Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Success In Your Career

I've had the opportunity lately to offer some career coaching to others in our industry and I've really enjoyed the experience. I don't promise to offer all the answers to success but I can speak to what has worked for me that I've identified as potentially reproducible in your career planning to obtain your desired outcomes. I've transitioned from one industry (counseling and mental health services) into a completely different field (IT Consulting) during the course of my career and there are several specific skills I have honed and principles I have embraced that afforded me the ability to identify, pursue, and "win" opportunities that have come before me.

General Tips for Career Success:

1. KNOW WHAT YOU VALUE. Self-discovery time. Figure out the qualities that are important to you with regard to job tasks, general industry/nature of the work, and work environment.
  • For general industry give thought to the current and projected job market and market outlook for employers with regard to profit and viability in the industry.
  • For nature of the work, give thought to task types and skill sets (research oriented, sales oriented, management oriented, technical oriented, customer facing or not, problem solving or tasklist checkoff oriented, independent work versus team based projects, etc).
  • For work environment, give thought to work hours required and schedules, dress code, management style (authoritarian versus laissez faire, etc).
  • You don't have to box yourself into one specific picture for all of these areas, but at least be able to identify clear preferences and a ranking system in your mind so that if you had to weigh 2 jobs against each other (which paid equally and had similar benefits)  you could do so without a lot of hand wringing.

2. KNOW YOUR VALUE TO OTHERS. Cultivate an expertise as rapidly as you can that is tied into your "what you want" list from above. Maybe you want to be the go-to guy on X technology. Or maybe you want to be the one everyone comes to on business development and pre-sales and proposals and contract negotiations. Or an expert on insert something important here.

3. BE ABLE TO CLEARLY EXPRESS WHAT YOU VALUE AND YOUR VALUE TO OTHERS. Work on your presence. Practice articulating what you want clearly and confidently with sincerity and practice asking for it (versus hinting at it). Practice this outside of workplace contexts (with your friends, family, when dealing with service folks where you are the customer, etc) and you will get better and better at it. Practice managing your own brand and letting others see what you're good at (without doing so in a braggart, obnoxious, arrogant kind of way). Toastmasters is a great opportunity to work on your communication skills- especially the "ums" and "you knows" and "I mean" and other filler phrases people tend to lean on a lot.

Putting It All Together- A Practice Example:

A peer who does work similar to yours on another project or for another team leaves the job. Their role is a lot like your current role but more desirable because of fill in the blank here on why you want the role. Following the general principles above, how might this play out successfully for you? Column A and B show the general steps in a successful "close" (that's sales speak for the customer agreeing to buy what you're selling). Column C and D show these steps applied specifically to our scenario.

SellerBuyerYouHiring Manager
Polite greetings and hellos
Good morning (insert Mgr of vacant position's name here), hope you are doing well today.

Polite greetings and hellos
Likewise. How are you?
State the problem
I'm doing great, thanks for asking. Listen, I've heard that X has left their position. I'm sure their stack of work in progress is waiting to be delegated.

Yes. It looks like we may just shift their workload onto the remaining project members to save some money, especially as we don't have a candidate lined up right now.
Ask for buy-in/confirm the problem
Yeah, I hear you. I'm sure it's a bit stressful for the rest of the team who are going to be asked to pick up the slack now that you're down a person.

Confirms or clarifies
Yes, but the economy is crap,so we are just plugging holes the best we can.
State the solution:
1. clear expression of the proposed solution
2. testimonials or evidence with CONFIDENCE
3. provide win-win
4. CLOSE the deal: ask for what you want

1. My understanding of X's role is that the task list is quite similar to the kind of work I've been handling for the company so far. I've really enjoyed these sorts of tasks and I'd like to pitch in and take on some of the workload for your project. My preference is to take on the role and title that X held, but I'm also amenable to staying put where i'm at working under (insert name of mgr) while taking on this additional work if HR can't find the funding right now to staff X's role with a full time replacement.
2. I've become quite familiar with the regulatory requirements, customer specs, and day to day procedures from doing this kind of work on my project. As (insert name of my manager) can confirm, (insert list of significant accomplishments here. VERY important to list anything you've done that has actually saved the company money, landed a new customer, furthered market share, etc).
3. Regardless of how we need to structure this with HR with regard to me stepping into the position formally or just taking on a portion of the tasks, this could help temper the onslaught of work to be reassigned to your already busy team and provide me with more in depth exposure to this area of our business.
4. Would that work for you and your team? What do I need to do to facilitate the process of taking on this workload? What's the next step here?

Sounds great! Let me check with HR and get the ball rolling. OR: I think that sounds great in theory but we may need to default to the option you mentioned of just taking on part of the work now. Or: That's not really going to work out for us, we don't have funds to staff the role now full time right now, and company/customer doesn't allow us to task members outside of the role/team with our project work.
If no or delay, overcome objections if applicable; for yes, thanks and well wishes
If he says yes: GREAT, thank you, and I'll follow up with the next steps you've mentioned. If he says taking on some of their workload is the only option, then express thank you and that you're ok with this if its the only option and that you'll be bringing it up at your performance review time to demonstrate your commitment to meeting the company's business goals. if he says no outright to either option, express thanks and understanding and immediately ask for suggestions on what's the best way to position yourself as a candidate for their dept so that when a role does become available you'll be able to slide into it.

Yes/no/delay("maybe")/thanks and well wishes
Mgr. responds to your questions if applicable and wishes you well.
Thanks and well wishes
Thank you again! I really appreciate your time.

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