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.
In terms of your ongoing career success, it’s great to look back over the past–just don’t live there. At this time of year, when so many people are preparing to wind some things down and get ready for the new year, you might want to take a look at what has gone right for you this year and what hasn’t. That’s fine. A periodic career review can provide beneficial insights that enable you to move forward. But your next step should be to think about what that means for the coming year and jettison anything that doesn’t have potential to be useful for your career advancement in the future.
In other words, don’t carry excess baggage into the new year. When you take too much baggage on an airplane, you get dinged $$$ for the excess. With regard to your career, hanging on to memories or experiences that won’t help you progress brings its own penalty. It can keep you focused on the wrong aspects of your career and stall or derail your advancement.
Set Goals, Not New Year’s Resolutions
Resolution: “a firm decision to do or not to do something.”
Goal: “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.”
What I noticed about the definition of “resolution” was that it refers to a decision, not a plan of action, although it’s described as a firm decision. On the other hand, the definition of “goal” indicates that effort is being expended toward the target outcome. That suggests that one possible reason so many New Year’s resolutions fail is that there was no plan and no accompanying effort to achieve them.
What does this mean for you and your year-end career review? For starters, you can focus more on setting goals and matching those with the actions needed to help you get there and less on the “I would love to be [whatever your desired outcome is] next year” (aka wishful thinking, which sometimes masquerades as a resolution).
Career Progress Through Change, Not Chance
“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” (Jim Rohn)
While you’re engaged in your year-end career review, you might want to keep Rohn’s quote in mind. If you fall into the trap of living in the past and hoping something will happen to make the next year better, you’re counting on chance, which at best provides uncertain support. Instead, you can create a vision that builds challenging but achievable goals into the picture and develop an action plan to change whatever you have determined needs to change in order for you to achieve real, sustainable career progress.
Now that’s worth doing!
Is there such a thing as mistake-free career management and job search? In a perfect world, maybe; however, you probably don’t live in a perfect world, so the odds are that you’ll make a mistake here and there throughout your career. That said, you can certainly make a concerted effort to avoid mistakes that have a devastating (or even somewhat disrupting) effect on your professional career progress.
Two Mistakes to Avoid
I could list dozens of career management and job search mistakes that my clients (and I, in a former life) have made over the years. The full list might make for depressing reading, but I do want to mention a few, starting with what I might call the “top two.”
- Assume that you can always be in control–and “manage” your career and jobs from that mindset.
- Assume that you’re never going to be in control–and “manage” your career and jobs from that mindset.
I firmly believe that no one–up to and including senior managers and executives–can control every aspect of his/her career progress and job performance. On the other hand, savvy career managers and job seekers know they can exert substantial impact in those areas. In short: you can and should avoid the two mistakes just mentioned.
Five Other Career Management and Job Search Mistakes to Avoid
- Fail to track your progress toward goals–or fail to establish achievable goals in the first place. That can lead to wandering aimlessly and never reaching the desired outcome.
- Believe that others are responsible for your progress or lack thereof. Undeniably, others can have an impact–sometimes a significant one–but that doesn’t mean you should abdicate your responsibility to manage your own career or job search.
- Ignore warning signs that trouble lies ahead, whether in your group, your company, your industry or the world at large.
- Become complacent when everything seems to be going smoothly. Yes, enjoy the ride while it lasts, but don’t assume it will last indefinitely.
- Put all your eggs in one basket. Just as your company can’t afford the risk of depending on one major customer for its long-term success, so you can’t and shouldn’t depend on your company to provide long-term career success and financial prosperity.
Mistake-Free Career Management and Job Search? Seriously?
As we enter the last month of 2013, consider this: If you want something to change for the better in your job or your career, you need to put serious muscle behind making that happen. So, what are you going to do about that? You can start by avoiding the mistakes I’ve mentioned or identifying others you might have made in the past and taking remedial action to prevent repeating them. You can’t pass the responsibility off to someone else. It’s up to you–Santa isn’t going to put it underneath your Christmas tree!
Can you have an isolationist view of your career, and would you want to? Whether or not you plan to seek employment outside your home country , you might find it valuable to explore the concepts of a global outlook and an isolationist view; then look at your career management from a different perspective.
According to Wikipedia, “isolationism is the policy or doctrine of isolating one’s country from the affairs of other nations by declining to enter into alliances, foreign economic commitments, foreign trade, international agreements, etc., seeking to devote the entire efforts of one’s country to its own advancement and remain at peace by avoiding foreign entanglements and responsibilities.”
