Before you break out the party hats and festive beverages for that year-end office celebration, you might want to give some thought to where this year has taken you professionally and what you want next year to look like. While your “wants” won’t necessarily predetermine how the new year plays out, failure to take them into consideration when making your career management plans could leave you with having next year look pretty much like this year.
If this year was great, that’s fine. But what if it wasn’t so hot?
Job Satisfaction and Career Progress
We tend to feel more satisfied with situations in which we have a sense of control, at least to a reasonable degree. A job situation that makes you feel as if you’re at the complete mercy of factors beyond your control will probably leave you with a strong sense of job DIS-satisfaction. If you’ve been stuck in that kind of situation this year, now might be a good time to plan and execute some steps to address the root of your frustration and at least open up some possibilities for forward movement.
Job satisfaction and career progress don’t happen through passive endurance of undesirable circumstances on the job. No matter how much you do the “moan and groan” routine, it won’t change (improve) your situation, and waiting for someone else to wave a magic wand and transform your situation simply isn’t productive. In fact, it’s actually counter-productive, because that false hope can fool you into thinking something good is bound to happen, when you’re not doing anything to help it along.
How to Have a Productive Year-End Celebration
Now that you’ve recognized the futility of waiting and crossing your fingers for a better year next year, how do you go about ensuring that you have a productive year-end celebration, one that will leave you feeling much more satisfied than a brief (and maybe disastrous) blow-out at the annual holiday office party?
One key requirement is that you develop a clear sense of purpose, enhanced with a healthy dose of realism. You take the time and make the effort to identify and analyze what didn’t go well this year. Then you assess what needs to be different (i.e., better) next year and how big a gap there is between that point and where you are now.
Celebrate Even if You’re Not Employed?
It might seem a lot easier to plan a year-end celebration that’s satisfying when you’re currently employed and reasonably secure in your position. However, even if you’re not employed, a celebration isn’t impossible and might improve your chances of having a better year ahead. I’m not just talking about positive thinking here, although that can’t hurt. What I’m referring to is looking at your situation from the view that things do need to change and that you can take steps to help make that happen.
As the saying goes, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” That doesn’t preclude you from having help along the way–such help can be invaluable to your job search and ultimate career success. It simply means that you need to be the one who takes charge and begins to plan and implement active job search steps designed to get you unstuck and moving ahead in your professional life. Take a fresh look at what you’ve been doing or not doing–maybe you’re missing something.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Before the end of this week, my blog will be moved to my newly renovated resume website. I invite and encourage you to take a look at it there and bookmark it so you can find it again easily.
If you operate with the philosophy that looking after #1 is all that counts and you’ll stick with your current employer only until you think you see something better on the horizon, that’s a questionable rationale. On the other hand, blind loyalty to your employer that ignores any other considerations is going to the other extreme. Neither choice is great, and neither is likely to provide you with solid career success.
Company Loyalty vs. Focus on #1
As is often the case, you’re probably going to see a better outcome for your efforts if you position yourself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. That is, you acknowledge that the company that pays your salary deserves a certain amount of consideration in return, which means you invest the emotional energy to produce the value you’re getting paid for. At the same time, you don’t sacrifice everything (such as close family relationships) to satisfy an employer’s expectation that you’ll be available 24×7, 365 days a year, regardless of your personal needs and well-being
If you’re at the senior management/executive team level in your career–or pushing hard to get there–you might find this a tough issue to deal with at times. Just be aware that each time you make a choice, you usually have to give up something else–in most cases, you can’t “have your cake and eat it, too.” It ties back to the concept of opportunity costs; spending your available time or money on one thing means that you don’t have it available to spend on something else.
Your best course, in many cases, is to adopt a practical approach to protecting yourself and your career at each job you hold, while not short-changing your employer.
Company Loyalty–So How Much is Too Much?
Company culture can influence expectations about performance, about what you will be expected to do versus what you might have thought you agreed to do when you took the job. If a company has a very “driven” atmosphere from the CEO on down, you might have to either toe the line or be prepared to bail (find a hopefully less demanding job elsewhere).
When you’re evaluating possible actions to take, keep in mind that your employer is a business organization, not your lifelong buddy. Even the best companies might sometimes make pragmatic decisions that run counter to your preference. The rest of them will probably exhibit a wide range of attitudes (if a company can have an attitude), all the way down to responding with “you’ve got a job, you should be grateful and just do what you’re told” to any concerns you might raise about what’s being expected of you.
