With all the career information available on the web it can be overwhelming to decide on what you should be doing to keep your career alive and on track. I think it can be even more difficult for those of us who live a mobile lifestyle and whose careers are often at the mercy of someone else (did someone say posting order or PCS?!).
Here are five things you can start working on right now to help your career whether you’re currently employed, looking at getting back in the workforce, preparing for another move to a new location or just looking ahead.
1. Rethink your definition of career
Many of you may still view a career as climbing the ladder in your chosen profession in a uniform, linear fashion and therefore may end up feeling like you failed if your career has been anything but this. It’s time to rethink career. To quote one definition, career is
“a lifestyle concept that involves the sequence of work, learning and leisure activities in which one engages throughout a lifetime. Careers are unique to each person and dynamic… Careers include how persons balance their paid and unpaid work and personal life roles” (Canadian Standards and Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners).
In addition it is becoming less and less common for individuals to stay with the one employer. The “job for life” concept is fast diminishing in our new knowledge economy. So the gap between those of us who frequently move between jobs and in and out of employment as we relocate are becoming less marginalized and in addition have developed strong skills over the years which employers of today are actively seeking.
You can take the pressure off yourself by realizing that “career” isn’t the narrow concept we once viewed it as and that your career success doesn’t hinge on a single career decision made early in life.
Start thinking about your career in broader terms than your paid employment history and be proud of your achievements in the various aspects of your career life. Once you understand what you’ve achieved in your career life you’ll do a much better job of convincing a potential employer.
2. Have the basis of your resume on hand
I say “basis” of your resume here because I am a firm believer that your resume (and cover letter) should be tailored to fit each job your apply for. However, you should have a good catalogue of your skills, qualifications, experience and achievements at the ready so that you can write that tailored resume when opportunity arises.
Spend time thinking about your career life (see above) and start cataloguing your history. Start with the basics like titles and dates but then really think about what you did in each of your roles and highlight the achievements. Quantify achievements where you can. Don’t limit yourself to just paid employment.
Even if you are not actively job searching this is still something worth doing. You never know when an opportunity will arise (see 4 below). It also keeps you thinking about your career life even during periods out of the paid workforce or when you have a job you are satisfied with. This can be useful for understanding where you’ve been and where you are which in turn can help you stay focused on which direction you want to move in i.e it’s part of your career story.
3. Cultivate your network
I’ve discussed networking in a previous post but I want to reiterate here just how important networking is to your career. When the “hidden” job market is purported to be around 80% of the entire job market you need to be able to tap into opportunities via people you know (especially when you’re moving to a new area or moving back after a long absence). When you come across a job opportunity it can really help to know someone within the company ie. bridge people as Richard Bolles calls them. Networking is also a great means of professional development.
Networking is a two-way street. One of the best ways to expand your network and get the most out of it is to help others out. Share information, volunteer your time and skills to help out on a project etc. Be proactive!
Importantly cultivate your network. It’s not enough just to meet people. You need to stay in touch, pass on information that you think may be relevant to them, send thank you notes, retweet their tweets, join in discussions in LinkedIn group etc. Stay organized by having a plan.
4. Be open to and prepared for new opportunities
Mobile individuals are nothing if not flexible and I’m sure that most ‘accompanying partners’ have done at least one job they didn’t envision doing. Moving around your country or around the world exposes you to so many new opportunities including career opportunities. Your new location may not have the opportunity for you to pursue your chosen career path and this can be frustrating. However, this doesn’t mean your career has to come to a grinding half. Be on the lookout for new opportunities or go out and seek them. Maybe it’s the opportunity to work remotely when you tell your boss you’re moving but would like to continue working for the company, maybe it’s a volunteer opportunity in a field you have an interest in, or the chance to do something completely different in a location more willing to hire employees without a lot of experience, or the opportunity to start your own business.
None of us can predict what the future holds. As one career theorist says “unplanned events are a normal and necessary component of every career” (Krumboltz, 2009). The key to managing unplanned events according to Krumboltz is to:
“1. Before the unplanned event you take actions that position you to experience it
2. During the event you remain alert and sensitive to recognize potential opportunities
3. After the even you initiate actions that enable you to benefit from it.”
Ref: Krumboltz, John (2009). The Happenstance Learning Theory. Journal of Career Assessment 17(2) pp 135-154.
Be prepared for new opportunities and when one comes up give it some serious consideration. Even if you are working keep an eye out for new opportunities that may arise. Sometimes some of the best things that happen to us are the ones we don’t see coming.
5. Think ahead and in context
Ok, I acknowledge that thinking ahead when you don’t know what is happening next month let alone next year or five years from now is difficult. That’s just one part of what makes career management as a mobile individual different from mainstream. That doesn’t mean you can’t set some short term and long term goals or at least a broad direction you want to move in (whilst still remaining open to new opportunities and unplanned events).
We all know the many influences on our careers such as our skills and interests, a spouse’s job, family commitments, financial situation, geographical location, political climate etc. All of these influence our careers at some point and their influence will differ at different points in our career life. Recognizing the influences on our career is an important part of managing it. We need to incorporate all these influences into our career plan.
Whether you are in a job you enjoy, out of paid employment by choice or circumstance or looking for a new job actively thinking about your career in the context of your lifestyle is one way to be proactive in managing it.
It may help to speak to a career counselor or coach to help you clarify your career goals and how to move forward in the context of your personal situation. When seeking a career development practitioner be sure to find someone who is qualified. Organizations such as the Career Development Association of Australia and the National Career Development Association in the U.S are good starting points.