I’m often asked questions like, “If I only do one thing to advance my career, what would you say I do?” And while I wish I had a silver bullet answer for a question like that, the truth is that it’s a bit more complicated than that. You all work in different fields and have different skillsets and different personalities for starters. And I’m not a one size fits all kinda career lady.
BUT! (and there’s always a but). But nevertheless, I do have an answer to this question, and it is this: BE PROACTIVE. If you make that the guiding force of your career (and life overall), then you’ll be building your skillset, nurturing valuable relationships and able to see and reach for opportunities as you see them.
Ok, Jill. Grrrreatt. What the heck does being proactive mean in practice? I’m glad you asked:
- Brush Up On Skills: And not just the ones you have in your current role, but also skills you’ll need to advance your career. This might mean taking an online course on Udemy or checking out Coursehorse or com for online learning. If it’s a bigger skill that can’t be learned by one small onling course (for example, you want to go from being a traditional web designer to a UX designer), you may want to consider longer courses where you can roll up your sleeves and actually create the end product for your portfolio. Don’t wait for your manager to suggest doing this- go out and get ‘er done yourself! (And check and see if your company has a tuition reimbursement program).
- Reach Out to People You Never Thought You Would. We think once people reach a certain level in their careers, they’re unreachable. It’s a pretty common assessment people have of those who have ‘made It’ (yours truly included!). I’d like to challenge you to shed that thinking and reach out to people you never would have reached out to before. Take fear (of not hearing back, of being rejected) out of it- who is on your list, all the way up to the Michelle Obamas of the world? Obviously have a specific ask as relates to your career or reason for getting in touch, but beyond that, I think you’d be surprised at your response rate, since most people are scared out of their minds to do this! A story springs to mind about this. A pretty successful entrepreneur (and I’m blanking on his name at the moment, so forgive me!) did this as part of a project at Princeton. No one else even thought to reach out to business experts, but he did and got an audience from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, among many others.
- Put Your Hand in the Air: Make it your business to know what the company’s upcoming projects and goals are and understand how your skills (and your future goals) might fit nicely with the project, so you can raise your hand for upcoming projects that make sense for the trajectory of your career. What we don’t want to have happen is you take on projects that aren’t mutually beneficial to both you and the company/department, and then you end up resenting working on it because it doesn’t align with you, your current skillset and/or your future goals. It would be like if I wanted to move into training and talent development, but raised my hand to be the de facto project manager for an upcoming event the company was running. There’s no alignment there, and I’m not learning any more about the area I want to take my career in!
- Keep Your Network Fresh: Don’t wait for contacts to reach out to you for a catch-u. Be proactive. I highly recommend setting aside one evening after work a month (or maybe one morning before work, if you find yourself too tired after work) to reach out to your contacts and aim to grab two to three coffees throughout the month. Go to an event or two per month that’s relevant for you and build new connections to then add to this monthly outreach list. If you aim to see your best contacts once a quarter, then you’re on the right track.
What other ways have you been able to be proactive in your career? What success stories can you share about how proactivity has helped your career? I’d love to interview you for the Career Kitchen podcast (coming at you soon!). Email me here and we’ll set up some time to chat.