Managing Your Career
by Paul B. Thornton

Never forget-- you own your own career! A career is a chosen pursuit, or profession. It's the general course or progression of one's working life.

What are your career goals? It's difficult to say what you will be doing 10 years from today. However, you do need to be thinking about your next career move and what new projects you wish to take on.

Effective career management requires the following:

  • Good performance. Do more than your job description requires. Take on difficult and visible assignments. Help your boss and business succeed.
  • Reflection and assessment. What do you like to do? Dislike? How do you work best? How often do you do a self-assessment of your needs, values and work performance? How often do you get performance feedback your from boss, subordinates, colleagues, and customers?
  • Understanding trends in the marketplace. How are customers' needs changing? How are jobs changing? What new technologies are emerging?
  • Ongoing education and development. What new skills have you developed in the last six months? What have you done to expand the scope of your job duties?
  • Marketing your talents. How do you present your abilities and accomplishments without being obnoxious? How effectively does your résumé tell your story?

Three important aspects of managing your career include:

  • Networking
  • Utilizing Mentors
  • Self-promotion

Networking

Are you plugged into what's happening in your profession? Company? Industry? Other industries? A network of contacts in each of these areas can help you stay up-to-date in your profession and industry.

Robert E. Kelly, author of How to Be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed, maintains that today's jobs are very complex and change quickly. Star performers turn to others to get help. They have a network of people they use to multiply their productivity. In addition, top performers are always on the lookout for talented people to add to their network.

Networking is a systematic approach to making contacts and building and maintaining professional relationships. Your network can help in many ways including:

  • Solving problems
  • Pointing out best practices
  • Identifying job opportunities
  • Recommending articles, books and seminars

Start building your network with people you already know - family members, friends and colleagues. Build your network by attending conferences, joining associations, and taking courses. An associate states, "I've been on numerous project teams. The people I work with are now dispersed throughout the organization. Some have joined other companies. I've continued to network with many of them."

Networking isn't one-sided. It requires you to give as much as you receive. Communicate information, ideas and articles you think will be of interest to members of your network. Kelly says that networking is a barter system. Develop expertise that people need but don't currently have.

If you only talk with the same four people week after week, the advice you receive is limited. People who learn to network vastly expand their knowledge base and resources.

Utilizing Mentors

Mentoring is for the young! No, all employees can benefit from having a good mentor. With a mentor you form a close, personal relationship. I have a network of over 100 people, but I've only had three mentors in my career.

Generally a mentor is an experienced person who helps develop a protégé's abilities through advising, coaching, tutoring, providing emotional support and being a role model. He or she is an objective, outside resource. A colleague states, "A mentor is a source of information and advice you won't learn in a textbook or classroom. Mentors are good at asking the right questions to help people think through the problem and arrive at their own conclusions."

Over the past 20 years I've heard comments such as the following:

  • "My mentor helped me understand the company culture-how things really work."
  • "I struggled with a career choice. My mentor helped me sort through the question of whether I was running away from something or towards a good opportunity."
  • "I asked my mentor to be totally honest with me. I received some tough love. It was feedback I needed to hear."

Some companies have programs where mentors are assigned. I believe it's much better to select your own mentors. Choose someone you admire, trust and is known to be a good teacher. A career counselor states, "Certainly good chemistry is important in the mentor/mentee relationship. There has to be a foundation of trust and mutual respect."

Regular communication is important to build and maintain the relationship. Once every two weeks I had lunch with my mentor. We discussed a variety of business topics and world issues. He challenged my thinking and encouraged me to take on a bigger leadership role.

Being a mentor is a rewarding experience. Comments like the following are typical. "My experience as a mentor was exhilarating. It's very rewarding to help people blossom and achieve their goals. It's like a coach watching his team win a big game."

Self-promotion

You may be a star, but who knows about your talents and accomplishments? Many of us were taught to be modest about our abilities and accomplishments. "Don't brag. Let someone else describe what a great job you did." The only problem with that approach is you're empowering someone else to market your successes.

A key part of managing your career is letting people know what you have done and can do. Kathy Bornheimer says that people who are too quiet about letting the right people know about their abilities and accomplishments often are overlooked for great jobs or projects.

