My career in technology

What’s Your Strategy?

The New Year is a time when many of us take stock of the prior year and plan for the coming one.  You’ll soon see a year-end post where I take stock of my year, but right now I want to talk about the year ahead.

Specifically, your year, and how you plan to manage your career in the year ahead.

As the old saw goes, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”  So I am asking you to not plan to fail.

Whether or not you are currently employed, you should look at your employment, your employment history, skills, professional activities and job searches as pieces of a whole, your career.  You need a strategy to manage your career.  Here’s why, and some ideas how…

Years ago the word “career” meant a job with a single company that included the potential for moving up the company ladder, with increasing skills, responsibility, and compensation, an employment relationship that would last your professional life.  At most, you might change companies once or twice, but you would stay in the same field and on the same ladder or progression.

Needless to say, this paradigm is no longer in effect for the vast majority of today’s workforce.  You have had more employers in the last ten years than people a generation or two ago had in their entire careers.  You are either looking for work now, or you will be within a few short years.  If you aren’t being pushed out the door as the company restructures its workforce yet again, you will likely be looking at another employer to be able to move up that ladder.

Instead of seeing ourselves as “job seekers”, we are to see ourselves as “skills holders”, possessing something of value that employers will want to make use of, even if only for a short period of time.  But in order to make the new paradigm work for you, you need to manage your career, you need a strategy to do so effectively.

Here are a few things for you to consider about your career management strategy:

  1. Networking
  2. Community
  3. Self-Promotion

In our careers we mostly put our effort into skills, because it is so easy to see the value of doing so.  We take classes to beef up our skills.  We spend time on our resumes, determining the best way to describe our skills.  We spend time practicing our pitches, our answers to interview questions, to verbalize how we have used our skills.  When we are employed, we work hard to demonstrate our skills.

But if it were just about our skills, we could queue up and take a number, based on our skills level and/or our duration of unemployment, wait in line and when our number came up we’d have a job.  But its not just about our skill level.

Part of the interview process is intended to evaluate how well you will fit in at the company.  Unless you know the hiring manager personally, they will still want to have that opportunity to make that evaluation for themselves.  But there are ways to improve your chances, by creating a presumption that you will fit in even before you walk into the interview.  This is where the three considerations come in.

The first way is networking.  Networking is taking advantage of the fact that you know people, as well as getting to know new people.  Pretty straightforward, really.  If you have an existing relationship with someone at a company that needs someone like you, and that someone puts in a good word for you, you have the advantage of the presumption that you will fit in.

Networking starts with the people you already know – your family and friends, co-workers and former co-workers.  These are the people who know you the best, people you have already established relationships with.  They are your first line of defense against unemployment.   Make sure your connections with these people are current, that you have touched base with them, had some sort of recent interaction, and then maintain that with regular interactions – with Facebook, LinkedIn, other social media, e-mails, phone calls, or conversation over coffee.  A “well-oiled” network is key to both hearing about opportunities to move your career forward, and to building that presumption before you go for the interview.

For some, this can feel difficult, because these are the people you have an investment in, and asking for help or talking about your current situation if you are currently unemployed can make you feel vulnerable.  But I cannot express how valuable these connections are for you.

With the advent of Facebook and other social media, general understanding of the term “networking” has now grown to include these established relationships.  But there is also the part of networking that people generally have associated with the term “networking” – going out to some venue and meeting with people you don’t yet know, talking about who you are and what you do and exchanging contact information, often in the form of business cards.  However, what is important about traditional networking is not the exchange of contact information (though that part is necessary in order to be able to contact each other), but instead the establishment of  connection.

How you establish and use those connections are more tactical decisions than strategic.  For now I want you to consider the value of an insider on your side the next time you are looking to advance your career.  While I do think that claims for the so-called “hidden job market” tend to be overblown, there are  opportunities that you will never see without someone on the inside.

The second is community.  I’ve talked about community before. Your professional community is made up of people in your career field, and can be a great place to network.  Your personal communities (your neighborhood, church, your kid’s scout troop, and so on) are similarly rewarding places to network.  You already have things in common with the members of your community, that is part of what community is – people grouped together by common interests, activities, location, values, and experiences.  This makes your community a valuable part of your network.  But there is more community than commonality…

The other thing that makes community is the contribution to a common goal, even if there is no (immediate) benefit for the contributor.  By being a contributor to your community (professional or personal), you increase the value of the community for everyone, yourself included.  When you create value in your community, your community will value you more.  Employers want nothing more than someone who can create value for them.Every time you demonstrate you can create value, you demonstrate your employability.

The final thing I want you to consider is self-promotion.  “If you build it they will come…”  Well, maybe, but they sure are more likely to if you advertise it.  Become comfortable talking about your accomplishments; have a web presence that talks about your skills, abilities, and successes for you even when you aren’t online.  Blogs (helooooo!), websites, twitter, and other social media can be very powerful ways to let potential employers know about you.

As you prepare to meet the New Year, give some thought to your career strategy.

Jim Adcock is Vice President of Launch Pad Job Club, an organization in Austin, Texas, whose mission is help people who have lost their jobs to get the skills they need to land their next job, and to help them cope with the interim between jobs. Check out other career-related entries.


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