You can’t afford to ignore what’s happening outside your current company if you want to minimize the likelihood of being sandbagged by a corporate catastrophe. By the same token, you can’t afford to pretend that what happens in other countries is no concern of yours.
At best, isolationism was an ineffective policy, even decades ago. It’s much worse than just ineffective today.
Be Globally Informed–It Can Boost Your Career
Natalie Jesionka has written an article for The Daily Muse, titled “Why Knowing about the World can Help Your Career.” She makes a case for the positive side of taking a world view in your career and presents 3 reasons to consider broadening your outlook:
- “Sit at the Table: We’ve all been there, caught in a conversation we feel left out of….But when it comes to global issues, sticking around to offer your insight and hear what others have to say can help you “sit at the table” for important conversations and position you as informed and knowledgeable among your colleagues. In particular, you want to be informed about how the events happening in another country impact your own work….Identifying the global connection can help you network, be taken seriously, and understand your company’s relationship to the world.
- “Understand Business Culture: No matter what field you’re in, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself traveling abroad for business or working with someone from another culture at some point. And in order to successfully conduct business, it’s important to know the basics of the country and what the culture values….When you are doing business at home or abroad, being globally aware will help you make the most of the opportunity—not to mention avoid some serious mishaps….
- “Acknowledge Your Relationship to the World: …What happens in the rest of the world is directly related to what happens here—especially in the professional environment….As you go through your work day, note [of] how many things you use come from another country—and you’ll find that our offices couldn’t function without the rest of the world. Then, make note of the people you talk to who originate from somewhere else. It’s much easier to communicate and connect when you have some background knowledge about the person’s origins to share or discuss. And it could mean the difference between winning over that business deal or promotion or not….”
Too Busy to Keep a Global Outlook in Your Career?
Yes, we’re all busy, and you might feel as if you’re busier than most people. Maybe you are, but even a small effort towards keeping a global outlook can position you for a more successful, sustainably profitable career than burying your head in the sand and hoping that ignoring the outside world will keep trouble from your door! To quote philosopher Carl Jung, “Nobody, as long as he moves about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble.”
Show yourself to be a business professional who stays on top of things–not just locally or nationally but globally–and I’ll bet you’ll find that your career progress and success is stronger as a result.
Obviously, not everyone can be a leader nor would everyone want to be. I’ve commented before that leaders–by definition–need followers. However, if you want to be a leader or are in a leadership role right now and just want to be a better leader (more influential, more highly compensated, or whatever), this topic might be top-of-mind for you. If not, it probably should be.
Many people tend to think of leaders as holding the top management positions within an organization, and certainly those individuals could qualify for the term. However, “leader” and “senior manager or executive” aren’t necessarily synonymous designations. For the purposes of discussion, though, let’s assume you’d love to get to a higher altitude in your career, which means moving up the “leadership chain” (or management ladder, or whatever else you want to call it).
Ready for Your Next Leadership Opportunity?
According to an article by Jennifer Miller, “When a leadership opportunity knocks, are you ready?,” demonstrating your leadership-readiness has a couple of key components:
- “Taking ownership of your desire for improved leadership skills is an important first step.”
- “…You must convince others that you’ve got what it takes [to] play on a bigger field.”
Note: The others she refers to include not only your boss and his/her boss but also others within your organization that can help you move your career forward (or upward).
I highly recommend reading Miller’s entire article, which is a fairly quick read. It has some practical, down-to-earth suggestions for assessing your support throughout the organization and maximizing the extent of your visibility as a promising candidate for career advancement.
Better Leaders–Made, Not Born
While it’s true that some leadership talents can be innate, I believe (and I’m certainly not alone) that much of what we think of as leadership can be learned. It does call for self-awareness and the ability to evaluate your capabilities–to reach out to possible mentors, for example, for help with areas where you realize you need to grow in order to be ready for advancement.
You need to have good connections both within your organization (and at as many levels up the chain as you realistically can) and outside of it–such as with your company’s customers, vendors and industry leaders in general. If you don’t yet have those connections or enough of them, that’s one good place to start working. The quality of your connections (and how you are perceived by them) plays a critical role in how much they are willing to serve as an advocate for you and support your career/leadership progress.
To sum it up, here’s part of the closing paragraph of Miller’s article: “It’s not enough for you to be ready to take on a bigger role at work; you also must be seen as being ready…By seeking out advocates, building your strategic thinking skills and creating connections throughout your organization, you will be seen as ready when opportunity knocks.”
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.