As my career has progressed, I’m spending more time mentoring, coaching, and guiding others. Where I once was the naive fresh out of college grad, I’m now the experienced. These are my five key principles that have guided me in my career.
As a career consultant, I have worked for five different firms and consulted on more than 30 projects. In addition to my own experience in my own company’s career model, I’ve seen other companies during my consulting engagement. I’ve heard client employees struggle with their careers and I’ve seen successes. In nearly all my experiences, I’ve found my five principles to hold true.
I’ve never publicly shared these principles before, only some during my mentoring sessions. I will preface that these principles have worked for me in the past ten years but as we all know, the world is evolving and they may not hold true moving forward. The rate of change and the speed of competition will only increase. I would argue these five principles are going to be the baseline for the future and that to be successful in that future, you have to go above and beyond these.
1. You own your career, no one else
Everyone company has their own career model. Many will be more prescriptive and share the formula to success. These models are designed with the intention that you will work your entire life for this one company. You’ll build skills for the next job title or role and move up a pre-defined path.
That’s all fine and dandy until you decide that you don’t like the company anymore, or you want to change career paths.
What you need to do is to create your own career path, one that exists outsides of the artificial constructs created by companies. Then, manage your own career path in parallel to the company you are working for. If you have to fill out a career development plan, use your own first, then fill out the form or follow the procedure to check that box off. In all cases, your own career plan trumps all.
Your career plan should identify the skills you need and the course of action to get those skills. When possible, use your company’s existing infrastructure to get those skills, whether it be on the job training, formal classroom training, or reading. If that doesn’t exist, fund it yourself. Ask if you can take an external workshop. If your request is denied, take time off and pay for it out of your own pocket. An investment in yourself will yield the greatest return. If you can’t get specialized software (e.g., Photoshop), then buy your own copy. If you don’t have the hardware or tools you need, buy your own. Do that it takes to make sure you acquire the skills you need to go where you want.
2. Create and share your portfolio
My brother is an artist and like all artists, he has a portfolio of his work. In the business world, that’s much less common. A few years back, I decided that the best way for me to get a job was to show what I could do in the interview. Anyone can talk about what they do, I wanted to show what I have done.
Early on, my portfolio was simply a three ring binder with hard copy prints of my work. This included print outs of presentations I’ve made and delivered, copies of reports I wrote, or pictures of workshops I conducted.
As technology advanced, my portfolio now resides in a PowerPoint presentation in a DropBox folder that I can access on any device (laptop, tablet, or phone). As technology advanced and this became more common place, I migrated back to the physical portfolio. Instead, I’ve printed out artifacts of my work and laminated them. They now exist as a packet of physical handouts that people could touch and feel.
When I’m meeting someone, or interviewing with someone, I’ll keep the portfolio handy. In about 60% of my meetings, I have a reason to pull the portfolio out to show something that’s relevant. It has to be natural. It has to resonate with the person you’re talking to.
3. Be your own PR
If you’re reading this and you have your own PR resources, then you don’t need this. If you’re like 99% of us, there’s no such thing as personal PR. Instead, you have to manage this yourself. What PR does is it creates a perception and perception can be a very powerful agent.
Doing good work will only get you so far. What’s important is that good work is known, recognized, and shared with others. Sharing your work shouldn’t feel tacky. It should feel natural and wanted. But just yapping about how great you are isn’t going to cut it. Besides the obvious that your work has to have some value, talking about it only has value if someone listens and then is willing to share it with others.
You should create your own fan club. If the words coming out of your mouth is worth one point, then the words coming out of another person’s mouth is worth 10 points.
Why is it important that people know who you are and what you’re capable of doing? So that you can do more of what you love and you can contribute more of what you’re capable of doing. This is not a bad thing. Done right, it actually makes the world a better place. There’s no point of doing great research and discovering great discoveries and never sharing them with anyone.
All of this only works if you can back up what you say about yourself. If you can’t, people will be very quick to call you out and you’ll do more damage than good. If you can back up what you say about yourself, then you need to reach out to as many people as you can. Give them a reason to talk about you. They should leave feeling like they’ve met someone that can help them rather than feeling obligated that they should help you. When the first happens, you’ve just became a go-to person. You’ll be top of mind when a need comes up.
4. Connect the dots
In Steve Job’s Stanford commencement speech, he said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Spend time connecting those dots. Take time to let the people that’s helped you in your career that they’ve made a difference in your life. The more you connect those dots, the better chance you’ll have that more dots will connect later in life when you look back.
Mistakes you’ve made shouldn’t look like a tarnish on your history. You should be able to look back and see those mistakes as simply a path that got you to a better place.
If you believe that the dots will connect, then you won’t be afraid to veer off the path and take on new challenges. The unknown will be scary, but you’ll have confidence looking back that ever dot was an unknown.
5. Go where the ball is going to be, not where it is now
The best way to win in competition is to go where the competition isn’t. If you spend your life chasing the ball, that’s what you’ll be doing, chasing the ball. What you want to do is go where the ball will be.
When the industry is jumping on board the latest fad, you should be already out there looking for the next thing. If you’re chasing the latest trends, you’ll be in with the hoard of competition. Instead, be the person that’s out there by your lonesome. Take the trend to all digital. Everyone is going mobile, everyone is going digital. Now would be the best time to start practicing your penmanship and start writing letters, supporting our good old USPS. In a world where everyone sends electronic messages, the one person that sends in a hardcopy letter stands out.
Anytime you see an industry go all in on something is a great time to go the opposite direction. It’s an opportunity to be different.
These principles have worked well for me the last ten years. Take that with a grain of salt. I’m already gearing up for the next ten years and I anticipate retooling myself to change with the times. Let me know what you think. What has worked well for you.