There is no shortage of listicles full of career advice, like ‘five ways to be more productive’ or ‘10 things the most successful people do’. We have all seen them and, while there may be some value in them, staying on top of all these tips, tricks and second-hand advice can be confusing and exhausting. Hardly the recipe for a happy career.
However, if you are interested in investing in your career development, there are some activities that will pay you dividends regardless of what stage you’re at or what role you’re in. These activities are lifelong investments – you can’t build and forget them. However, if you can focus on these as your core career investment activities they will help to increase your impact and influence throughout your career, in a way that feels true to you.
The three areas of investment are:
- Personal brand
- Projection and reflection
The most helpful starting point is to assess where you are today on these three areas so you can prioritise your time. Ask yourself the following questions about all of them, scoring them 1 to 3 for each question (3 being the top score).
- In which of these areas do I feel I have the most knowledge of best practice?
- In which area am I strongest today?
- On which area do I currently spend the most time?
The area with the lowest total score is where you can have the biggest impact by investing your time today. While all three are important, it may be more realistic for you to start from this point. The information below will help you to create a plan of action.
In order to have a strong personal brand, you have to know what you stand for and what is distinct about how you show up. Once you have this insight, you can communicate this in a variety of ways, but it starts with understanding your unique point of difference.
Write down the answers to these questions:
- What gives you energy?
- What do you do better than others?
- What do you want to change in the world?
- Who inspires you and why?
Look for themes across your answers and then think how you could bring these to life in a sharper way than you may be doing today. Some options to consider are writing a regular LinkedIn post or a blog post on Medium. Both have high numbers of users who can follow you and engage with your content.
If you like presenting, look at events which align with your passions and see if you can contribute to them in some way. If you’re more of a researcher, creating a bank of content on your passion area and sharing it with your network via Twitter or by using a tool like Dropmark can help to increase perceptions about your knowledge and credibility. You can also do this internally with a weekly email summary of links and insights on your preferred topic area.
Over time, you’ll find that people will gravitate towards you as a knowledge expert on this subject, further cementing this as part of your brand. It’s important you also communicate with a tone that feels authentic to you. It can take a while to find your own voice, but looking at other people’s content can give you a steer on what feels right to you. We can’t all be Mark Ritson.
Many people let their network evolve unconsciously and organically. As a result, they can’t make active use of it to help navigate their career. A great network is made up of people you can learn from, be inspired by and get challenged by. To build a strong network, it is important to be intentional about who is in your network and to be clear about the value you can offer to them as well as the value they contribute to you.
My starting position is always to think: what have I got to give? Think about that question for yourself. Can someone benefit from your knowledge of an industry, your experience of marketing roles, your time or your technical skills?
For example, I know that I can help people with their career thinking, understanding of marketing in different industries or idea generation and proposition development. These are distinct skills I can offer to people in my network. By proactively sharing how you can help someone, you can build a sense of reciprocity that can lead to them helping you in return. Be careful with making it a direct trade though, as this can seem transactional.
Once you are clear about what you have to give, focus on who you want to know and why. Think about six people you already know and six people you would like to know who can help you in your career over the next 12 months. For each person, write down:
- How they can help you
- What is their unique experience that makes them relevant
- How you could help them
- What is your specific ask of them
Once you have that clarity, you can approach them with an offer of help or with a specific and informed ask. Also, think about the best way to approach the individual. For some people it might be email or LinkedIn. In other situations, it may be advisable to ask a mutual contact to make the introduction. Focus on moving forward one relationship each month, so each has been progressed within a 12 month period. Repeat this exercise every year to see if your networking focus has changed and to ensure you maximise the benefit of time invested.
Projection and reflection
Without a clear sense of where you want to go and how your activities contribute towards it, it can feel like your career is moving forward without you being in control of it. Sometimes, this leads to new and unexpected opportunities, but more often than not it can feel aimless and it takes longer to get to where we want to go.
Projection creates a future state in our mind that can guide our actions. It’s a simple process of asking yourself where you want to be in 12 months, then breaking that down into quarterly goals that move you towards it. For example, I might say that in 12 months I’d like to be a qualified coach. I would then write down the big milestones each quarter that will get me to that end goal.
To master the reflection, cultivate a daily or weekly habit (whichever is more realistic to you) of writing down three ways you have got closer to your goal. This acts as a motivator, providing a sense of reward for action taken or a reality check if your attention has slipped.
By all means, continue to be inspired by listicles, but for the most impact, focus your time on the above areas and your investment will pay off in the experiences you have and the opportunities that come to you.
Helen Tupper is commercial marketing director at Microsoft and founder of Amazing If