After 20+ years in the workplace I think I’ve finally got it! It took a while but I can honestly say that I have made some mistakes in my career and learned the valuable lesson associated with each. These lessons made me the professional I am today and is definitely the reason I am able to advise others as they go through their career journey. If I could combine all my lessons and present them to you in a big, colorful box with a shiny red bow, this is what would be inside:
- Keep Your Feelings Out of It – At the end of the day, we’re all human. We all have feelings and emotions BUT what you must understand is ultimately your company has a business goal and they exist to make a profit. Now, this doesn’t mean that your supervisor doesn’t care about you or want you to have some level of job satisfaction; but your feelings on one particular day isn’t going to deter them from their desired profit…..plus feelings change. One week you’re open to starting a new project and then the next week you’re wondering why the company is “wasting money” AGAIN. One week you’re excited to train a new team member, then in a few weeks you’re jealous that they are getting all the attention for their great ideas. So as you can see, feelings can be fickle. I do, however, believe it is healthy to expressive yourself and get your feelings out. You can do this by talking to your BFF, your mother or your spouse, but bearing it all at a team meeting is not the wisest thing to do. If you do decide to bring some things to your manager’s attention, be sure you can do so non-emotionally. Typically when something is bothering me on a job, I give myself a few days to think clearly about the situation. Then I take the time to figure out how to convey my thoughts in a concise manner and present them to management (usually through a series of questions). As you go throughout your career, you will not always agree with decisions made by management. However, they didn’t hire you to AGREE, they hired you to PERFORM. Once you understand this critical fact (and mature a little bit), you will be able to keep your feelings out of it and show up every day to do your job.
- Have a Mentor/Use Your Network – Some people get really nervous when you mention the word ‘mentor’ and tend to overthink it. A mentor is simply someone who has already been down the road you’re trying to go down and can tell you how to avoid the bumps and bruises. There are no set rules on who the person should be; but typically you’ll want to find someone who is 1 – 2 career levels above you and in a position you’d like to be in in the future. You could even have several mentors if you feel it is necessary to help with different aspects. The relationship between you and your mentor can be set up based on what is mutually beneficial for the two of you. It may be talking over lunch once a month, having set bi-weekly phone calls or just random meetings as needed. If you want your conversations to be kept confidential, be sure to express that in the beginning. Along with having a mentor, continue to build your network and use it to the fullest. I would be willing to bet that whatever you need career-wise, someone currently in your network can help you. If not someone directly in your network, then someone indirectly. After all, every single person in your network has a network of their own and probably can easily connect you. Also, it’s always a good idea to do check-ins with members of your network and update them with any career changes. This helps to keep you relevant in their mind and can prove to be very helpful as you go forward in your career.
- Promote Yourself – YOU are ultimately responsible for your future and at all times you should be thinking about your next career move. Have you actually thought about where you want to be in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? Have you given any thought to what it will take to get you there? I personally update my resume every 2 – 3 months whether I’m looking for a job or not. This helps to keep my career goal in the forefront of my mind and helps to evaluate the experience I have relevant to my desired position. Consistently assessing where I am and where I want to be motivates me to seek out career and educational opportunities to close the gap. This may be done through asking for additional assignments at work, getting training or a certification, or seeking leadership positions in industry related organizations. I never depend on my supervisor to promote me and to think he/she is as concerned about my career advancement as I am is a HUGE mistake. I ‘promote myself’ by staying abreast of industry trends and acquiring knowledge/experience accordingly to enhance my resume. I guess what I’m trying to say is stay ready so that you don’t have to get ready.
- Have the Ability to Make Money Independently – My mother used to always say, “You never put all your eggs in one basket.” I didn’t fully grasp what she meant by that until after my second job layoff. The best thing that I ever did for myself career-wise was to learn a skill that would allow me to generate income independent of my employment status. My career consulting business has sustained me a few times while I was in between jobs. Therefore, I strongly advise you to evaluate your skills and figure out which ones could generate income for you. It may or may not be the same skills you use at your 9 to 5. Perhaps you have a creative side you haven’t tapped into or maybe you could get paid speaking engagements or be a consultant to others. Whatever it is, start thinking of ways to perfect your skills and use the many available tools to generate income (social media, free websites, LinkedIn, PayPal, etc.).
- Always Have Enough Survival Money in Your Savings Account – I know I know…you don’t ever think anything bad or unexpected is going to happen to you. Take it from someone who has been laid off twice…your multiple degrees, excellent work ethic, and infectious personality don’t make you exempt from falling on hardships. If we really tell the truth, ALL jobs are temporary – especially in today’s economy. You never know when your number may be called and you have to go into the manager’s office and get your pink slip. It often happens unexpectedly and many people find themselves unprepared – emotionally and financially. Yeah you may qualify for unemployment benefits, but it usually doesn’t cover all of your expenses. On the flip side, you may find yourself in an unbearable job situation and just may need to give yourself a pink slip. You may need to voluntarily resign as your mental and emotional health is invaluable and never worth a dollar amount. Typically, it takes 2 months for a person who has done #2 and #3 above to land a suitable position. So, I would suggest calculating how much your bills are for 1 month and then double that amount. That’s how much money you should have in savings at all times. If you ever find yourself in any of these situations I just mentioned, your stress level will be significantly reduced if you know you have a cushion to fall back on.