How to manage your own career

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on

Not all organisations provide clear career paths or career management programs. Should your career be managed by someone other than yourself anyway? Ultimately, you are the one who will make the choices on your career path. Here are some ways to feel better informed and equipped to do so.Do you have a career path?
Do you have a career path in mind? It does not need to be a detailed executable plan. It is important to give some thought to its direction though. There will be different phases in your career where the focus will vary eg exploring options, broadening your skill base, deepening your expertise or even looking for a different direction.

Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.
~ Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)

You may be happy to go on a voyage of discovery, take things as they come and making career decisions as they are presented to you. Many people operate better with a direction in mind, so that when opportunities are presented – they recognise them and can decide whether to pursue them or not.

If you are currently in a job and wanting to manage your career opportunities, these ideas are worthy of consideration.

  • What are you being assessed on?
    In your current work, do you know the criteria used to assess your performance? Or, you could ask a different question: What does success look like for a person in your role? It is important to be clear on these and have an understanding of the things your supervisor/manager is looking for. That provides the basis for conversations about how well you are meeting them and anything that might be missing that would make a difference!

    We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change. 
    ~ Sheryl Sandberg

  •  Know your own blind spots
    We can all have blindspots about own performance. The best way to increase your awareness of what these are, is to ask. That means asking for feedback. Some managers are proactive in providing feedback, others need to be prompted. Many people find giving feedback hard, so make it easier for them.Ask them for advice they can easily give eg what’s one thing I could do to improve my … Or, what area should I be focusing on to improve my chances of … (promotion/getting to work on project x/being considered for a transfer to y area). Choose a good time to ask these questions and perhaps give them time to consider and come back to you with their response.

    The next critical piece here is listen. You asked for the feedback, so you need to be receptive to it. Listen. Consider it and whether or not you agree with it – ask questions to ensure you understand. Blindspots as the name suggests, can bring surprises and it is important to handle them well and manage any defensiveness that you may feel in yourself.

He who never makes an effort, never risks a failure.
~ Anonymous

  • Consider a learning journal
    Keep notes about the outcomes of investigating the ideas above. List the things you need to work on and make notes when you have attempted to do this – be it through training programs, self-directed learning or learning on the job. Note any feedback you get – from coworkers, clients or supervisors. Talk to others – especially those who have held and succeeded in your job. Ask them to share their tips with you.Over time, review your notes and reflect on any patterns that emerge. Are you clear on your overall strengths and areas for development? Is there a clear area you need to develop in?

    The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.
    ~ Amelia Earhart

  • Be visible
    Being noticed is important to career progression within an organisation. It can also be tricky to do in a way that suits you and your workplace culture. One way may to volunteer for initiatives eg being on committee, participate in charity work, being available for special projects and “extra” curricula activities eg campus recruitment drives, giving talks at local colleges.

If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.
~ Sheryl Sandberg

  • Read the tea leaves and know where new developments are heading
    Keep up with company developments and spot the areas where future opportunities lie. This may be where there is disruption in terms of change and/or growth. Identify the new skills or knowledge areas you need to deepen your knowledge in. Look for opportunities for dialogue, shadowing or training with people in these areas.Expand you awareness of these areas and what is happening in the marketplace. Get a sense of where your competitors are heading, what other industries are doing and the impacts their changes are having. Maintain your professional reading – subscribe to online publications and join forums to “see” what people are talking about and concerned about.

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.
~ Steven Covey

  • Seek out your guides
    A mentor can be a great ally in helping you manage your career development. Usually more experienced and in a more senior position, a mentor can be your “learned friend”. They may take a range of roles – a sounding board, advisor, advocate and someone who provides good counsel.Choose your mentor(s) according to the area of expertise you would like insights from. Asking someone to be your mentor may be daunting. However, most people are happy to share their knowledge with an appreciative audience. Try meeting them in an informal setting eg in a cafe for a chat or a work function.Be prepared – do you research on their background and achievements and be able to explain why you are asking them for this support. Most people like it when someone demonstrates interest in them and has made an effort to learn more about them. The approach needs to be made the right way – not too intense, recognising they are busy and have other commitments, respectful and not gushy.Be ready for a knockback. If the person you approach turns you down, be gracious in accepting their decision. Thank them for considering and ask them to recommend someone else as a mentor. They may even introduce you.

    I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.
    ~ Charles Swindoll

If you have other ideas and are willing to share them, we’d love to read them below!

Cast, Carter. 2018. “Six Ways to Take Control of Your Career if You Company Doesn’t Care About It” in Harvard Business Review, 19 January 2018.

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