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5 Tips to Grease Your Career


“…the definition of a successful career is reaching retirement when you want to retire, still as marketable as you can be!”

I’m on a US Airways flight returning from Florida Gulf Coast University and reflecting on my presentation on career management to a large number of recent graduates and graduate students this past weekend. Why it is these concepts are not part of a life curriculum much earlier in academia?

The hindsight of wisdom – if only I knew then what I know now. My father once said to me “If you do more than you have to, you’ll get more than you ought to.” Wise advice, but in this fast paced increasingly ‘flat world’, elbow grease and persistence can only take you so far.

Advice to my own children over a quarter century ago was to pick ONE thing and become very good at it. Thinking was that the diligence required was transferrable to all life situations. Of course my oldest son picked skiing, and my youngest son picked art. My daughter in the middle aspired to be a physical therapist, yet being a bit daunted by the heavy science, eventually graduated with a B.A. in Communications. She entered into business and drove her grandfather’s advice into remarkable success, earning an income larger than mine last year in online advertising program management.

Most of the career management concepts I offered to these students are described and illustrated on my website. The basis is there, but the type of ‘grease’ one needs to navigate our increasingly complex digital world long ago replaced the ‘3 Martini’ lunches to close deals or influence others. You must clearly demonstrate what measureable value you have delivered relevant to the audience. You need to find out what their success factors are and feed them. Basically, to influence anyone to need to know what’s in it for them (WIIFT).

Early in my career I worked for a demanding Army Lieutenant Colonel who taught me never to come into his office and put my monkey on his back. He wanted three alternative solutions and my recommendation reflecting that I understood how to measure the desired outcome. He also suggested ‘never blow your own horn unless someone else is trying to use it as a funnel.’ Translated, be humble yet speak only when you have a fully baked recommendation.

My Masters Degree involved a lot of decision science that I’ve incorporated into my search practice. Maybe not surprisingly I find the largest challenge in staffing is not recruiting, but is helping my clients define and select the right people to hire. The fit of career management concepts I delivered dovetail nicely with effective hiring processes, but it is so rare to see them practiced. I often joke, if people could pick people, there wouldn’t be a 50%+ divorce rate that only increases for 2d and 3d marriages! Did you define your deliverables for a life partner?

Because the ‘grocery list’ for hiring typically has little insight into the reason for the hire (business deliverable) nor much in the way of ranking importance of the related skills, it causes two problems; 1) It may only attract active candidates (no obvious reason for a passive candidate to move), and 2) A top player who has most of the skills has already done that job and rather seeks growth of new skills. There is only a professional sell, when a candidate can see 2-3 of their new target skills in the job while meeting the other hypothetical 7-8 ranked as important for a successful hire.

The “YOU Incorporated” analogy with candidate as the owner and President needs to actively balance energy in all departments. Most spend the majority of the time in manufacturing, distribution, and finance, and their career suffers by not investing as much in Marketing and R&D. The top players realize the importance of that investment. Regardless of what your employment relationship is, you are essentially just renting your time and skills to a highest bidder. The job may be full-time or contract, but how can it be permanent when LIFE is a temporary assignment?

Here is the ‘grease’ I offered those students to help run their own corporation (this article’s graphic):

1. Skills Inventory Gap: Keep sharpening your sword. Know your skills defined by how they have created measureable value. Stay tuned to the skills demanded in your career choice and have a plan that keeps you on a steep learning curve. Of 10 hypothetical skills, you have 7 and your career growth is obtaining the next three.

2. Mentor & Networking: To make withdrawals from an account you first must make deposits. Doing for others makes you a power of attraction. Networking means taking initiative and honest interest in others and how you might influence their success. For a mentor, find someone who has the success you aspire and ASK for their advice and counsel. Join one or more professional organizations and become active in service. No-one succeeds in the long-term alone so enjoin others then give them the credit.

3. Life-long Learner: Be curious. Question the status quo. Find the adversity and challenge in your job and become the mother of invention. Be active in service for your industry association and user groups, attend trade-shows and training conferences, and read industry periodicals. Be persistent. Ask for critique. Be the change you are looking for first. Know that you cannot change anyone until they change their own understanding.

4. Brand Yourself: Say what you do and do what you say. Have an ‘elevator pitch’ less than 30 seconds. Under promise and over deliver. Give back to your profession as a thought leader. Use social media to both find other leaders and demonstrate mastery of your own domain. Measure your results and document them; accomplishments not merely responsibilities. Find a recruiter or two that knows your market and communicate regularly. The right recruiter should help define your career path and be able to market you without a resume toward that target.

5. Healthy Lifestyle: Exercise is the engine that drives life success and happiness. Challenge your body and it will motivate a quality diet, energy level, sleep, and spirituality (creativity, positive attitude, relationships, etc.). Age is an attitude, not simply a collection of years. Feeling good, looking good, doing right- you will become that power of attraction. Take time for you to rejuvenate. Take calculated risks. Be grateful for what you have, not covet what you don’t. We are in charge of our attitudes. We can’t often control what happens to us, but we can control our response.

Though turkeys flock together, eagles fly alone. Find a few key wing (wo)men to navigate with. Work with decision makers; not those who can only say no, but those who can act on a yes! Your professional references will have been the recipients of the business value you created. The right people will care what you did, over the where or the when.

Realize the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Focus on progress, never perfection. Take a step back and realize the definition of a successful career is reaching retirement when you want to retire, still as marketable as you can be!

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