By Barbara Bowes
Whenever I meet new people, I am always curious to ask, “How did you get to where you are in your career?”
I always find the responses fascinating, but I didn’t realize how often this question actually creates some anxiety and puts people on the spot. In fact, I didn’t realize it until someone asked me the same question!
Just what have I done to create the career I have? What were my strategies or did I just stumble along? What worked and what didn’t work?
To be honest, in earlier days, personal experience had allowed me to see the perils of life’s tragedies strike family members and I quickly learned how important education was to survival. Yet at the same time, I had no idea what education I wanted or what career direction I should choose.
Unfortunately, the school system at that time didn’t provide any career guidance and so I made my choice based on very superficial data. In fact, when I look back on this decision, I can laugh at myself wholeheartedly. After all, I decided to become a teacher because I liked my uncle Jack. He was a school superintendent in Manitoba when I was growing up and I admired him. And, I wanted to earn a university degree because no one in my family had taken that route.
I did achieve my goal of an education and a good job. But challenges quickly appeared as I soon began to experience dissatisfaction with my career choice.
Over the years, I could never seem to pinpoint what my issue was and so I continued to acquire more and more education. While the additional education certainly helped and my career progressed, I still found myself frustrated. Education wasn’t the only golden key to success. Something was missing, I seemed to be drifting. What now?
In retrospect, I can honestly say that my first career was more of a “happening” and that my second career involved more planning and strategy.
Thankfully, the skills I had acquired in one profession were easily transferred to another. But, I learned that the real key to success was knowing myself well and ensuring that my skills always fit the work I was undertaking.
Based on this experience and now many years of developing personal expertise in human resources and career counselling, I can offer the following keys to success for your consideration.
Who are you? What do you want? — Each of us has special career needs that must be met for us to be satisfied. These needs are often called drivers or motivators. They stimulate your interest and drive you toward certain directions. That is why you choose certain subjects in school or sports. That is why we lean toward certain professions. Today, there are many free online assessments that will help you to identify these. If you can’t find a suitable assessment tool, then check in with a career counsellor. But no matter what, find out what motivates you. These motivational drivers include the need to have independence in your work tasks, being in a technical, a social or an entrepreneurial environment, the need to lead or manage a project and/or ensuring you have life-work balance.
In my situation, I always got into trouble in school for talking too much. In my workplaces, I always got into trouble for challenging the managerial systems, asking too many questions and trying to change things or fix things. Guess what I am doing today? Today, I get paid for doing all those things. What does this say about me? It says that I like challenge and change, short projects rather than long, drawn-out, repetitive work, talking to people, investigating and challenging systems. In other words, I am better suited to being a consultant. What about you? Who are you and what do you want? Find out who you are and match this to job characteristics that interest you.
Raise your visibility – A second career success strategy for me was to consciously and persistently raise my profile, to get noticed, to have people see and experience what I can do to contribute to the organization. The most effective way to do this is to volunteer for interesting committee work. This allows you to gain visibility, learn new skills, meet and network with new people (hopefully a senior boss) and become a known entity. If internal committee work is not an option, then seek an activity in the volunteer sector. For instance, if you want to gain skills in human resources, then get involved in a not-for-profit board and volunteer for the HR committee.
Broaden your network – Once people get a job they tend to drop many of their earlier friends and simply focus on work and family. My motto is to never let your network go because some day you might need a broader group of friends. In fact, part of your career goal should be to continue building your network. This helps to increase your visibility but at the same time, more people will know what your skills are and these are the ones who might someday point you in the direction of a new career opportunity. At the same time, be sure to extend your network as far as possible and to include a wide and diverse group of friends.
Showcase your uniqueness – We hear a lot about company branding not only as a marketing tool but also as an employee recruitment tool. Believe it or not, the same thing applies to each job applicant. When someone is looking for a job, they actually become a product and people need to think about that when they are presenting themselves as a candidate. Create a product image through personal dress, demeanour, actions and unique skills. For myself, I used to wear a felt hat which eventually became a signature piece. Find what makes you unique and showcase this whenever possible.
Just one final piece of advice, think of your career as a journey, one in which you can do multiple jobs within a thematic path.
Focus on your skills and not on the job title. As long as you are doing what you are really good at and what you like to do, chances are that your career will be a success. Not only that, by keeping this focus, you and only you are in charge of your career. Good luck.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, is president of Legacy Bowes Group and is author of several books. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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