Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From the Article Archive: Own Your Career: Six Ways to Take Charge of Your Career Trajectory

Question: I’m interested in advancing my career. I am currently working on an individual development plan for the short and long term, but my company has limited resources available to support employees’ goals. How can I continue to grow and develop in my career? – Business Process Manager

Jo Miller Answers:
I’ve been going back over transcripts from four years of women’s leadership webinars, looking for an interesting quote from each of the over 50 women leaders who have made guest speaker appearances. 

These women leaders hold senior-level roles in the corporate, academic and non-profit sectors but share some things in common, namely the desire to share what they have learned about career and leadership development, and to support the success of women coming up in the leadership pipeline.

As I highlighted my favorite quote from each of the speakers, some patterns emerged. Their career development advice fell into ten categories. The topics are:
  • Establish supportive networks
  • Identify your ideal career niche
  • Build your brand
  • Deliver valuable business results
  • Be an agent for positive change in your organization
  • Make your accomplishments and value visible
  • Manage upward
  • Speak up
  • Take a ‘seat at the table’ and use your influence
Each of these topics is a valuable action step to include in a career advancement plan. But by far the most popular category of advice given by the speakers was self-advocacy, which was neatly summarized by the Vice President for Research at an academic institution, when she said, “Own your own career trajectory. You have to make your own opportunities.”

Take charge of your career trajectory.

I have written before about my belief that the greatest career roadblock women face is ‘The Emerging Leader’s Quandary’: when you can’t get a higher-level job without leadership experience, but you can’t get the experience without the job.

I have known many women who were smart and hardworking, but nonetheless believed that if they just worked hard enough for long enough, someone from management would eventually stop by, hand them a promotion and say, “You’re a leader now!”

If your career plan relies on waiting for this to happen, you may need to plan on waiting a long time. You can’t afford to wait for permission or an invitation to move beyond your current role or take on more responsibility.

The fastest way to break out of the Emerging Leader’s Quandary is to take charge of your own career and leadership development. Here are six tips shared by senior women leaders, for being in the driver’s seat in your career.

1. Have a career plan:
“Make a plan or someone will make one for you. A mentor told me that years ago and I have always lived my life in accordance with that. It starts with making choices with each and every opportunity you’re presented. Many of us are over-achievers, so the minute something comes up, you want to throw up your hands and say, “Sure, I’ll do it.” You want to be the good corporate citizen. But you don’t always have to do that. There’s a balance that you can strike where you say ‘yes’ to the activities that are not in conflict with those things that are important to you.”– VP of Services, insurance industry

2. Take career risks:
“I’ve taken a lot of risks with my career. I believe in “large risk, large reward”. No matter what happens, do a great job, give it your all, and people will remember you. Do you want to be in the driver’s seat or do you want to be a passenger?” – VP of Strategy, security industry

3. Choose one thing that is most important in your next role:
“Choose the one thing that is most important to you in your next role, be it location, be it a particular function, a particular level in the organization, whether you’d like direct reports next, or whatever it is – and then, be as flexible as you can about the rest.” – President, automotive industry

4. Market yourself, but stay on theme:
“You have to know what you want in your career. Market yourself. Stay on theme. Interesting is no longer a good criteria (for taking a role). Know what experience you need and what kind of jobs will give you that experience.” – VP of Finance, energy industry

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want:
“Sometimes, you have to ask for it. If you see something, don’t expect it will be there for you or it will be given to you. One very important part of my career was when I decided to go back to my professional role but not full time. I really was afraid to ask for it, but somebody said, “How will you know unless you ask?” So, I went in. I presented a proposal along with someone else who I knew wanted the same thing as I did, and we proposed a job share. If I hadn’t asked, I would probably have just either gone back full time or done something I wasn’t very comfortable with personally. So, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Be prepared. Have your plan. But ask for it.” – SVP of Staffing, banking industry

6. Put yourself forward to be developed as a leader:
“Don’t be shy or hesitant about putting yourself forward as someone who’s interested in being developed as a leader. Sometimes, there’s not a formal way to do that in your organization, so be sure to communicate that to people that you work with. Let them know that you see yourself as someone who has that potential and interest to develop in that area. Waiting for something to happen to you may well bring disappointment.” – Corporate Secretary, energy industry

If you’d like some additional support from me on how to take charge of your career trajectory you may like to consider joining my six-week group coaching program, starting July 18. Learn more here.

Would you like to hear more from the women leaders who have made guest speaker appearances in our Emerging Women Leaders Webinar Series? Members, log in now to view the webinar recording. Not a member yet? Join now for immediate access to the webinar.

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