Whenever I get a call from a career coaching client I haven’t spoken with in a few years; I’ll often respond with, “oh, it’s you! I was hoping I’d never hear from you again!” As you can imagine, this usually results in an awkward courtesy laugh from the unlucky soul on the phone. And yet, the sentiment behind the joke is an important one.
As much as I enjoy helping people job search more effectively, I always encourage them (especially after a challenging transition) to be vigilant about managing their careers and developing a series of proactive habits to maximize their professional marketability. With the new year here, let me share six tips for maintaining career success.
1. Maintain your network; don’t lose touch with people
I’d be remiss as a career coach if I didn’t start with this one. After 30 years of coaching job seekers, I can attest there isn’t a single factor — not skills, not talent, not education — that plays as big of a role in maintaining quality employment as cultivating a wide circle of friends, contacts and acquaintances. The single biggest lament I hear from people who go through prolonged job transitions is, “I sure wish I had stayed in better touch with my network!”
Companies love to hire people through the grapevine who come endorsed by someone they trust. It saves them tons of time from an advertising and resume-screening standpoint, but they generally assume such people will be a better fit with the company culture. So, I implore every professional not to take their circle of relationships for granted. Be sure you stay in periodic touch with clients, vendors, co-workers, recruiters and other acquaintances with whom you’ve built a solid relationship. And keep your eyes out for new connections you can create that could be valuable career-wise.
2. Always be looking (at least passively!)
Decades ago, the marketplace was a lot more predictable and the social contract between employers and employees was a different beast. Aside from making a major mistake at work or falling victim to a catastrophic industry downturn, people could generally expect to enjoy long, stable and rewarding roles with a single employer. These days, however, the cycles of commerce are far more haphazard. Many new events such as mergers, acquisitions, divestitures and the like can cause an otherwise stable-looking job to get eliminated suddenly.
In response to this, even if you’re happy with your current employer, I’d encourage you always to keep at least some pulse of job-hunting activity underway to hedge your bets and maintain an accurate gauge of your marketability. A few examples are maintaining ongoing job alerts on sites like Indeed.com and LinkedIn, updating your resume at least once each year and keeping your LinkedIn profile updated to attract occasional interest from recruiters. Even if you ignore any leads, you’ll be far more plugged into the market and much more equipped to fire up an active job hunt if you suspect your current role might be in jeopardy.
3. Flex your brain and engage in continuous learning
Want to know one of the most dangerous things you can do in any field? Stop learning. The moment you get complacent, start coasting and decide you know all you need to know to get by in your profession, you raise the odds that your talents might become obsolete and that others in your career path will pass you by.
What’s more, I believe a significant portion of age bias is due to this factor. I routinely meet with older workers who have been remiss in staying current on the new tools, technologies and emerging competencies in their respective career fields. As a result, older workers frequently lose out on roles to candidates with fewer years of experience but who come across to employers as more up-to-speed on the latest, greatest developments within their industry or occupational niche.
So, whether it involves signing up for formal classes or online certification programs, attending industry events and meetings, reviewing literature in your field or periodically engaging in a bit of self-study, make it a point to stay at the leading edge of your profession. Most fields today are changing rapidly, and if you ignore these changes and fall behind, you’ll experience some depreciation in terms of your overall career prospects.
4. Manage up effectively and cultivate advocates
An old saying in the HR world goes, “people don’t quit companies; they quit bosses.” Other than yourself, nobody will play a bigger role in your career success or failure than your supervisor. Great managers can make an otherwise horrific job reasonably tolerable, just as a bad boss can make a great role, on paper, seem downright excruciating.
While there are certainly cases when the chemistry is just off and you’ll never see eye-to-eye with your boss, there are many other situations where professionals don’t treat this relationship with enough importance. Or fail to communicate effectively with their supervisor about their wants, needs and goals.
Many of the most successful professionals I’ve come across have gotten to where they’re at largely by having a strong advocate or an executive “sponsor” who recommends them for promotions — or whom they follow from organization to organization. Is there more you could be doing to build a positive relationship with your boss and make them a key ally going forward?
5. Be loyal to your employer, but not to a fault
It’s become something of a well-known secret in many fields that the key to advancement (both in terms of title and salary) is to consider jumping to a new employer every few years. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule and there’s more to career satisfaction than climbing the ladder or making money. But it might be time to consider making a move if you have career ambition and aren’t feeling respected or appreciated by your current organization.
The state of labor market dynamics today almost always results in new hires receiving disproportionately bigger jumps in pay than existing employees. So, while this doesn’t mean everybody needs to suddenly give two weeks’ notice or start floating their resumes around, it doesn’t mean being blindly loyal.
6. Consider teaching, writing or thought leadership
Finally, one of my favorite ways to maintain career success is finding a way to give back to your profession in one form or another. I’ve found that some of my greatest learning experiences have arisen when I’ve signed up to teach a class, write an article, facilitate a webinar or mentor another aspiring professional.
Such situations always force me to look in the mirror and ask, “what do I really believe about this?” and structure my thoughts in a cohesive, organized way. Agreeing to teach something also compels me to do further research into the topic to ensure I haven’t overlooked anything and so that I can anticipate any potential questions that might arise.
If you’re already well-established in your field but haven’t considered engaging in some form of reciprocity or thought leadership, I’d strongly recommend the notion. There are an almost limitless number of organizations, media and people who might be interested in tapping into your wisdom. And you’ll find it to be a terrific catalyst for your own learning and growth!