Our working lives inevitably come with ups and downs, but it’s always important to make sure you’re in charge of where you are heading. Here’s how to set your career up to ensure a productive long career.
- Assessing your career proactively is important.
- Plan carefully, speak up and network.
- Never be complacent.
The only thing for certain is that change is constant. At any juncture in time, we can point to things that are creating change.
If we can take one lesson, it’s that there’s always going to be ups and downs, now and in the future. Rather than coasting along, bumping into the next thing, it’s best to take charge, evaluate regularly and take steps to keep momentum.
Here are four steps which, if repeated regularly, will ensure your career is fulfilling and productive, regardless of the change that happens along the way.
Step 1. Ask: what do I add?
It’s a good idea to regularly have an honest look at how you’re contributing in your current role. Doing this requires awareness of your working environment.
For a start, think like a business. Ask yourself: does my role add value to the company’s revenue, or to customer retention? Then, contemplate your company’s and manager’s goals and priorities, and determine whether the work you do is aligned.
If the answer is ‘not really’ then you run the risk of not being considered for development or progression and susceptible to redundancy.
Think about the value you bring to business fundamentals whether in for-profit, not-for-profit or government. How you can shift your work to impact profit/funding or customer satisfaction/stakeholder priorities, more directly? For example, what tasks are you prioritising each day? Are you focusing on ‘busy’ tasks that don’t really add the most value, and is there a gap or missed opportunity you could shift to become more effective towards organisation goals?
If, on the other hand, you cannot see a way to align with the company’s goals, then it might be a sign that it’s time to start looking elsewhere. Instead of trying to align your skills in an environment that may not prioritise the value you bring, are there organisations where your skillset is their core business?
And of course, repeat this step at regular intervals.
Step 2. Speak up
Every time you go through the previous step, make sure to follow it up by talking to management and articulating your alignment to goals, or proposing ideas for realigning your role.
These conversations might seem daunting or even feel risky, but they’re an excellent opportunity to demonstrate personal leadership and enhance your relationship with decision makers. The clearer and more motivated you are about where you want to go, the easier it is for leaders to accommodate. It also shows your commercial awareness and being on-board with the organisation’s objectives.
Step 3. Maintain your network
Most people understand the value of tapping your network when looking for a job. However, networks are one of the most important assets we have at all times, whether job searching or not. Regularly tapping into your network gives you an important pulse on what’s happening in your profession and industry, helping inform any decisions or actions you take. Sharing your insights with industry peers can also have a confidence effect, where maybe you realise you have more to offer than it sometimes feels.
Making an effort to stay in touch with your network regularly shows you’re committed to a two-way relationship, not someone who only picks up the phone when they need something.
Step 4: Resist complacency
Everyone is busy and if we’re not, we might wonder what we’re doing. This busyness can also lead us to focus the immediate and also get comfortable, that we inadvertently become complacent. And while it might give some comfort to not think about what lies ahead because we’re too busy dealing with today, the problem is the world will inevitably shift around you, making you at risk of becoming outdated. And not just in your current role, but in the broader market.
Start by being curious, and constantly look for areas of development to resist complacency. Observe what’s happening in your market, look for shifts and trends. What skills or systems should you upskill in? If your network has become dated, who else do you want to connect with that are like minds, and the connectors or decision makers in your sector?
The path to anywhere is never a neat straight line, but these four steps are the basis to ensure a productive career in the long term. With these in place, you can you’ll have the ability to evolve and handle change, whatever the future may bring.