Take the wheel of your career
Whether you’re just starting out, at a turning point or planning a transition to retirement, you are in the drivers’ seat of your career. There is plenty you can do at every step of the way to get the most out of your work.
As we get to the end of the year it’s really common for people to feel tired and low on energy. We get through the festive season, with all of the Christmas parties and some holidays (if we are lucky) and then January hits. The whole year stretches out in front of us, and we start to wonder ‘is this as good as it gets?’.
It’s not just me, the research backs me up on this. January is the most popular time of year that people go job-hunting. But looking for a new and exciting career direction is only going to be a temporary fix to those workday blues if you aren’t actively managing your career. Applying for any job that looks vaguely interesting is a path to hard work and heartbreak.
There is a better way – put yourself in the driver’s seat of your career. Be proactive and take a longer term view. After all, this is YOU we are talking about and you are worth the effort. Here are my seven tips on how to take control of your career so that you can find meaning and genuine reward (not just a pay packet) in your work.
1. Start with your strengths – when we know and use our strengths at work we are happier, more productive and get better results. So, work out what you are naturally good at and look for work that allows you to use those strengths. Even more importantly, stay away from jobs that need completely different strengths. If you’re a natural communicator and love being around people, go for jobs that involve teamwork, sales or helping others. Stay away from jobs that mean you’ll be working solo all the time. You get the idea…
2. Do your research - talk to lots of people about their work and ask curious questions. There are SO many jobs out there, and by asking people about their work, chances are you’ll discover jobs you didn’t know existed. If there is a field of work you’re interested in, connect with people who do that sort of work. Ask them what they love about their job, and the bits that aren’t so great. Find out as much as you can before you invest in study or start applying for jobs.
3. Be a lifelong learner – speaking of study, get yourself some knowledge. This doesn’t have to be a big investment. Did you know there are online platforms that give you access to short (and some free) courses from universities around the world? Check out EdX and Open Universities for starters. They offer courses on thousands of topics, so you can start with a course that’s a few hours long to give you a taste of what you’re interested in. It’s a small commitment and a great test to see if it’s a passing fling or lasting love affair you’ve got with astronomy, or food science, or whatever your ‘thing’ happens to be.
4. Volunteer – apart from making you feel good and giving back to your community, volunteering is a great way of building networks, giving you extra skills and beefing up your resume, especially if you are starting your career or looking to swerve in a whole new direction. I’ve made some amazing professional connections through volunteering so see it as a long-term investment.
5. Take on or create extra projects at work. What, more work?? Yep, that’s what I am suggesting. If you can find ways to add value in your current job, especially in areas that really light your fire you’ll create a triple win for yourself. Your boss will think you are awesome, you’ll learn new skills and it’ll look amazing on your resume.
6. Network like a demon – find and join professional groups in your industry or the industry you are interested in. Go with the intention of creating connections and offering whatever knowledge and skills you have to share with others. This isn’t about what others can do for you, this is about building relationships and generously sharing information. If you’re stumped for where to find your professional tribe, start with Meetup.
7. Find a mentor – this can be someone you think has it all sorted when it comes to their career or it could be an expert in the field you’re looking to get into. Once you work out who you’d like to be mentored by, I suggest emailing them and asking if they would consider giving you an hour of their time each month for the next 3-6 months. Let them know why you are approaching them, so they can see you’ve really thought about it. If they say yes, make sure you respect their time by being punctual, and preparing some questions you want to ask them, before you meet with them. Also follow through and report back on suggestions they make so you’re getting the most out of their wisdom. Absolutely be on time for appointments and don’t forget to thank them. Some people pay for professional mentoring (from people like me) and this is a great investment in your own professional development.
No matter where you are now, it's never too soon or too late to steer your career in the direction that will make the most of your strengths and feeling engaged and energised by your work. So where is your career adventure taking you?