An article I read by Alan Henry, titled “The Company You Work For Is Not Your Friend,” makes some good points about not counting too heavily on the company (and in particular, HR) to look out for your interests. Among other things, he maintains that HR primarily exists to protect the company, not to help you, and it shouldn’t be your first choice in seeking to remedy a troublesome situation. He also mentions the double standard that expects employees to give two weeks’ notice before leaving but allows companies to lay off employees with little or no warning.
Basically, your goal is to maintain a balance between practicing smart career management and giving full value to employers for compensation received.
You can do a lot of things on your own, without help, and that’s true not only personally but in your professional life. It’s important not to delegate actions to others that are integral to your professional growth and career success.
But that’s not all there is to the story. You need collaboration–in the best (most positive) sense of that word–to carry out career management plans that offer the greatest possible chance for ongoing career success. According to Merriam-Webster, to collaborate is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”
What Can Collaboration do for Your Career Success?
Wikipedia says that “teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources.” That reference applies to an activity going on in the work environment. It could fit equally well in terms of a job search. The main point is that you can often achieve more or better results if you work collaboratively with others, especially if all of you share common goals.
Will everyone around you be equally interested in your career success? Very likely not. However, collaboration can still have a valuable role to play. What might be needed is for your group to have a common business goal that all of you can gain value from achieving. That could inspire the sense of purpose and determination that will enable you to achieve your career success goal while benefiting the others as well.
In other words, collaboration can create a true win-win situation that goes beyond your individual goal but still enables you to achieve it.
When is Collaboration Not Good for Career Success?
In any situation where you are expected to accomplish a task on your own, turning to others to get it done can backfire. You could be making a serious mistake because the results are supposed to come from your efforts alone. In other words, it’s not all right to try to get out of some specifically assigned work by offloading all or part of it to someone else. Collaboration in that case would be the wrong answer.
Except that such a situation doesn’t really involve true collaboration. There’s no shared goal, no potential for mutual benefit. Basically you’re abdicating your responsibility, not collaborating. Also, if you’ve ever tried to achieve a goal where one or more people in your group had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or in advancing their success at the expense of others, you’ll know that collaboration simply isn’t happening under those circumstances.
Collaboration, Cooperation & Leadership
If you hold a leadership position and are trying to achieve career success, you might need to take a fresh look at what the concept of collaboration means. Another term sometimes used today is “collaborative leadership” or “cooperative leadership.” What does that entail?
Merriam-Webster defines cooperation as “a situation in which people work together to do something”–sounds a lot like the definition of collaboration, doesn’t it? And a gentleman names William Arthur Wood once stated that “leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation.”
In such cases, your career success might depend at least partly on how effective you are at both exhibiting and encouraging others to exhibit a genuine spirit of collaboration.
Think about this: It might be theoretically possible to prepare and launch yourself in a hot-air balloon without help, but it’s a safe bet that collaboration would get you to your goal much faster and more effectively.
You might be familiar with the concept of risk management, which is a frequent topic of conversation in businesses. However, you might not have considered how this concept could be applied to your career management, including job searches and career changes.
What is Risk Management?
A search online will turn up numerous definitions of risk management. Wikipedia describes it like this: “Risk management is the identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks…followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events or to maximize the realization of opportunities. Risk management’s objective is to assure uncertainty does not deflect the endeavor from the business goals.”
Key elements of this definition include identification, assessment, prioritization, and resource coordination/application. Obviously it’s not enough just to identify a risk looming on the horizon.
So What’s Risk Management for Career Success?
Life is full of uncertainties and potential risks, and your professional life isn’t immune to those. As I’ve said before, anyone can make career missteps through various factors. The question is, how can you apply the principles of risk management to your career management activities and at least minimize your risk exposure?
Let’s take the key elements mentioned by Wikipedia and look briefly at each one:
Risk Identification. Possible risks you might identify include the following (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Challenges posed by rivals (competitors) both within and outside your organization that might put you at a disadvantage.
- Lack of time or funding to pursue education that would enhance your career prospects.
- Problems your company is experiencing that could limit your growth or even cost you your job.
