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  • Samirat Rivers

Managing your career track

You have several years of work experience under your belt, yet your career is lacking momentum. Perhaps you were passed over for a promotion. Or your career is at a standstill, and you’re not sure where to go next. By taking charge of your career, an enriching outcome awaits you. You’ve heard about "managing your career track," but what does it mean? "It means owning your own career over a lifetime. Through your many career changes and job moves that are inevitable, you take responsibility for moving your career along, guiding it, creating it," explains Sherrie Gong Taguchi, author of The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Career You Want (and What to Do Once You Have It). A former executive in industry and academia in recruiting, executive development and career management, Taguchi, principal of Career Inspirations, notes that "The most thoughtful and satisfying career decisions are based on a deep understanding of yourself (values, preferences, priorities, strengths) in the context of a total life vision—what you want for yourself in terms of your worklife over the long haul."

Keys to Successful Career Management

By grasping what values and priorities matter to you in the long haul, you avoid making hasty job decisions just because you had a blowup with your boss. Keys to successful career management include:

  • Knowing your career goals. Start by asking yourself some fundamental, but crucial, questions. What are you after at this stage of your career? How much do you want to earn? Does the job satisfactorily incorporate family/work issues? Your answers to these questions serve as the guideposts to any career moves you make.

  • Getting feedback from your manager. Whether it’s done formally or informally, set up some time to discuss your performance and goals with your manager. Here is a chance for you to learn if you’re performing to expectations and what advancement opportunities exist.

  • Updating your education. You may think that your formal education ended once you earned your degree, but in today’s constantly evolving, shifting world, nothing remains static. Going back to school can increase both your career and earnings potential.

Real-Life Winning Techniques

After just two years at Verizon, John H. Sarc, 37, was promoted to the position of the lead engineer, network services, overseeing 19 persons. Thinking back on his career track, Sarc believes that one of the reasons for his success was because he went beyond what was expected of him. "In my previous job as a manufacturing engineer, I was encouraged—and curious—to expand out beyond what I would normally do. So I got involved in projects that either crossed over to my department or had nothing to do with it. This helped me learn the ins and outs of my company and its politics. Of course, my first priority was my own job, so I always made sure I did that first."

Branching out is something Sarc does to this very day, and it’s a move Taguchi applauds. "Moves that take you outside of your comfort zone and stretch you—make you learn new things, challenge you to the maximum, or give you new perspective—are great. I call this the 80/20 rule. Make moves in which you can use your strengths and experience to perform well (80%) and that will give you head room to stretch (the 20%)."

Education also helps to keep your skills up to date and relevant. Sarc holds an M.B.A. in information systems and, after arriving at Verizon, earned a master’s in telecommunications management. "It’s all part of staying ahead of the game in this ever-changing world," he remarks.

When contemplating a job switch, ask yourself why. Consider the stability of the company or industry you’re getting into (remember the dotcom boom and bust?). Avoid making rash decisions just because you had a bad day—or week—at work. "I have found it very helpful to write out a pros and cons list," says Sarc. "List the pros of your company and the cons, as well as the pros and cons of your reasons for leaving."

If your situation is the opposite—you want to stay with your current company but don’t know how to make the next move—Sarc advises to learn as much as possible by volunteering for projects that can be cross-functional with other departments. "Branch out, make contacts and get yourself known. This way, if an opening comes up in a department you collaborated with, you can ask someone in that department to recommend you for the job. Or someone might even recommend you without you knowing it!"

Self-assessment comes into play as well. What qualifications do you need to get to the next stage? "Analyze the needs and requirements of the next level you’re aspiring to and take stock of where you are now," says Taguchi. "What are the gaps? How do you need to develop in order to have what the next level takes?" Taguchi points out that the resources you need to answer these questions can be found within your own company. "Seek out advice and input as well as support from your manager, colleagues who have made moves to the next level and who will share their lessons learned with you."

Pitfalls to Avoid

If there’s one thing Sarc would’ve done differently, it’s probably "tempering some of my feelings toward some people. Never burn bridges. You can let the professionalism slip away from you, but you never know where that person is going to fall in your career path later on."

Taguchi lists other common mistakes people make at career managing:

  • Focusing the majority of time on finding your next job without first taking the time to reflect and clarify who you are, what you want and where you want to go in your career journey. You need to do your internal work—your self- assessment—in order to have a good base from which to move forward

  • Not having a clear definition of what success means to you and what kind of work gives you meaning and purpose.

  • Operating with a defeatist or negative, no-can-do attitude. To be a tough-minded optimist is key.

Going at it alone. Careers involve interdependencies. You can’t have a great career without learning to work with or seek the assistance from the people with whom you work 360 degrees (your manager, colleagues and staff), your circle of friends and family and any mentors or people from whom you can learn. Work/Life: Possible To Have It All?

The answer, from career experts and those who have successfully meshed their personal and professional lives, is a resounding yes. By carefully considering your values, interests and priorities, you can, as Taguchi says, "explore, research and discover the industries, job functions and organizations that can potentially give you those. You then develop your marketing strategy and job/career action plan to get yourself connected to those opportunities or to create them."

Knowing what matters is vital to creating a work/life balance. Except for traveling for emergency or special projects, "I do not want to relocate to further my career," Sarc emphasizes. "I’m 10 minutes from home." Sarc sees a link between his mental and physical health and commuting. "I’m not willing to sacrifice four hours a day commuting just to have a higher managerial position or more money. Those four hours not spent commuting more than make up for my having a better mental attitude and better health."

Our consultants at FPC of St. Lawrence will be glad to discuss any of these or other special problems that you might have.

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