To be a good promoter you must believe in the product-namely you-your abilities and talents. You can't be lukewarm about the product. In today's competitive business world, conviction and passion are essential.

Keep a running list of your accomplishments and skills. Maintain a portfolio that includes examples of your best work. Make sure your résumé is professional and up-to-date. Prepare and perfect your elevator speech. You have two minutes to convince a senior manager to select you for an important assignment. What would you say?

Watch good sales representatives. They're able to sell a product's features and benefits in a clear, concise and convincing way. You have to be able to sell your talents.

Interrelationships

Increasing your network also increases your pool of potential mentors. In addition, as you network and utilize mentors, you are given advice on how to promote your abilities and manage your career. The more effectively you promote yourself the more likely you will make new contacts to add to your network.

Summary

You're the author of your career. Effective career management includes ongoing market research, self-assessment, product development and marketing your abilities and accomplishments. Networking and mentors can assist you in each of these areas. In addition, an effective network and mentors can help you succeed in your current job.

Applying the Concept

Beverly Kaye, President & Founder, Career Systems International

I think career management is easy if you truly have a passion for your chosen profession. Luckily, I do. I had two other careers, which did not hold my passion. One (short-lived) as a teacher, and the other (several years) as a college dean. I fell into my current career as a management consultant (about 25 years now) while studying leadership, group dynamics, and planned change "on the side." Once I recognized that this was probably my "calling," I never stopped learning, and consequently have never tired of my work.

Networking is essential. Some of us do it naturally; some have to be taught. I do it naturally. Not only do I constantly network on behalf of my company, but also I network on behalf of all my friends. I am a true believer in "what goes around, comes around." I think the key to good networking is the "quid pro quo," or the exchange of favors. (I call this "elegant currencies"!)

Mentoring, similarly, is also critical. My own philosophy here is that one must be willing to mentor many, and look for mentors continually. I also believe that mentors are not necessarily older, or more senior. Mentors can be found in the most unusual places if you know where and how to look. (My 13-year old taught me all my computer skills. My rocket scientist husband was unable to!)

I also think that self-promotion, if done well, is a necessary part of a successful career. If you don't believe in yourself, and you are not able to say so to others …why would others believe in you! And, as in everything else, there is a time and a place for this. An awareness of when it is "overkill" is also essential to using this ability.

Monster.com has a slogan somewhere in its advertising. It says, "Job Good, Life Good." I love that saying, and believe it is true for careers.

Applying the Concept

Thomas A. Goodrow, Vice President, for Business and Economic Development, Springfield Technical Community College

The importance of expanding your network is similar to making deposits in your bank account. They consistently add up. You can use these deposits to help you solve problems and find best practices. The more contacts I establish, the more likely I am to have the "perfect person" to help me. Whenever I attend a conference or seminar I try to introduce myself to as many people as possible.

I rely heavily on advice from my mentors. These people know what to do and how to do it. They've achieved success. In several cases, mentors have helped me shortcut a major obstacle that would have set me back or slowed my progress. I have used a variety of ways to meet with my mentor, including working out at the health club, going to lunch, attending sporting events, taking long walks, and at times, even having a beer after work at a respectable establishment. I try to stay away from the work environment so that we can distance ourselves from the pressures of daily responsibilities and be free to step back and explore new ideas without interruptions.

Every day I try to find ways to promote myself. I am not speaking of shameless self-promotion, but rather, a positive and consistent approach to communicating my vision, beliefs and talents. In this way when opportunity strikes, the appropriate decision-makers are aware of my abilities and accomplishments.

Your career is a big investment. Career choices affect you every working day. When you invest in yourself through networking, utilizing mentors and self-promotion you will generate a robust return. You'll achieve your career goals.


Paul B. Thornton is a consultant, professor, and author of several books. This article is an excerpt from his latest book, The Triangles of Management and Leadership, which is available at booklocker.com. His company, Be The Leader Associates (www.betheleader.com) designs and delivers management and leadership programs. His e-mail address is Pthornton@stcc.mass.edu .

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Copyright 2002 by Paul B. Thornton. All rights reserved.

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