- Office politics that put you on the “outside” with regard to influencers and decision-makers.
- Family challenges, including possible forced relocation due to another family member’s job, that could interfere with your career plans.
- Health issues that affect your ability to perform at the needed level in your chosen or current career.
Risk Assessment. You need to take a careful look at each risk you have identified, in order to determine (a) how real the risk potential is, (b) how important it is in terms of your career success, and (c) what you can and should do about it.
Risk Prioritization. You need to prioritize the various risks in terms of whether to take definite action and, if so, in which order to tackle them. Practically speaking, it’s probably not effective to try addressing more than one or two potential risks at a time. For each risk, you can try asking yourself, “if I don’t take any action on this, what’s the worst that can happen? Can I live with that?”
Resource Coordination & Application. You might be able to choose from diverse resources, depending on the particular risk you’re addressing and what your applicable resources are. Resources could be “must have” or “would really like to have,” which will tell you something about where you stand. Those you label as “nice but not essential” can probably be held in reserve while you focus on the others.
For example, if you determine that an advanced degree is critical to your career success, you might need to marshal multiple resources, including money to finance your education and time to do the necessary academic work. If you’ll be attending school full-time to get your MBA, finances could easily become a big issue. On the other hand, if you’ll be working full-time (or even part-time) while you’re pursuing the degree, time could be almost as big a challenge.
Although this post is an over-simplification of the situation you might be facing in terms of risk management for your career success, I hope it will give you at least a boost in the right direction.
So you say you’d rather have a root canal than engage in job search networking? Then you’re probably looking at networking from the wrong angle!
As I said a couple of posts ago, networking represents a key element of successful job searching and career management. Also, of course, it’s not just a “when I’m in job-search mode” activity, but rather, something you need to do more consistently than that. The question then becomes, “What’s holding you back? What’s really behind your foot-dragging reluctance to network?”
Job Search Networking is NOT Rocket Science
Folks, if you’re thinking of networking as something that only an expert can do effectively, think again. You don’t need a PhD in Networking to do it and do it well. What you do need is the willingness to try and to keep refining how you do it so that it works best for you. By “works best,” I mean that you will actually DO it consistently and that it’s as productive as you can make it for your purposes.
I should note that there are a gazillion books and articles on networking–how to do or not do it, and more. You might get confused if you read too many of them, since in all probability they’ll eventually contradict each other! Try to keep your approach simple.
Networking Doesn’t Have to be a Drudgery
You might agree that a PhD in Networking isn’t necessary, but maybe you still feel that networking is just too hard to get a handle on, too much work, etc., for you to make it a part of your job search action plan. Wrong!
Like anything else worth doing, job search networking does take at least some effort if you’re going to see the results you want. That doesn’t mean it’s drudgery, to be avoided at all costs. Here’s what Ask The Headhunter’s Nick Corcodillos had to say about it in a recent blog post: “Go where professionals gather. Ask them about their work. Make friends. Anybody can do this.”
The blog post this quote was excerpted from makes for some great reading. I highly recommend that you check out “How to Engineer Your Network.” The engineer whose remarks are shared in the blog post makes some very pointed comments about companies that totally fail to acknowledge job seekers after one or more interviews. As you might expect if you’re familiar with Nick’s work, his comments on the situation take no prisoners!
Networking or Watching the Ball Game (or Ballet)
Sometimes you have to make hard choices in deciding how you spend your time. If you’re in the middle of a job search, you might actually need to cut back on a few other activities you would normally engage in. That’s not to say that you can’t maintain some variety in your activities; in fact, doing so is a good idea, because it helps you maintain a sense of balance and allows you to anticipate rewards for “good behavior.”
At the same time, you need to stay focused on the desired end-result; that is, finding and landing your next great job. Give your job search networking the attention and respect it deserves. You’ll be glad you did–I firmly believe that. It will help you achieve the interviews that lead to offers more quickly and less painfully than if you hold back.
With all that’s been going on in the world during the past months and years, you might roll your eyes at the very thought that you could pursue career success without fear this year, and it would be hard to blame you. However, I’d like to offer some encouragement with this thought: fear paralyzes; hope energizes.
