I tell my clients there are three sequential stages of the career development process: 1) Self-Assessment, 2) Career Exploration and 3) Action Plan. Each stage has a question to be answered. They are, respectively: 1) Who am I?, 2) Where am I going?, and finally 3) How do I get there? But, there is a 4th stage, Career Management. Here the question is, "How do I maintain peak performance?"
Unfortunately, most people are managing their career development very poorly. It's very easy to settle into the "Career Comfort Zone" and merely do the status quo. This is dangerous in today's competitive marketplace. Protect yourself with these strategies.
1. Stop for Self-Assessment - In January and July, stop, reflect and take an inventory of where you are and where you want to be professionally. Are you on track to do the thing you want to do in your life in and outside of work? Also, take a financial snap shot.
2. Continue to Explore Your Options - Too often we have an addiction to a false sense of security. If you think your job is secure, you are mistaken - just ask a teacher. Ask yourself, "What is my back-up plan or exit strategy if something goes wrong at work?" Ask yourself, "What is my next move?" How can my current job prepare me for my next step? Write down three to five options.
3. Dare to Dream - Regularly and religiously take stock of your dream. If you not sure about your ideal career, then seek out the help of a professional to get clarity. Without a dream, you have routine. You'll want to be working toward something. If you don't have anything to look forward to, it's difficult to get through the day. Do you know what you are striving for?
4. Pursue Your Passion - If you make a major transition, put your whole heart into it. If you are not passionate about it you simply can't pull it off. If you are not doing your passion you are doing someone else's job.
5. Set Goals - Always continue to set: 1) Short-Term, 2) Intermediate-Term and 3) Long-Term Goals. Allow for the unexpected opportunities that come your way. Don't foreclose your options that might further your personal and professional growth. Be flexible about accepting lateral moves. Pick the path that has the most branches so you can maximize future options. Ask yourself this important question: "What is my 5 year plan, and what are my career lifetime plans?" Also consider what could derail your plans. What possible hurdles will you need to overcome? Know your goals and the organization's so you can help to achieve them. Find an "accountability buddy" that will help you reach your professional goals. Never be without a goal!!!
6. Create Positive Workplace Relationships - It's important to initiate and establish positive connections with those around you. These include your boss, co-workers and others in and outside the organization. Build a network of constructive and successful people in your place of work and communicate with them frequently. Learn from your peers, co-workers, supervisors and other mentors. Seek out others that will serve as allies in your drive to master new skills and competencies. Associate with positive people. If your workplace is not fun regularly, then consider making a move.
7. Manage Your Boss - Build a relationship with your boss on genuine mutual respect, interests, abilities and goals. Know your supervisors needs and motivations. Understand what is expected of you in the job. Never present a problem without suggesting a constructive solution. Have regular meeting with your boss to communicate your progress on projects and other responsibilities. If your boss is mostly reasonable with only occasional conflicts, then behavior can be modified. However, if your boss is constantly hostile, it is unlikely your supervisor will make any permanent changes. Ask yourself, "Is this someone that is committed to my success?" If your are working for a jerk, then take the high road, engage less and eventually get a divorce from this person!
8. Establish Your Reputation - Build a reputation for reliability by completing assignments by exceeding expectations. Be seen as a reliable and respected internally and externally. Stay visible. Dress professionally not for where you are, but for where you want to be. Demonstrate you can do the work one job level above your own. Guard and maintain your integrity. Never forget that your reputation is all you have!
9. Nurture Your Network - Never ever under any circumstances stop networking! This can run you into major problems later if you are let go. It's a natural system for providing feedback, asking questions, testing assumptions and exploring options. Form strategic relationships and work on forging better ties with your contacts by giving to them first. Find "Super Connectors" - individuals that have amassed a network of connections across various career fields that would be willing to make introductions for you. Make sure your business card is getting out there on a regular basis. Set up a LinkedIn account to manage your ever growing list of contacts.
10. Be Mentored and Be a Mentor - Form a "Dream Team" that will serve as an objective board of directors for your career development. These people should be individuals that you know, like and trust. They should be respected, confident, experienced and successful. Consult with this positive set of advisors and mentors at least once a year. Take advantage of any mentoring programs that exist and be sure to expose yourself to senior management. Show an interest in the professional development of someone that needs it. Help propel others forward, just as others have done for you. You'll feel great when you give back.