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 job interviews and on the job, first impressions matter because they last. In fact, they often take effect in an instant but can be difficult to change, if not impossible (depending on how strong they were to begin with).
I’m not talking about something like “is my tie straight?” (if you wear one). I’m referring to more subtle examples, such as the way you greet someone (the interviewer, maybe a new boss or colleague). Do you come across as friendly but professional, interested in others but not nosy, and so on? Job seekers are often told to “act natural” or “be yourself,” but cautioned to be wary of missteps which can cause them to stumble.
If you’re well up in the ranks, you might be thinking you already know basic stuff like this. But bear with me, because even the best of us can sometimes overlook things that could put us at a disadvantage when meeting someone who’s important to our long-term career success–whether it’s during the job interview phase or after we’ve landed our new job.
Basics You Might Need a Refresher On
Over-confidence can be every bit as damaging as lack of confidence, sometimes even more so. For example, if your body language or your words suggest an arrogant sense of superiority, you just might rub someone the wrong way, only to discover that the person has a say in whether or not you land the position.
Briefly, these are key aspects to consider when you’re getting ready for an important interview, because they’re what interviewers are likely to notice about you (found in an article titled “The 7 Things Interviewers Notice First“–they were listed in reverse order in the article):
- Communication style
- Body language
- Attire (clothing, etc.)
- Arrival time
I’d like to add a side note on the item about arrival time–which is something that’s very important but can be difficult to judge on occasion. As the article indicates, you definitely don’t want to be late. On the other hand, you don’t want to show up in the lobby 30 minutes ahead of time either.
In these days of cell phones being everywhere, there’s not much excuse for failing to notify someone if you’ve been unavoidably delayed; however, it would be much better, in my opinion, to build in a generous cushion of time and then find something to do with yourself during any “left over” time you might have–while staying near the location you need to be at for the interview.
First Impressions On the Job
Regardless of your rank in the organization, you’ll undoubtedly be meeting new people a lot–co-workers, subordinates, key customers or vendors, and more. To the extent possible, you’d be smart to bone up ahead of time on those you’ll be meeting, so you’re well prepared to achieve a positive first impression. Then all you have to do is maintain that positive impression in subsequent meetings!
Sometimes, of course, you won’t have an opportunity to prepare for a first meeting. It can happen unexpectedly for a variety of reasons. However, if you’ve been making the right kind of effort all along, you’ll probably come out of the encounter satisfactorily. By that, I mean that you’ve prepared yourself to make a first impression that will present you favorably in diverse circumstances–and will create a long-lasting impression you’ll be happy to be associated with.
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.
If things aren’t going well with your professional life–maybe you’re engaged in a frustrating job search–you might feel as if you don’t have much to be grateful for right now. You could be viewing Thanksgiving Day as “Turkey Day” at best and as a waste of time at worst.
I’m not going to deliver a Pollyanna sermon to you. At the same time, focusing the lion’s share of your attention and energy on the highly unsatisfying situation you seem to be stuck in will not help you get out of it. I can almost guarantee that.
Refocus Your Job Search Outlook
Whether you’re into visualization or not (many people aren’t and that’s fine), you can consider your situation pragmatically and begin identifying any potential positives about it or any that you can realistically see a way to make happen somewhere down the road. For those of you who do use some form of visualization, you might decide what kind of different attitude or approach you want and how that might look.
It could involve becoming aware of things you’ve been ignoring or were previously unaware of. For instance, maybe there are people who have expressed interest in your career success and/or willingness to be a resource for you, but for some reason you haven’t taken them up on it. In that case, what’s been holding you back? Taking a few minutes to refocus your job search outlook can open up possibilities you weren’t able to see before.
Gratitude for Major Changes Completed Successfully
Often, achieving a successful job search or career success goal can be less about moving from Point A to Point Z and more about going from A to D to M to C to K…. In other words, you don’t take a straight-line path. If you find it discouraging, particularly when you’re engaged in a really major change, gratitude might seem out of place. However, I encourage you to suspend disbelief for a while and give gratitude a try. It can’t hurt, and it could make a big difference in your overall results.
I might add that I’m speaking from experience here. In my former life (before starting A Successful Career), I went through many job search challenges and sometimes (though thankfully not often) through unsatisfactory job situations. I know I learned something useful from each one, though, and that helped offset the negative feelings I might have been experiencing at the time.
As some of you know, I relocated my family/household and my business from California to Massachusetts last June, which was a project of epic proportions! The disruption of my routine and necessarily of my ability to maintain full business operations was substantial. However, now that the dust has settled more or less, I am decidedly grateful for our new home and for being much nearer to a close relative whom I value. That makes the path ahead look challenging but do-able, and I’m “up” for it.
I find it helps to pair gratitude with a hopeful attitude. I can still look forward to helping clients achieve their goals–just in a new setting. That makes the struggle to get here very worthwhile.
The following scene isn’t exactly what I can see out my office window (we’re not quite that close to a lake), but it’s typical of this area in the fall. It refreshes me to look at it–and hopefully it will help me to get through the coming winter with acceptance if not enjoyment. I hope you will have–or find–your own motivating key or outlook in the weeks and months ahead.
Some of you probably knew what you wanted to be when you grew up, even before you left childhood behind. Many of us, though, take longer to figure it out, and some take a really long time.
Others never quite do choose a single goal. If you’re one of those, does that mean there’s something seriously wrong with you? Not necessarily, but it might mean you’ll have a more challenging career road ahead, with a lot of zigs and zags.
Multipotentialites or Multipods
This was a new concept for me, but a very intriguing one. I found it in a fascinating article by George Lorenzo titled, “Why Figuring Out What You Want To Do Isn’t Necessary For Success,” on FastCompany.com. The article highlights the career of Emilie Wapnick, founder of Puttylike.com, which is a resource for individuals who can’t seem to focus on one career objective. As the article puts it, “These are people who simply cannot work in only one arena; they have multiple passions they might dive into with extraordinary zeal, often temporarily…. Or they have numerous finely tuned skills and hobbies….”
The problem is, of course, that such people don’t fit into the expected pattern. It can make your work life (and personal life as well) much more challenging than you might like, because people tend to label you as someone who “can’t decide what you want to be when you grow up” and dismiss you as doomed to career failure rather than career success.
You might be interested to know, though, that you’re in pretty good company if you’re a Multipod. Wapnick presented a TED talk in which the following were mentioned as Multipods: Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo DaVinci, and Thomas Jefferson. Not bad company to be in, right?
So is Focus a Bad Thing?
Of course not! At least, not if you don’t happen to be a Multipotentialite (Multipod). Your career success might rest more on a focused path than on a diversity of directions. If you have a strong passion or a well-defined skill-set you enjoy using, you might decide that your best bet is to pursue a goal that takes advantage of it and focus on developing it into a viable career.
In that case, however, you might need to remind yourself from time to time that focus is not only a good thing but also important to your professional development and eventual career success. It’s not that you have to concentrate so hard on the chosen direction that you can’t ever do anything else in your life; you just need to invest a fair amount of time and effort in actions that move you in that direction.
By the way, some people who might be considered at least borderline Multipods find their satisfaction from pursuing one direction for a professional career and indulging many other aspects of their interests and talents outside the workplace–or even as a second-stage career after they retire from the first one.
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.