Many people tend to coast through their careers, from the time they leave school or university and get their first job to the time they retire.
Although they go to work day in and day out and do what they’re paid to do, they aren’t really conscious of their career overall, at least not in terms of directing it where they want to go. Career conscious individuals, however, think about what they want to achieve in their professional life and work out strategies to achieve it, whether that be by themselves, with a career coach or guide or with the support of an online career community.
As a result, these individuals are much more likely to set their own defined career goals and accomplish them, than to find their career journey dictated to them by their employers, recruitment agencies, the global economy and labour market or whatever.
Career conscious professionals are also more likely to be able to foresee and deal with setbacks such as redundancy or an enforced career break, eventually turning such situations to their advantage, rather than having their entire lives ruined. Which camp would you rather be in?
Here are 10 things in particular that all career conscious professionals do to get ahead.
1. Understand who owns your career. We’ve been brought up to believe that our employers will take care of us and will take responsibility for our professional development. For most people and for most organizations that’s changing and it’s important for us to be conscious that we have to take control of our career in order to push on and get ahead.
2. Keep your radar on. This means being aware of what is happening to the organization you’re in. These days, companies are operating in quite competitive environments and can be affected by the issues all over the world over which they have little or no control. Keeping your radar on ensures that you’re able to do the best that you can do, because you are aware of the impact and timing of issues with regard to you and your job.
Sometimes we get the timing wrong in our careers and we move to a new role just at the point where there is a change of control within the organization. We end up being caught up in what we hadn’t foreseen, be it a major restructure, redundancy and so on. There is little we can do about things like that, but if we have our radar on, once we’re there we can be watching the company from within and also preparing ourselves for whatever might happen.
3. Keep learning. Never before has the need for us to take responsibility for our development and learning been greater. No longer can we expect that it’ll be served up for us on a plate by our employer. We’d never have taken that mindset when we first left full time education. We had to learn to be intellectually curious about our world of work and career conscious as professionals, to be prepared to increase our value.
4. Create good relationships around you. You’ll see at every stage of your career, people who are great at what they do. They may be a great salesman or an excellent technologist, but it doesn’t really matter how good they are—they may find themselves on the wrong end of a staffing or disciplinary decision their employer’s had to take if they don’t have good relationships with their bosses.
5. Have regular check-in sessions. In psychological terms, we need to know if we’re OK with our bosses. We want to know what they think of us and our performance and how they rate us. Therefore you need to have these check-ins with your boss on a regular basis. These sessions should be apart from the annual round of appraisals. This is something that for some people might not need to be a daily occurrence, but still needs to happen many times during a one-year period. It underpins psychological health within workplace, which is vital if we are to sustain our careers.
6. See what’s on offer. There are often opportunities for career advancement right under our nose. It’s important for us to be aware of what’s on offer within the organization that we work in. Once we know that, how do we let people know that we’re interested?
It’s also worth seeing what’s on offer externally. Connect with people outside of your own organization—this can be a fairly long list of people, as it includes ex-colleagues, old bosses, mentors, recruitment companies that have hired you previously and anyone else who’s in your space and who should know you and what you do. Go on to LinkedIn—don’t just work on your profile but also join and participate in relevant groups. Follow interesting people on Twitter. Take part in the new social media revolution that’s creating all kinds of opening.
7. Assess your value. At any stage of your career you have a value, a value that is predicated on your knowledge and your experience, your skills and your know-how. This value is also connected to a limited number of people and organizations in your life and to your availability. You also have a market value, in economic terms. Career-conscious professionals wanting to get ahead know what value they have, who in the market will value them and what the economic worth of that value is at any time.
8. Network. We hear about networks increasingly and indeed, thanks to the social media movement, there are now more opportunities than ever for us to meet people from across the world. Networking, though, is both a science and an art. The science is knowing how you go about building appropriate networks and the art is how you build those relationships is such a way that they are predicated on interest and curiosity.
9. Build a personal brand. Another subject that has become more valid is that of personal branding. Personal branding is about how you put yourself out there, to the market. It used to be that our single point of personal branding was the CV. Now, there are many other ways for us to be heard and seen—LinkedIn, Facebook and so on. Control your social media presence and manage it so that what goes out there is what we want to say. If you don’t do that, things may be misconstrued, information can end up in the wrong place and can get out of date very fast.
10. Be specific. At any moment in your career when you wish to make a change, you have to learn to go through a process of getting as specific as you can. Getting ahead is hugely correlated with your level of clarity around what you want and how you’re going to get it.
To begin being more conscious of your career, you don’t have to take huge leaps or make drastic decisions in one day. The key is to take simple steps to begin with.