BLOG: Managing your career and ‘the big picture’

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BLOG: Managing your career and ‘the big picture’

A woman looks happy with her career progression and has a smile on her face

A woman looks happy with her career progression

Taking the time to make plans for the whole of your career really can help you in the long run. MD Anthony McCormack gives hints and tips on how to go about it.

Career progress is seen by many as one of the 3 or 4 ‘big ticket’ items that can keep people awake at night.

Along with family, health issues and religion, career progress – or a lack of it – can get us all tossing and turning in bed.

I am in a fortunate position of being involved with many people’s careers and it has been interesting to note, over almost 20 years of doing so, how few of those people have thought strategically about any career plan.

Most people will think about their next job and that will be about it. So I want to try and encourage you to spend some time looking at things from a long-term perspective. I am hoping to help you draw up some long-term objectives and some short-term tactical plans.

It’s not complicated. Where am I going? And how will I get there?

If you work on those two questions, it makes things a lot easier. I have learned from bitter experience at times and too much time and can be wasted running full pelt in the wrong direction!

The big picture

I find it most helpful to start with ‘the big picture’ and gradually work down into the detail. So to begin with, it’s worth considering what your life goals are. This may be in terms of finances, family, hobbies, education, fame, property ownership, retirement plans or whatever really, it’s your list.

It may seem silly to account for things like fulfilment or weird to consider your ‘legacy’. But is that really silly? Is that really weird? No.

It’s just unusual for people, especially younger people, to think of those sort of things. And don’t know the non-financial or non-quantifiable aspects of this such as: enjoyment, work-life balance and relationships. You can’t put those things into a spreadsheet but they have immense value and should be considered. Nobody says on their deathbed they wish they would have spent more time in the office do they?

Once you have some specific goals in mind or written down, you can then assess if your current career or career plan is in line with these goals or not. If not, you can start to look at education, training, self-improvement, job searches or just an attitude change that will help you meet those goals – or at least start heading more in the right direction.

Goal setting is a massive subject for another time but some say that once you have them set, your mind automatically starts working towards them.

It is a useful exercise to undertake a personal SWOT analysis, like companies do when they are looking at business threats or opportunities.

SWOT analysis

You may well have heard of this management consulting tool which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). You will take a large sheet of paper, split it into to four quadrants and jot down your honest assessment of where you stand in each of these areas career wise. The next step is to work out how you can maximise and play to your strengths, minimise and mitigate your weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities and avoid or neutralise the threats.

This exercise may seem a little abstract to do on yourself. However if employees, never mind the owners, of say Blockbuster or Kodak, had paid more attention to the threat of technological change then maybe they would have worked out an exit strategy before being laid off.

Money isn’t everything but let’s be honest, it is important to the achievement of many life goals and probably comes as a natural by-product of achieving most career goals. So do aim towards an attractive salary – but more importantly, work towards financial freedom. There are some great books on this subject such as ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki or ‘Dad & The Millionaire Next Door’ by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.

It may sound obvious but the way to earn more money is to become more valuable.

Salary and income levels are a major factor and the aspect that most people focus on. However, spending less than you earn, getting out of debt, opening up multiple income streams, generating passive income and considering entrepreneurship are all strategic ways of making sure the asset column is bigger than the liabilities one in the financial accounts for your career!

It may sound obvious but the way to earn more money is to become more valuable. You can’t really expect to carry on doing the same job and expect to keep getting more money. As covered in my ‘Salary Guide’ blog, this is a recipe for disaster. Being overpaid for a role in a dynamic employment market likely means being made redundant sooner rather than later. Adding value comes in many shapes and sizes but here’s the thing, it pretty much always means more effort. You tend to only get out what you put in.

So could you…

  • Gain additional academic qualifications or industry certifications?
  • Take on additional responsibilities?
  • Undertake training and development?
  • Learn new technologies or new languages?

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result! If you are looking for more money, you have to provide leverage through the value you bring.

Keep in mind your personal or perceived value may be different to your current employer, generally in the market or to a specific target company. So be strategic in what value adding items you focus on.

For example, if you are a mechanic looking to emigrate to the US, experience with petrol engines is going to be more valuable than diesel experience, which is arguably more valuable in the UK. In either case, gaining experience with electric cars is likely going to be most sought after in future!

Self-improvement and lifelong learning is something which I think all successful entrepreneurs would certainly advocate. If you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards (relative to the competition). Highly successful people, in general, tend to be bookworms. I have a group of my favourite authors and while reading is all down to personal taste, I certainly recommend Steven Covey, Tony Robbins and Robin Sharma for starters. If you are not a reader, then a great alternative is to get into vlogs and podcasts. Just keep learning.

Think more ladders, fewer snakes and you’re on the right track!

In all things you do, consider the bigger picture. When in a job-search, as discussed in my ‘Prepare To Nail Your Job-Search’ blog, don’t just consider the job, consider the company you could be working for (what’s their SWOT), consider the industry (what’s its SWOT) and consider potential technological, economic and political change. You can’t control all or really any of these aspects but you can at least try and avoid some pitfalls in your route to those all-important life and career goals. Think more ladders, fewer snakes and you’re on the right track!

Think outside the (career) box. Take the blinkers off. In previous decades, it was often the case that people had a job for life with a carriage clock on retirement.

These days, the contemporary phrase is the ‘gig economy’. There are more independent workers, working freelance or self-employed and potentially fulfilling several functions according to what value they can bring. These people enjoy more flexibility and autonomy in their work and life.

So don’t necessarily think of what you do now and look for something similar. Instead, think of where you want to be, what you want to do, and how to achieve this. If this gap is too much of a leap for you in one go, you may need one or more stepping-stones along the way.

Triggers of stress

In reality, this is easier said than done. Many people feel stuck in a job they don’t enjoy or with a bad employer because of lack of transferable skills or just good old fear of the unknown. I’m not a psychologist but I know that it is psychologically bad to feel stuck. Lack of control over your situation in general terms and the same for a career is one of the biggest triggers of stress.

Making the break may involve literally going back to school or university, taking time out and making a significant investment to set your life on another path. This typically requires support from family members and partners in terms of both finances and moral support.

This may well involve debt, financial hardship and certainly putting other goals on hold. However, it could well be worth it in the long term if you can get yourself in a position to do it.

Some of the happiest people I know have retrained later in life for something entirely different. I have a friend who was a producer and is now an osteopath! How is that for a change?

If you don’t like your situation, change it.

My wife has a friend who was a lawyer and is now a medical doctor! Ultimately, you are in control. If you don’t like your situation, change it.

In reality, you may not have a detailed plan which you diligently follow your whole career, and you know how it is, plans often have to be torn up and re-done from scratch. ‘Stuff’ happens, and you have to react to unexpected events. As boxer Mike Tyson once said: “everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face”!

So I hope these few thoughts and strategies help you with an overall context for career planning and that you can apply some of the rationales for setting career goals and making choices on things like target industries, jobs and training.

I hope you feel empowered and motivated to look a little further ahead, think that little bit bigger or better still, a little bit clearer about work and life and finding that elusive balance.

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