There are so many things outside our power when it comes to life, including the 9 to 5 part of it. That's why it's important to know and act on what is in our power. Here are six simple yet powerful ways to take control of your career.
Develop a Vision
Without a destination, it's impossible to have any sort of intentional direction in endeavor. And to take control of your career, you have to know where it is you want to take it. Think about where you want to be in the next five to ten years and beyond career-wise then research and reverse engineer to figure out the things you'll need to do in order to get to that point. What connections will you need to make? Will you need to be geographically mobile? Might it be important to further your education through certifications or more schooling? The point of this step is not to meticulously flesh out your desired future job title, company, location, etc. because those things can change and, honestly, there are options beyond what we can necessarily conceive of in the present moment. The point is to determine the type of work you'd like to be doing, with what type of accountability, and in what type of environment, in your ideal future state. Remember that your work is just one [albeit important] piece of the life you're living. Your professional vision should be in alignment with and support of the overall vision you have for your life.
Seek a Mentor
There's a meme out there that says "Too many people want a mentor but won't read a book." and it's SO true. Many of us are seeking someone to tell or show us how to do something without first trying to do for ourselves. That is NOT what I'm telling you to do here. Assuming you are doing all you can to elevate yourself, you should seek out a mentor who is where you want to be in one or more ways for a host of reasons. They can teach you about yourself and help you identify blind spots you have (we all have them). They can advocate for and connect you to those who have influence over your career. They are where you want to be in some respect and have likely been where you currently are before. This means they can help you connect the dots.
A good candidate for a mentor could be someone who has the flexibility you desire in your career. Or someone making the kind of money you'd like to make. Or a leader (not necessarily a manager, though) in your organization or industry. I have personally benefitted from professional mentorship and it's almost always been organic and informal. I've recently talked about the power of mentoring, especially for people of color.
Adult learning is different from the classroom lectures we sat through from kindergarten though high school and even college. We grown folks generally learn best with about 10% formal, in-class style learning, 20% through observing and interacting with others, and 70% through actually doing (that's hands-on experience). With this in mind, I encourage you to think about and pursue learning opportunities that will help propel you toward the career you want. Whether that means obtaining professional certifications or advanced degrees, reading self-help books, or watching webinars during your lunch break.
Take control of your career by realizing that there are learning opportunities everywhere. Conferences, workshops, and industry meetings are good ways to engage in that formal (10%) learning and learn through the people you meet (20%). Just be sure to take note of what you pick up and practice applying it when you get back to work (that's the 70%). Many employers will pay or reimburse you for the cost associated with learning. Professional organizations provide scholarships for these activities, too. You just have to do your research. One of the things that has helped distinguish me in my career is my commitment to continuous learning. I personally enjoy learning new things and refining my skillset and my organization leaders appreciate and value that. It's a win/win, which is the best kind of situation.
You know the saying; closed mouths don't get fed. They don't get promoted, either. Nobody knows more about what you can do than you! Knowing is just the first step, though. Give real thought to your strengths and what you have to offer (it doesn't hurt to ask around during this process). Then practice speaking and writing about yourself as you would when bidding for a developmental project, new job, or networking with someone at a happy hour. Learn how to talk about what you do in terms of value ($) when telling another person about your job. While you're at it, tighten up your resume and LinkedIn page. Don't have one? Get on that. If you need help in that area, let me know. It used to be my job to help college students and recent grad do just that when I was a grad student. I currently keep those skills sharp by volunteering with local HR students and professionals in the same way.
Don't Rely on Your Company
You're not in control if you're waiting for a company or anyone else to do something for you. Investing in employee development generally helps an organization reach its goals but it is not your company's job to get you where you want to go. That's your job. 🙂 While any company worth its salt fosters employee development through a variety of opportunities, training, and programs, if you rely solely on the opportunities presented by your employer, you're limiting yourself and your options down the road. Companies truly exist to turn a profit, so take it upon yourself to network and get involved with external organizations. For example, if you want to be a better public speaker, look into a local Toastmasters club. This is a form of learning and development so, like above, your employer might even cover the cost.
Invest in Your Image
You know how they say dress for the job you want? One overlooked way to take control of your career is to do that. I'm not saying wear a three piece suit when your office dress code is casual but do take pride in your appearance and let your look set you apart in a good way. It's easy to fall into a pattern of comfortable clothes that aren't necessarily polished so make sure you're assessing and curating your wardrobe regularly.
Ideally, your expertise will speak for itself but image does matter in our society so don't let your appearance work against your credibility and what you have to offer. The inside should reflect the outside and vice versa. There are certain people at the top of their respective fields who can show up looking however they want to. Think Oprah, Janice Bryant Howroyd, or Beyonce. If you aren't one of these women, you need to come correct! And, if you're typically well-dressed, your boss probably won't know anything's up when you come in fresh from an external interview. 🙂
I hope this advice helps you take control of your career. I want us all to win and am here to help in any way I can. As always, thanks for reading!
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