Improving your career prospects

By glblguy

This is a guest post from Todd who blogs over at HarvestingDollars. Todd writes on personal finance topics including behavioral finance, retirement planning, goal achievement, frugal living, and wealth building strategies. If you like what you read please subscribe to HarvestingDollars.

Clearly careers differ greatly from one person to another, as do each of our career goals. Although I’m still relatively young (33), I’ve been blessed with a wide variety of work experiences, including:

  • working low-level jobs like fast food, tutoring, and entry-level construction jobs
  • driving a dump truck
  • working as a high-end technology consultant
  • working for a bank, a drug store chain, a cell phone company, two credit card companies, and a latin-american dot com
  • working for a company that designed (but never launched) a new television game show
  • teaching college courses for undergraduates
  • working as a finance analyst for two fortune one hundred companies

Regardless of your situation, below are a few steps I recommend to improve your career prospects.

Determine Your Career Goals

I believe this is the hardest step. You have to know what you want, and the more clear you can be the better. Saying that you want to “earn more money” or “be a manager” is meaningless. You need specific goals, and you need to write them down on paper with timelines for achieving them. I would also recommend thinking through the consequences of reaching your goals, because you need to determine if you’re willing to pay the price for achieving and keeping your desired goal.

For example, achieving your goal might require more schooling. It might require changing careers and taking a significant pay cut for a while. I did both of these actually. It might involve moving out of your comfort zone. You might need to volunteer to speak in public at a convention or trade show. You might need to work for an influential person in your company that you can’t stand. It could be more hours, which will strain your family life. It could be more hours after you have the job too, and more stress. I believe to some extent that higher-ranking positions carry more risk of being cut, and it takes longer to obtain a higher paying job than a lower paying job.

All of these things need to be considered beforehand so that you can be sure you really want your goal. As the motivational speakers say, make sure your ladder is against the right building before you start climbing.

Tell Someone About Your Career Goals

I always tell my employees that I can only help them get where they want to go if they tell me where they want to go. The more clear you can be with your goals, the easier it will be for others to help you. Unless your boss is totally against you I would recommend starting with him or her. Schedule a one hour meeting one week from today, to allow him or her to prepare for the meeting. Begin by recapping your time in your current position and your desire to “add more value” to the firm by taking on more responsibility. Highlight some of your more visible key accomplishments in the recent past, and then ask to meet to discuss your career opportunities.

These are the key components to include of your request:

  • Give your boss time to react and think about your request. You don’t want to force this conversation, and you need time to prepare your argument for x,y, and z as well.
  • Do your best not to threaten your bosses position. Most bosses get a bit scared with these types of discussions because they jump to the conclusion that you want their job. Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t, but you should frame up the conversation in more general terms initially.
  • Highlight your skills and accomplishments. Bring up anything you’ve been doing above and beyond what is required. The focus here should be on results. Do NOT focus on effort or the amount of time you spend on something. “Working weekends” or “working ten hour days” is not a result. It’s whining, and it’s a rookie move.
  • Prepare for the meeting yourself, and be prepared to ask for something you specifically want. This could be an open ended request like “I’m interested in understanding the operational complexities of XYZ department. Is there any opportunity for me to work on a cross-functional project with them?” The more specific you can be the better. I want to move into a part of my organization that supports sales in the next 2 years. My request therefore would be something like “I’m interested in learning more about how the sales function operates here at XYZ corp. I respect your knowledge of the business and would like to know what experiences you would recommend I pursue over the next two years that would prepare me for such a position.”

I would recommend telling others about your goals as well. You can be as selective as you deem appropriate, but if you share your goals with your friends you’ll be surprised at how much then can help you out.

Ask For More Responsibility

The discussion with your manager in this area will mirror your request for a career discussion. Highlight your recent (excellent) performance. Discuss your desire to do XYZ. Ask for more responsibility. Hopefully after doing a job for a while you’ve become more efficient at managing your workload. This is more difficult in some careers (i.e. manual labor) than it is in others (office work or knowledge-based work). Bosses always have more work to do. Also note that this request doesn’t mean you have to take anything he or she will throw at you. Emphasize what you want to do. “I’d like more responsibility, and I was wondering if there is an opportunity to manage the installation of the new manufacturing line.”

Complete Your New Task(s) Quickly And Effectively

Be diligent with your new responsibilities. Complete the work quickly and well, and then ask for more responsibility.

In summary, these are the steps I follow and would recommend to others looking to improve their career prospects:

  1. Determine your career goals
  2. Determine what experiences you lack in order to be able to perform well in that role. If you believe you already have those skills, then determine how best to demonstrate them to your superiors.
  3. Ask your manager for more responsibility
  4. Perform the task or tasks quickly and well.
  5. Inquire about advancement opportunities and discuss your career path and goals with your boss.
  6. Setup a plan to get the experiences and skills required to obtain the job you desire
  7. Continue to repeat step 3, 4, and 5.

From Glblguy: Great article Todd and as a fellow manager, this is dead on accurate advice. Manage your own career, don’t expect someone else to do it for you. Interested in seeing one of your articles published on Gather Little by Little? Great! I’m always looking for quality quest posts. Just contact me and propose an idea.

Photo by: schopie1

5 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Improving your career prospects”

  1. Ryan @ Smarter Wealth Says:

    These are some great tips for moving ahead in your career path. But what if you don’t choose a career path but instead choose to become a self employed entrepreneur? This is what I am going to do.
    I think a lot of your comments are still relevant to my situation (apart from talking to your boss etc), but setting career goals and working towards them is a great idea.
    Just don’t work so hard that you forget about family

  2. Rick Vaughn Says:

    Good post, its funny so many people go from job to job think that that is the only way to make more money. It you have ever read “Fields of Diamonds” you will find that your fortune is right where you are.

  3. entrepreneur blog Says:

    As for being an entrepreneur…entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. In fact, I’d say it isn’t for most everyone. Though as Ryan mentioned, the points stated above can and should be applied towards it. Substitute ‘mentor’ instead of ‘boss’ and you’ve got it. However, the ‘added value’ and responsibility will go towards your own ends instead of that of the company.

    All in all, points well taken.

  4. Robert Says:

    Great tips here, the one thing I would add is that even if you pick the perfect career you must always realise that in today’s world there are no guaranteed jobs for life and most people should also experience at least 5 different careers in their life to feel things out.