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Managing Your Career Proactively

Why You Should Proactively Manage Your Career

Having seen a few economic downturns in my career, I’ve learned a lot watching people who manage their careers and those who don’t.  During the last recession, I watched a high number of talented people, with 10 or more years at one company, lose their jobs.  Some of these long-tenured employees were too loyal or perhaps too risk averse to explore career moves.  I’m sure you know someone who was employed for 10, 20 or even 30 years at a company who unexpectedly lost their job.  For such loyal employees, change is difficult, especially when it’s not on their terms.

After investing so much time and energy in one company, people often feel emotionally devastated,  bitter or “in mourning,” over the loss of their position.  As a result, they become stuck in the past and the pain of loss, instead of moving forward.  Some of them do find a new, rewarding role, similar to the one they had, but often at a lower salary.  Others found a new career that exceeded their wildest dreams, wondering, “why did I wait so long?”  And certainly, some of these individuals simply find a new lifestyle to match the employment they could find.

Lessons Learned:

I’ve noticed those who manage their careers in a proactive way fare much better in the long term than those who did not.  And we can learn from those who survived and even thrived during these times.  You, too, can manage your career proactively with a few strategies.

Strategic Career Planning:

It’s vital to understand your strengths and increase your “portfolio” of marketable, transferable, skills.  If your employer is slow to adopt new technology, and doesn’t provide training or professional development opportunities, you are very vulnerable.  You should continually improve yourself with training and education in your profession.  Learn what skills and positions are in high demand.  But you must be willing to take some risk to get the experience and skills sought out by employers.  You can do that by asking for new projects or roles at your current employer or by simply making a move.

Accomplishments:

More important, you should be constantly and honestly assessing your work performance and the value you’re bringing to your employer.   You can do this by keeping documentation on significant projects, and how they made or saved the company money, or improved a process.  Assess the positive impact your work made on your department and your company, and be sure to quantify the value of those outcomes where possible.  This will prepare you to tell that success story later!

Networking:

More importantly, and certainly the most overlooked aspect of proactively managing your career, is building your network.  Many people, especially those in technical professions, think of building a network of contacts as an insincere or unnecessary activity.  But research shows effectively building a network of contacts has more to do with “giving before you get,” or helping others.   No matter your profession, if you make meeting new people a priority, with the right attitude, you’ll reap huge rewards.  To succeed, you must be sincere and take an interest in what others you encounter are trying to achieve.  Look for opportunities to help, even in the smallest ways.  For example, I had unexpected business travel that derailed my plans to see a Broadway show.  I gave those tickets to one of my contacts, because his daughter loves dance.  It really is the little things that make a difference.  Being thoughtful and courteous pays off with a loyal network that can serve you, personally and professionally, for the rest of your life.  More important is you’ll make a positive difference in many lives.   A great book on this approach is called Give and Take:  A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam M. Grant, Ph.D.

None of us can predict the next economic downturn, acquisition or merger. But proactively managing your career works well regardless of economic conditions.  So assess your career goals, and get the skills and experiences you need to meet those goals.  And don’t be afraid to explore new opportunities both inside and outside your current employer.