If I'd Only Known Then What I Know Now:
8 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me at the Start of My Career:
Reflections of a Career Consultant
Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.
The eight simple tips that follow can save you needless time, effort, and frustration and help you have the career you want. In fact you can do many of them as you sit on the airplane - these tips are short and action-oriented, designed for everyone with limited time who needs to make a big impact in the career marketplace.
Tip #1: Define career satisfaction. Avoid the common trap of assuming that success guarantees satisfaction. You cannot have a great career if you don't love what you do, no matter how impressive your title or how much money you make. Determine the sources of personal career satisfaction and seek satisfying work.
Ask yourself the following questions as you think back over your jobs:
  • What are my greatest and most enjoyable skills?
  • What specific activities, tasks, and projects have interested me most and made best use of my skills?
  • What kinds of results and rewards have meant most to me (building something new, adding to knowledge, helping others, etc)?
  • What roles (leader, follower, expert, coach, etc.) have I enjoyed most?
Tip #2: Have a plan for your career, not a story. Most people are caught up in their stories about the (career) past - how they ended up where they are in their jobs and careers and can't go farther. They never realize their career dreams because they believe they can't and never even try. Instead of a story about the past, create a simple plan for your (career) future.
Identify your long-term job goal, assess your current skills and experience, and determine the gap between the two, so you can identify the steps to get from where you are now to where you want to go. The plan may be as simple as, long term I want to be a senior engineer in a technology company, so in the next three years, I need to increase my project management experience and build my facility with specific engineering software and approaches.
Tip # 3: Calendar in small weekly steps to meet your career goals. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither are careers. Look for small measurable steps you can take each week to advance your skills and experience in meeting your long-term goal. Ask what you can do in the next year to make yourself more valuable to your current employer and more marketable to other employers.
For example, talk to a person who does something exceptionally well (such as manage projects or coach subordinates) that you aspire to do well. Or have a networking lunch to explore possibilities in the oil and gas industry. Read a business book on a new management tool. Use the calendar to schedule a small but regular amount of time each week to work on your career goals.
Tip #4: Keep an accomplishment log. On your computer or a piece of paper in your desk drawer, record every work accomplishment and quantify its impact or results. This will be invaluable data for performance reviews, salary or bonus discussions, negotiations for new jobs, and resume updates. You won't regret it.
Tip #5: Prepare the best resume you can. Your resume is your best marketing tool and your professional face to the world, including prospective employers, boards, your network, sources of other job and professional and civic opportunities. Not only it is worth the effort to produce a great resume, there's a particular kind of resume that will help you most: an accomplishment-oriented resume. Focus on specific quantified results to convey your unique track record. Show what results you've achieved, don't just expect your job title or job responsibilities or scope to do the trick. Employers don't want to know what you were paid to do, they want to know what you actually contributed.
Tip #6: Build a case for your target job. Getting your dream job is about marketability, not ability. Just because you have the skills to do your dream job, doesn't mean that anyone will hire you to do that job unless you build a strong case for yourself. How? By identifying factual themes about your experiences and skills that tailor your approach and qualifications to their needs. This demonstrates value to them. Saying you have the analytical, customer service, and interpersonal skills for a customer service job is just declaring your value; pointing to a five-year track record of customer service awards, three years experience with a leading customer service software, and experience working with major competitors of your target employer demonstrates value. Build your case, not your hopes.
Tip #7: Develop your interpersonal skills. People skills are not incidental to your success, they are essential. Many smart, talented people derail because of poor interpersonal skills, so it's important to pay attention to the impact you have on others. Emotional intelligence will determine your career success much more than technical excellence or smarts. It can be learned. Learn it, and keep learning.
Tip #8: Ask for feedback. Another important reason people derail in their careers is because they don't get good feedback on their performance. Don't expect feedback, ask for it regularly and repeatedly and ask tough questions to get useful and constructive criticism. Take it to heart and implement the lessons, but don't take it personally. Don't waste time being defensive: incorporate the feedback, make changes, and keep asking how you are doing. Businesses thrive with continuous improvement; people do, too.
Following these eight tips can help you find and do work you love. You can begin now, from your airline seat. Don't get so busy with your job that you forget to manage your career!