If you really want to shine in your career it’s critical that you truly understand how your strengths can work for you and your weaknesses can work against you.
In a nutshell, how well do you manage your talents, flaws and all?
Here are 12 tips to help you on your way!
1. Take responsibility for your own career
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Your career is your responsibility. Your manager and your employer should ensure career development is given a major focus, but no-one can make it happen except you – you have to actually do something! If you’re the kind of person who hides her light under a bushel don’t expect someone higher up to spot and reward your talent – you have to make a case for yourself, however much it makes you squirm.
2. Play to your strengths
The No.1 most important factor – is it the right job for you? Whether it’s the job you’re in or the job you’re aiming for, if it doesn’t play to your strengths it’s probably not where you should be.
Do you know what you do best? What do people tell you are your greatest talents? And here’s another key question to ask yourself: what do you bring to this role? It’s a question of differentiation. Many people may have similar skills and knowledge to you, so you need to be able to articulate what happens as a result of you being who you are and in this position.
If you don’t know the answer to this, how do you know what your stand-out features are, and how does anyone else?
There’s a Part B to this, too – beware of ‘growth’ roles. Stretch, by all means, but don’t overreach yourself; if a new role or responsibility doesn’t map well against your existing skills, leave it to someone else.
3. Work around your weaknesses
Don’t waste time and energy trying to eradicate weaknesses that aren’t show-stoppers; where possible, find a way to work around them. If spreadsheets or routine tasks aren’t your thing but they’re a key part of the job, delegate or buddy up with someone who can help you. If you simply have to do it yourself, get some training, but don’t be distracted from what you do best.
Major flaws are another matter. If you smile like Gordon Brown, and you can’t be trained to do otherwise, don’t smile.
4. Act on feedback
Feedback is the life-blood of career development, yet so many people fail to make the most of this fabulous resource. If you’re open to constructive criticism – and especially if you’re not – get as much feedback as you can from other people, figure out what it’s telling you, and act on it. There’s a wealth of information out there to help you know what you do and don’t do best; your Colour Works profile, day-to-day feedback, your annual appraisal, 360 degree feedback, Team Climate Surveys, Stop-Start-Continue. Don’t ignore it or dismiss it – use it!
5. Focus on your goals – don’t get distracted
This sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people get caught up in the events of the day and find themselves way off track when it comes time to head home. Multiply that tendency by 5 days of the week and 48 weeks in the year and that’s a lot of ground to make up.
Do you get pulled from pillar to post or are you resolute in sticking to your guns?
For every major task you undertake, if it’s not related to your goals, ask yourself why you’re doing it. On a regular basis, ask yourself: am I achieving what I’m supposed to achieve? If not, identify what you’re doing instead and stop doing it.
7. Be a team player
There are no islands unto themselves in today’s workplace. Whether you’re a team manager, a team member or someone who would rather lose themselves in the system, you’ve got to be a team player if you want to get ahead. And to be a team player, you need to know what role you’re best suited to play.
Are you a leader or a follower? If you’re a leader, are you a good one? Do you have the emotional intelligence – the social skills – to allow other members in the team to thrive or are you a domineering “my way” kind of a guy? Shine, by all means, but bathe in the reflected glories of your team mates, too.
8. Be positive!
People like positive people. Not suck-up-to-you people, or perpetually-high-as-a-kite people, but people who give off a good vibe and prefer half-full to half-empty.
Many people would argue that there’s a place for the pessimists of the world. In fact some of the best defensive sportsmen and women in the world are born pessimists, always on the lookout for trouble, and it serves them very well. But there’s an art to sounding the alarm, and if you’re a “trouble ahead” kind of a person you’d do well to find the good in something before you start pointing out the flaws.
9. Move with the times
Standing still in a fast-moving world is a great way of falling behind the pack, and it’s essential you stay interested and hungry in your chosen field, especially if you hope to rise through the ranks.
Learn, explore, keep abreast of new technology and new events, read journals and attend conferences. In short, don’t be a fossil – evolve.
10. Build on your knowledge and skills – but be diverse too
Career development and job-hopping are not the same thing.
Be wary of moving from job to job and function to function, thinking you’re gaining valuable experience of the business along the way. It’s not easy to move from Customer Servicing to Finance to Systems to Marketing and pull it off, so be sure you can excel in the roles you choose.
A safer bet is to stay within the same functional area, add to and leverage the skills and knowledge you acquire, diversify through well-chosen project work, and differentiate yourself on the basis of solid performance.
11. Build up a solid network of contacts
The old adage “It’s not what you know but who you know” is as true now as it ever was. If you want to get something done in areas outside of your jurisdiction, there’s nothing like having a well-placed contact on the inside to make things happen for you. The same applies to getting a new job; you have to be an excellent unknown quantity to get a job over a very good known quantity.
Many people create networks of contacts easily. Extraverts, in particular, love to get face-to-face with people and explore ways of doing business together. But if you prefer to keep yourself to yourself, don’t let this stop you from reverse-networking – being of service to people who come looking. Nokia invest heavily in this and send new recruits on international networking missions with the explicit purpose of creating new pathways through the business.
12. Get a mentor
Apart from being excellent business practice for wise heads to share what they know, having a mentor who’s senior to you and not your boss is a very smart move.
Pick someone who’s well-respected, been around a bit, knows the business, and is very good at what they do. They’ll be flattered to be asked for advice and you can be sure you’ll get valuable help and insight that would be hard to get from people who work with you day after day.