I know it’s easier said than done to tell you to put fear aside as you plan your career steps this year. Like you, I’m not immune to the jabs that fear can take at us when we try to move forward in a desired direction. What helps each of us might not be the same for all, but for me, looking beyond my own admittedly limited resources plays a key role. The main point is to find what works best for you and put it into practice.
No Fear in the New Year
Jon Gordon revises his newsletter column titled “No Fear in the New Year” every year, and I always enjoy reading it. His experience 14 years ago might inspire you to look differently at your own situation, however challenging it seems, so I encourage you to read the entire article (signing up for his newsletter is easy and free).
One excerpt that resonates with me is this: “You will always feel fear. Everyone will. But your trust must be bigger than your fear. The bigger your trust the smaller your fear becomes. And the more you trust the more you become a conduit for miracles.”
He then goes on to explain how a financially grim picture was completely transformed in ways he couldn’t have predicted at the start. Within four short years he was in an amazing place in his career and his life. What’s to say you couldn’t experience a similar transformation in terms of your own career success, whether it’s a short-term job search or a longer-term career change?
Big Leaps Can Bring Big Rewards
Making a big leap in your career management (including things like a major job change) can seem really daunting at times. It’s what a respected colleague of mine once called “big gulp” time!
Now I’m not advocating an action such as the adoption of bungee-jumping as a spur to tackling difficult career challenges (although that might work for some of you!). I’m just saying that we sometimes need to move well outside our comfort zone if we hope to achieve a significant growth goal in our career–or in our life, for that matter.
For me, personally, this view has meant considering–and now actively planning–a cross-country move from California to Massachusetts to be near my sister. Many aspects of this planned relocation are challenging, not the least of which is eventually driving myself, my son and two small dogs more than 3,000 miles. Until now, my idea of a long drive has been 3-4 hours, tops.
I can’t foresee all the possible obstacles to be overcome in achieving this goal, but I do know I have a strong reason for doing it, and that motivates me. That might also be what helps you to move forward–to get past the fear you feel at the thought of making a big change in an uncertain world. I certainly hope it does and you reach the end of 2015 with a resounding “YES!” at how far you’ve come.
Did your new year get off to a strong start? If not, don’t worry. There’s plenty of time to make a course correction. However, if you were thinking about launching a new job search this year, you’ve already missed your chance to gain early momentum (late December would have been a good time for that). As the saying goes, though, “all is not lost.” You just need to get cracking!
Key Points for Your Job Search
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” That’s probably as true for job searching and career management requirements as for anything else in life. While keeping that in mind, the following are still potentially valid points to consider in planning and conducting your next job search:
- Last year’s trends might not be this year’s trends. Be aware of them and remain alert to signs that the “old” ones are either strengthening or diminishing in the coming weeks and months, but don’t get fixated on them as you develop and adjust your career management plan throughout the year.
- Complacency is not your friend. Don’t allow the comfort of your current situation (if comfort exists) to lull you into a false sense of security, as a result of which you let active job search energy dissipate into nothingness.
- Revitalize your network. Touch base with key people in your network to (a) see how their year is going, ask how last year was for them, etc.; and (b) share with them appropriate information about what you’re up to. The main point is to demonstrate sincere interest in them, and you’ll probably find that interest reflected back to you.
- Ignorance is definitely not bliss. Although you don’t necessarily have to be on your (mental) toes nonstop, you shouldn’t assume that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Make it an important part of your job search and ongoing career management to stay on top of emerging developments that could affect your career and/or your job prospects, either adversely or favorably.
Job Search Preparation and Execution
Preparation is the process of getting ready for something or taking the steps necessary to make it happen. While getting ready for your job search (making plans) is certainly important, remember that plans that are never executed do not produce desirable results–they can’t. A job search that stays in your mind amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking.
Wishful thinking never accomplished anything worthwhile. Note: This is different from dreaming and visualizing a goal that impels you to take action to achieve it. Action is a key component of that process.
Where do you really want to be at this time next year? What do you want to see yourself doing? Figure that out as soon as you can and begin moving in that direction.
Do or say it now, as in Go ahead and call him—there’s no time like the present. This adage was first recorded in 1562. One compiler of proverbs, John Trusler, amplified it: “No time like the present, a thousand unforeseen circumstances may interrupt you at a future time” ( Proverbs Exemplified, 1790).
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary, Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company.