Ten Things You Need For Career Success
Get the specific strategies you need to create a career you can thrive in.
Posted Aug 26, 2015
On any given day in your work life, there is a lot to focus on. Clients, meetings, deadlines, office politics, stress and anxiety, not to mention your boss, your team and just when do you get that coffee break?! It can be pretty overwhelming. So it’s not surprising that my research shows that 70% of women don’t have a career plan, and more than 48% of women are just completely winging it when it comes to what’s next for them work wise. Not only that, more than 70% of women are really struggling with their health and wellbeing, and just plain forget about any semblance of work life balance. Pretty daunting statistics.
This week, as you get on with the business of your business, take a step back and get a broader perspective. When we run on autopilot, focusing on the urgent, we can lose sight of the important things we would be well served to think about. Here are ten core ideas to ponder that fall into that important category, and that are critical for building a career that matters.
1. Get clear on your life vision
Ok so this is a big one to start with, I grant you that. But if we know that the career plan scantly gets a look in, it’s even worse for the life vision. Spend some time really thinking about what you want your life to look like. Where are your passions, relationships, spiritual life, creativity, community, leisure time, study and yes career – how does it all fit together in a way that really works? We often leave the parts of our life behind that we really want, just because we are too busy to consciously fit them in and make them matter. Do some daydreaming and then some planning around what you really want this one and only life to look like.
2. Work with purpose
We hear a lot about the big ‘why’ of work these days (thanks Simon Sinek). It’s a hot topic, and for good reason. To have a career that matters, you have to be working on purpose. What does that mean? Purposeful work is meaningful work. It’s work that you feel called to do. It’s work that even if nobody paid you to do it, you would still get up every morning and get to it. Purposeful work becomes involuntary, and you are engaged and fulfilled when you are doing it. Is this what your work looks like for you? Where is the purpose in what you do every day? Have a think about where the meaning and purpose sits in your career. If you need inspiration go and watch Simon’s TED talk, currently viewed by more than 23 million people (I think he’s on to something).
3. Get a plan
When I was a hot shot marketing manager at GE in my mid to late 20’s, I had no plan to speak of other than continue to be a rising star (good plan). I would have these arguments with older senior women who were adamant that without a rock solid career plan, you wouldn’t (couldn’t) be successful. I was more in the winging it stage, but hey, it was working, so why fight it? Well I hate to admit it, but they were kind of right. But only kind of. I don’t believe in the fixed five year plan that used to be so in vogue. But you do need a plan of sorts. At least, you need to know directionally where you are headed and at best, being really clear on the types of role, skills, experiences you need and want will serve you well to get you to your goal. And then, you can also stay open to the magic moments that can be career defining or changing.
4. Know and use your strengths
We are geared with a negativity bias and trained to focus on our weaknesses. In fact, our brains are hard wired to do so. You know, run away from a tiger and all that. Helpful in the jungle, but not so much in the office each day (unless your boss is the tiger, and then, as you were). We know that only 2 out of ten people get to do what they do best every day at work. Don’t be one of them. Learn to use and play to your strengths. Go and take the free character strengths survey at the VIA Institute and watch how your levels of engagement, productivity, health and happiness skyrocket when you start to use your strengths at work and play each day. You won’t believe it until you try it, trust me, I’ve seen it with thousands and thousands of people I work with. Go get at it.
5. Close the confidence gap
We hear all the time how women need to build their confidence at work. And yes, there is much research to support the theme, and I do see this as an issue in my work with women each day (and in my own life). Or you may be in the camp of thinking that men are just overconfident and that it’s really not an issue at all. Wherever you sit, it is undeniable that for many women, self doubt, self criticism, an overly tuned antennae set to ‘what will they think of me’, or hard wired to the people pleaser channel, can be career limiting and stop us from playing as big as we would like to. Get under the stories you are telling yourself about what you can and can’t do, why you do it, and what beliefs may be stopping you from taking big leaps forward (or even raising your ideas in a meeting). The simple question of ‘Is that true?’ when you hear those stories surfacing can be enough to start to silence your inner critic, and reframe your less than helpful stories into ones that help you take action.
6. Build your personal brand
When we think about brands we usually think about big organisations like Apple or Virgin. But you have your own personal brand that you need to positively cultivate for career success. Your personal brand is really about who you are, what you do and how you do it. The first step is to make sure you are showing up authentically, in line with your life vision, purpose and strengths. There is little value in cultivating a brand that is based on smoke and mirrors, as it won’t be sustainable in the long term, or bring you much fulfillment. Next, have a think about what you want to be known for. If you could be known for something that really tapped into your passion and purpose, used your strengths and your core areas of expertise, what would that be? Think about these questions: what do you do better than anybody else? What are you an expert in that you really love? We’re talking here about your zone of genius. Get clear on that and look at every way you can to maximise it in your work. And then go and do an audit of your current brand online – check it everywhere from Google to Facebook – are you representing yourself in a way that supports your most authentic and aspirational brand? Take your brand as seriously as you do your career and it will serve you well.
