As many of the world's economies start to pull out or recession, there's been no better time to review your options. We asked career strategist John Lees to give us the inside track on getting ahead of the rest of the pack.
15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: accelerate your career.
Can I still be an astronaut?
Many of us only take stock when we feel the need to move on, but reviewing career progress regularly can offer huge advantages when it comes to moving onwards and upwards faster. Make sure you’re still learning, still challenged in your current job - and adding useful evidence to your CV.
Don’t lose sight of dream job ideas either. They can be a powerful motivator. You may not become an astronaut, but you might blend new elements into your current role inspired by that ambition - more stimulating tasks, better co-workers and more beneficial outcomes. Consider re-negotiating your role or switching projects and responsibilities – be ambitious in your current job.
Reach out before striking out
Get active in your online network well before you consider job hunting. Make sure your LinkedIn profile offers an attractive shop window for your talents, and use social media to connect with interesting people, organisations, and discussion groups. You’ll get an idea of where you fit in to the wider sector – while keeping one eye constantly open for opportunities.
Your employer has invested in you. It's highly likely that they will be open to rethinking your role, rather than running the risk of a poor replacement if you leave. Talk about what you can offer as well as what you need – a win/win that sounds like: “if you let me grow my role the organisation will get much better value out of me”.
And be wary of using a new job offer as a negotiating tool. Once an employer knows you’re ready to go, they’ll be reluctant to fix your career deal.
If you do decide to go for a new job, clarify which problems you are trying to solve by doing so. Are you unhappy with your role, colleagues, boss, the organisation, or the sector? Be clear, or changing jobs could mean repeating the same problems elsewhere.
Don’t be seduced by a recruiter into accepting a new job before you understand it thoroughly. Find out how long your last two predecessors stayed in the role. Probe the culture with anyone who has worked in or near the business, and have a grown-up conversation about what success looks like.
Match your skills to a demanding market
It’s easy to forget that employers are only interested in skills and experience which exactly match a role. People tend to make recruitment decisions when they’re tired and under pressure, and have little time for long-shot applicants.
Employers want specifics rather than general abilities, so be realistic about transferable skills. To make skills truly ‘transferable’, you’ll need to translate them into language an employer not only understands but can get excited about. And you only decode that language by thoroughly investigating target employers well before interview.
Pitch the right headlines
Forget catch-phrases and cheesy elevator pitches. Plan for what people will say about you when you’re not in the room, and feed them a script to manage your message. Label what you do in a way that feels right and sounds useful enough to get you recommended. This probably won’t be your current job title, but a simple phrase that captures what you do.
Remember: if your name comes up in conversation, people will only mention two or three points. This will probably be something about your working style, your know-how and most obvious skills, and perhaps a summary of one project you’ve handled recently. Get these brief messages across at every opportunity– on screen, on paper, and in person.
Take the knocks; avoid the ten-count
Every salesperson knows you have to hear the word “no” four or five times before meeting “yes”, but they forget this when hitting the job market or seeking promotion. Finding great roles takes persistence, and there are plenty of knock-backs along the way.
But unless you have thick skin, don’t go to an interview for a job you don’t want – rejection will still hit your confidence. Avoid making decisions on a day when things aren’t going well, and meet regularly with people who will help you think big and remind you of your strengths.
It’s your job to tell people why they should recommend or hire you. Don’t undersell by presenting a dull, obvious list of job responsibilities – talk about where you’ve delighted, added value, redesigned the job from the inside. Package good evidence by learning clear, snappy narratives which lead quickly from problem to solution: people remember good stories far longer than information.
Reach out to people if you want a new role, or just want to get noticed, but find an authentic voice. Listen more than you speak, plan smart questions, and keep asking “who else should I be talking to?”
John Lees is the author of How To Get A Job You Love
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