can do your utmost to ensure that you are as ready as a human being can be to make the most of it–make it work to your advantage.
Evaluate Your Career Management Periodically
Career management planning resembles trying to hit a moving target. Smart career managers (whether active or inactive job seekers) know that they can’t coast on past successes and/or count on serendipitous happenings in the future. However, they focus keen attention on what they reasonably can count on and do something constructive about, as well as preparing for what they can’t foresee. This means they evaluate their situation periodically (every year at a minimum; every 6 months or so is better) and try to determine whether any significant factors have changed or seem likely to change in the coming months.
It’s important to adopt this approach not only within your organization but also with regard to events and conditions outside your company, your industry, your geographical location, etc., etc., etc. In some horse races, the horses wear blinders to keep them from being distracted by what’s happening near them. Your career management, however, is not a horse race!
If you receive periodic performance reviews from your current employer–or have received them in the past from former employers–are you using them as a job search tool? If not, you might be missing a good bet!
Of course, if all the reviews do is say you are “9 out of 10” or “4 out of 5” or something else equally vague, they might not be very useful. However, in the cases where your manager has actually provided thoughtful, pertinent feedback and comments on your performance, the review can serve as a potentially valuable job search tool.
Savvy job seekers know they cannot afford to overlook this tool if they want to conduct an effective job search and land a desirable position. I might have touched on this topic before, but as with many other things, it could stand repeating, especially if you’ve been overlooking the potential benefits of “mining” your reviews for useful information.
Value of Performance Reviews in a Job Search
Well-written (or even decently written) performance reviews offer several potential value points, including the following:
- Independent third-party validation of your contributions and accomplishments, rather than you talking about yourself.
- Reminders of value you contributed that you have since forgotten about or didn’t realize was especially important.
- Alternative to letters of recommendation you can’t get for one reason or another, either because you’ve lost touch with the person or because the company prohibits them from writing such letters.
Suppose, for example, you made a herculean effort that was largely responsible for getting a critical project back on track, which ensured on-time completion. Saying that about yourself could sound immodest at best and much like arrogant bragging at worst. On the other hand, imagine the effect if your manager wrote in your review, “Jean dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to overcoming a tough problem and getting project XYZ back on schedule. That meant we were able to finish on time and satisfy a key customer.”
See the difference? You can share this comment in an interview or even perhaps quote it briefly in your resume or cover letter. It gives concreteness to your statements about the value you can bring to the prospective employer.
What Performance Reviews Can’t Do for Your Job Search
Realistically, you can’t share your all of your reviews (or even all of one review) with prospective employers. For one thing, it’s likely that some of the information would be considered company-confidential or proprietary. So you need to be selective and conservative in what you use and how you word it. You also can’t–or at least shouldn’t–embellish the details provided in the review. If, for example, your boss told you privately that you had outperformed everyone on the team but didn’t put a statement to that effect in your review, you have to let that one slide. Not only could it sound like bragging but also you can’t support it with proof.
What If You Don’t Have Performance Reviews?
Let’s assume you work for (or have worked for) unenlightened employers that don’t conduct any formal evaluation of their employees’ performance. However, you might have received–or have ways of documenting–written confirmation of something you’ve done that was valuable to the company. Maybe it was in the form of a memo or email, for instance. Keep a copy of that in your file (which should be retained at home, not solely in your work space). You never know when it might come in handy.
Also, keep at least a rough log of things you’ve accomplished that you believe were valuable; it’s useful as a memory jogger, if nothing else.
P.S. I’ve been absent from this blog recently because for two weeks I had to operate my business on a backup laptop computer after my PC “died.” I maintained a degree of functionality that way, but it’s not something I want to repeat any time soon! Fortunately, we had just done a complete backup of my files (I hope you do that for yourself, as well), so I didn’t lose key data, but it was still a productivity hit. I am delighted to be “PC-functional” again!