7. Leverage mentors and sponsors
We hear so much about mentoring and sponsorship, and the topics are well researched. Women’s networking organisation Levo League in the US conducted a survey recently of their users and found that ninety-five percent of women had never sought out a career mentor at work. But then Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s research tells us that women are over mentored and under sponsored. It can be pretty confusing to know what you need, when you need it and how to get it.
Let’s keep it simple. Mentors are people you go to for advice, skills sharing, knowledge transfer and trouble-shooting. It could be that you need support with office politics, work life balance, moving from sales to marketing, or transition into an executive role. Seeking advice from someone you respect and who has gone before you can help fast track your success. Sponsors are quite different. They are your advocates. They speak about you when you’re not in the room, help you get those hot projects or big jobs, and help you fulfill your career plans. But it’s a two way street. A sponsor puts their reputation on the line by vouching for you, so you have to deliver. Sponsors are looking, in most cases, to increase their brand, power and position through the leverage that sponsoring you into a role or project will bring (not always, but often). Identify who may be a current sponsor and who may be a sponsor worth approaching. And be really clear on what you want to ask for, and what you can provide in return.
8. Own your feminine power
This one can be controversial, but let’s go there anyway. There are two words that you don’t often hear in the same sentence: feminine and power. When we think about power we often think of the masculine version of power, which is what society, organizational structures and governments, certainly in the West, are largely based on. We look at ‘successful’ work and leadership models and they are still largely defined by men, for men. Models of success based on masculine traits as defined by research like driven, ambitious, dominant, aggressive, competitive, assertive. Feminine traits on the other hand have been identified globally as traits such as trustworthy, kind, giving, passionate, honest, generous, collaborative, authentic and intuitive.
Now these are not gendered. This is really important. Both men and women have access to feminine and masculine traits, of course. In the workplace however, and perhaps in your career if you look at it closely, we see a large dominance of the masculine. Yes it’s changing, yes there is a feminine rising in the world today, but we are not there yet. So what can you do? First be honest about where you are. Are you balanced in how you are showing up? Do you feel authentic going through your day? Are you more in your drive and strive energy than your collaborative and nurturing energy? How do you get things done? By being dominant and aggressive? Or through creativity and kindness? Power comes in all forms. It’s time we recognize that not everyone fits the current model, and that indeed it’s time to crack it wide open and create a new one.
9. Know when it’s time to change
Knowing when it’s the right time to make a change is critical in successfully navigating your career. You may have found yourself asking these questions: Is it time for a new job? Should I go and do something different? How do I know what to do and what the right answer is? It’s been one of the biggest questions of my career, as it has been for a lot of the women that I coach. But it can be tricky. If you leave a job too early, you run the risk of not leveraging all of the experience and skills the role can offer you. But we also know that if you stay too long in a job you can get stale, miss opportunities for career expansion, or for greater enjoyment that you might get through other roles. It’s no surprise that people go round and round in circles on this, and stay in their job for much longer than they wanted to, simply because they’re confused and they don’t know what to do.
There are six key questions I want you to ask yourself. These will help you determine if you should stay where you are, or start looking for your next opportunity:
1. Are you enjoying your role?
2. Do you like and respect your manager?
3. Are you still growing in your role?
4. Does the role align with your long-term goals?
5. Is your job making you overly stressed out or sick?
6. Are you too scared to change?
Be honest with your answers and you will see the writing on the wall in terms of what’s next in your career.
10. Is it time to build your exit strategy?
Many women work with me to build an exit strategy because they are ready for something else. They’re ready to step into their own business. They want to go and write a book or they have been dreaming for a very long time about what’s next, and need help to make it happen. Perhaps this is you. If it is, then there are some specific things to think about and plan for when it comes to working out when and how to exit, and to be prepared for the next frontier. Firstly, get as clear as you can on the other items we have covered like life vision, purpose and planning. If you want to start a business, what type of business is it, how does it fit with your life vision, how does it play to your strengths, and what resources do you need to start it? What will you offer? Who will your customers be? Get clear.
Then think about what knowledge and skills you need to step out. Do you have what you need or do you need to take a course, get a degree, find a mentor, or do some research? Work out any gaps and build a plan to plug them. Thirdly, work out what support you need on a personal and professional level. It could be family support to make the transition, perhaps it’s a business coach to get you established, it might be a writing coach if you want to get that book written, or perhaps it’s a mentor to bounce ideas off. Next, take a really good look at your finances. Not many people can make the leap without a cash safety net in place. Ideally you will have a minimum of 3 months salary behind you, but 9 months would be a really solid foundation, all depending on what you are doing next and how financially robust your venture will be. And then, it all comes down to timing. My exit strategy from corporate was built over a few years, to ensure I had everything in place before I leapt. Get a plan built if this is what you want to do so you can exit gracefully and with options.
Building a career you love takes work, and it takes positive intention and strategy. By working through these ten strategies and putting the right plans in place, you really can have the career you dream about.
I hope these ten strategies have been useful. For more support on managing your career, get your free career planning pack with a guidebook, video and detailed workbook to help you get clear, get confident and get the career you really want. And make sure you secure your place at the free career webinar coming up soon, to get more real straetgies that work.