Only one of these approaches will get you the results you want in your career.
Most people know the word “careening,” defined as “bouncing from side to side in an unsteady way.” You may not be as familiar with “careering” which means “to move swiftly in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction.” Both terms are relevant to the way people often approach their work lives. Unfortunately, neither careening nor careering guarantees success.
As a Career Coach, I see many clients who work hard at their jobs but don’t work smart for their careers. Some jump among industries, functions, and companies, never gaining the traction that results from a strategic approach to career management. As a result, they accrue lots of experience, but have no compelling “story” that makes sense of their choices. Other clients have been so focused that they have limited themselves to career lanes that seemingly have no other application if and when they run out of road.
Do you fall into either of these categories?
If you’ve had a singular focus on a specific role, function, industry, or company, you may feel like there’s nothing else you could do. If your accumulated expertise has begun to feel more like a set of handcuffs than a parachute, then it’s time to stop careening full speed ahead and pause to assess where you’ve been and where you want to go next.
Maybe your dilemma is the opposite: If every new role puts you back at the starting line in a context where you must learn a new organization, players, tasks, and stakes, you may be “careering.” When you get feedback that you’re both overqualified (years of work) but have no “relevant” experience, it’s time for you as well to take stock and make a plan.
Ready to start steering your career instead of careering or careening? Here are the 5 steps you need to take:
- Know your Self
- Know your Market
- Develop a Career Strategy
- Make and Implement a Plan
- Seek out Support
Step 1: Know your Self
At least once a year, it’s a good idea to take stock and clarify what you can and want to do next. For some, this means conducting a search for a new job, for others it’s exploring a new career path. Whether you want to move up, over or out, strategic career management entails identifying and leveraging your strengths and areas for development, your current value proposition and stretch goals and the factors that will make a job/career a good fit. Assessments, exercises and focused research can help clarify who you are today and who you want to be going forward.
Step 2: Know Your Market
Most of us have “transferable skills,” tasks we can perform that can be applied in a variety of contexts. The secret is understanding what we can (and want to do) that aligns with the needs of a particular role, industry, function, or organization. Research is crucial–both learning as much as you can about potential areas of interest from information available in print/online–and by speaking with those who are currently doing the kind of work you are exploring.
Step 3: Develop a Career Strategy
Rather than jumping into a search, take the time to understand how people find work and make sure you are ready to utilize all available channels. Whether your goal is an internal promotion, a new job or a career pivot, targeting and networking are the keys to career success. Build a portfolio of self-marketing “collateral” that clarifies your value proposition–initially to yourself and eventually to others. Learn how to build and leverage a web of contacts who can introduce you to people and opportunities that may be inaccessible with a traditional job search approach.
Step 4: Implement your Plan
An effective search plan comprises several key components:
- Insights gained from a personal assessment and a positive mental attitude so you can engage in your search with confidence.
- An effective resume aligned with your future employment goals that showcases your relevant strengths, skills and experience.
- A concise LinkedIn profile with a professional head shot and a personal Facebook/ Instagram page scrubbed of any damaging information and/or photos.
- An “Elevator Pitch,” a brief verbal profile that states who you are, what you’re good for, your search targets and a reason-for-looking story that explains why you are in the job market.
- A network that provides new people to contact on an ongoing basis.
- Job interviewing expertise so you can express yourself with energy and enthusiasm.
- Criteria for what is important to you in a job so you can evaluate offers and negotiate a win-win situation.
Step 5: Get Support
While you can engage in any of these steps on your own, you may find it helpful to get the support of a Career Coach. An “objective, caring other” can provide you with additional insights, help you build a career portfolio and navigate the process of managing your career effectively. Your coach is a guide, a cheerleader, a devil’s advocate when needed and a source of support as well as ideas, advice and information.
Cameron Diaz recognizing the value of coaching to save her life (with Tom Cruise in “Knight and Day”).
If you want to watch the original clip: “With me, without me”.
However you proceed, stop careening or careering and start steering your career in the direction you want to go.
Day Merrill, M.A., is the founding Partner and Career/Executive Coach for 2BDetermined. She is a 30-year career services professional with expertise coaching individuals and teams on a range of career and work-related topics as well as consulting to organizations in Canada and the U.S. on their workforce development needs. Day holds a B.A. from Connecticut College, a Master of Arts from Wesleyan University and has completed Coach U’s coach certification training.