By: Jay Meschke
During my 25-year span in the executive search industry, I’ve met with thousands of people. Invariably, some of these individuals are seeking career advice, as they’ve reached a crossroads in their career and don’t know which route to take. These executives have kept their nose to the grindstone, focusing on the job at hand but neglecting to manage their career in the process. Commendable as this noble use of time appears, such an answer is the wrong one.
Enjoying a wonderful career is more work than meets the eye. Such a continuum starts at an entry level position and evolves over 30+ years. The lifecycle of a career takes many forms, and below I outline tips for making the most it.
Take advantage of training and development opportunities early on.
When first starting out, one should embrace any training and development options available. If you’re employed within a large company, such opportunities are readily accessible. On the other hand, if you’re employed in a smaller organization, take time to improve credentials by obtaining added educational degrees or certifications.
A key piece of the career puzzle is intentionally identifying a handful of supervisors, peers and colleagues that you feel might have a bearing upon future connections and, in turn, career opportunities. These types of relationships naturally accrue via attendance at training offerings or added education.
For example, I’m continually amazed at how often people follow the same path – from company to company and employer to employer – all due to relationships developed throughout their work life. Making and fostering such relationships are critical components to a long lasting and successful career.
Seek out mentors and sponsors.
A second piece of advice is to seek out mentors and sponsors. These individuals, by definition, are not one and the same. A sponsor is someone who has a definite, vested interest in your success that often times translates into the sponsor’s success. In turn, a mentor is someone who can provide unbiased advice and counsel but does not have a vested interest in your success that translates back to them.
In the career continuum, it is best to have a handful of both sponsors and mentors to stay in touch with and ask the “dumb” questions or challenge personal assumptions and thinking. Even the best and most successful entrepreneurs rarely go it alone. They’ve had help along the way.
It’s often wise to develop friendships within your industry to make sure that you are not myopically limited by the touch points and information available at your current employer. Make sure you get exposed to the open marketplace, divergence of thought, new ideas and subject matter experts. Again, such an effort needs to be intentional.
Attendance at industry conferences is one way to do this, but organizations such as chambers of commerce and economic development groups are others. You’d be surprised how a chance meeting at a breakfast often leads to a lifelong contact that may assist you with one of your career stops.
You can also enhance relationships through professional associations. For an attorney, that might be the Bar Association; for an investment banker, the Association of Corporate Growth. An accountant may wish to affiliate with Financial Executives International or the American Institute of CPAs. Someone in healthcare would be wise to attend meetings of the American Medical Association or the American Nurses Association. The list goes on and on, and such groups are available for virtually everyone, regardless of level or organization.
Don’t forget the “kitchen cabinet.”
The next piece of advice revolves around what I call the “kitchen cabinet.” Every person would be well advised to court a small handful of professional advisors to surround yourself with throughout a business career. Accountants, lawyers, bankers, insurance executives, financial planners and even fitness instructors or hair stylists are just a few examples. However, don’t just randomly select such advisors. Once again, be intentional. You never know when one of these people might put you in touch with that next great job opportunity at the most unexpected time.
In today’s day and age, we are immersed in a digital, point and click world, and many people might overlook the advice shared in this blog. But I predict a time when people may actually rebel against the impersonal use of the Internet and online tools to enhance their career. While mediums such as LinkedIn and Facebook are here to stay, actual personal relationships will result in a higher career ROI and will outlast any technology substitute. I encourage you to get started today and build a foundation of meaningful, personal relationships which will serve you well and enhance your career now and in the future.