Thursday, April 27, 2006

Unsolicited Career Advice

In the last few weeks, I've been getting lots of questions about my career, usually from friends seeking advice on how to advance their own careers. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite topics. Not because I like to talk about what I do, but because I love to share the lessons I've learned over the years in a way that might help someone. These short conversations took the form of a "tips" list, so I thought I'd spend a few minutes to write them down:

Network. Every job I have ever gotten has been a result of a personal connection with someone. In my experience, employers are infinitely more likely to hire someone that has an internal recommendation than someone off the street. This is why many companies have bonuses for referrals--it weeds out the freaks. My advice: Make and maintain contacts wherever possible. Get a business card, remember a face, send an e-mail, make a call, have a drink. The wider your business network, the broader your opportunities. If you're looking for a job right now, there are likely more opportunities for you in your social network than on Use it!

Context, not content. People often ask me what degrees I had to get to do what I do. The answer? Who knows? Outside some professions (medical, legal, etc.) where specific training is required, there seems to be a prevailing false assumption that your education is a prerequisite for certain jobs. This is not always true. When I hire people, I fully expect to train them in everything they'll do and (like me) they've forgotten 90% of what they learned in school anyway. What's important is that you take/took your education seriously. Good grades, outside initiatives, extracurricular activites, awards, etc. all show me that you can take on a task and see it through. What I want to see is that you've got the self-discipline and motivation to do things that suck (i.e., Calculus). If you can do that, you've probably got the characteristics to be a great employee.

Specialize. Employers look at salary based on your value to the company. It's a simple matter of supply and demand. If you're currently in a job that 99% of the rest of the workforce can do, you're probably not maximizing your earning potential. Though I admit I didn't necessarily do it consciously, early in my career I began carving myself a niche by taking on special projects and learning things that my co-workers didn't. The more experience and specific skills I developed, the more valuable I became. Soon enough, I became our company's "content expert" and now they're all convinced they'd die without me. They pay quite handsomely for that.

Play Well With Others. Everyone hates a suck-up. But the ability to establish and maintain relationships in the office can often be critical to your success. Just like in our social lives, managers and executives surround themselves with people that are pleasant to work with and aren't disruptive to the work environment. In my company, the most successful people are the ones that know everyone, know everything and make things happen through subtle influence. No matter how smart, driven, goal-oriebted, etc. you may be, you will never, ever do this if people think you're a prick. Period.

Passion. To be successful, it helps to love what you do. And nothing is more helpful to your career than a healthy dose of enthusiasm. Find a career that suits your personality and your values. If you're an introvert, don't try sales. If you're a social animal, don't sit at a desk doing data entry. Look into your inner person and seek out careers that will keep you motivated and inspired on a daily basis.

Do YOU have any tips that have helped your career? Leave them in comments and I'll add them to the post.


At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Uncut Boy said...

What about being open to relocating, traveling etc? Opportunities pop everywhere and you might be qualified for a promotion, but openings at your home office are rare, so unless you are willing to move someplace else, you will be stuck at your current position for a long time.
And I'm the worst offender of my own theory!

At 6:38 PM, Blogger Scott Powers said...

Yes I have a tip that helped my career. It's data entry, but not like you would normally think of "data entry". The difference is that I do it online in my own home as opposed to the traditional way.
Data Entry Online

At 5:17 AM, Blogger MiKell said...

From the "Mr. Scott (ST:TOS) School of How to be Successful", under promise, and over deliver.

I.E. if you believe it will take 10 hours to complete a project, tell your boss you need 12, as you never know what unknown problems will pop up. That way, when everything goes right and you get it done in eight, you are the hero.

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Ramon Greenwood said...

There is no substitute for strategic planning. In my free newsletter, I tell me clients, "You can't get there if you don't know where you are going."

Then, I recommend a process I call "gap planning." This means answering three questions:

(1) Where am I now?
(2) Where do I want to be a a given point in time?
(3) What will it take--skills, determination, etc.--to get there.

Such a plan goes a long way to bringing order out of chaos.

Ramon Greenwood, Senior Career Counselor


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