A Practical Guide to Career Management

When I think of myself at my first company, I think of myself as a toddler.

Not because I wore pigtails to work every day, but because I was fairly clueless as to what career management really meant. I was relying on others, and wasn't empowered to really do some of the hard digging needed to manage my career, though I knew my goal – to become a kickass consultant (Rule #1 of career management: your goal will be a moving target). I just didn't have a clue as to how to get there. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until I hit mid-twenties that I started researching what I wanted my career to look or feel like. I had to build it, much like the Lego version of the Millennium Falcon, bit by bit. I had to find the pieces first before I could even put them together.

And this is how I did it.

It really started when I discovered TED Talks. I’ve shed more tears at a well-worded story than most, and someone sharing their story or knowledge started that churn in me – “Well, if they did it, why can’t I?”. After TED Talks came social psychology articles. Why do we feel the need to have a career? Why were women told to “have it all” in the first place? What does it mean to be fulfilled?

This all sounds very deep, and the short answer is that it should. Do you want a job where you punch in each day, fulfill that job’s requirements, then go home? Then stop reading.

If you want something more, you have to figure out what you want before you sprint off trying to get it. As an example, for me that looked something like this:

  • Fulfillment. I want my career to matter.

  • Uniqueness. I don’t want to follow herd behavior. I want my journey to be meaningful and different.

  • Balance. I want to balance having a social life, private life, and work life without having to sacrifice my sanity.

  • Empowerment. I’ve always had a soft spot for an underdog, and I want to keep fighting for those that don’t experience solidarity.

Now that you’ve piqued interest and defined what your end point is, the fun begins: how do you get there? For me, a big part was reading articles online. A few examples are below:

  • Career Contessa is geared toward women, and their website is chock-full of articles, guides, templates, and advice. Want to reach out to network, but don’t know how? There’s a template for that. Have a unique mix of casual – business dress code at work? There’s an article for that. You see where I’m going here… (Also, shameless self-promotion – my website won a personal branding contest, so I’m pretty loyal).

  • Glassdoor has articles, and believe it or not, they’re pretty good. The purpose behind Glassdoor is also neat in that you can work to minimize the pay gap and come to interviews more prepared.

  • The Muse is geared toward those recent college grads or the awkward “I feel like an intern though I’ve been in the working world for three years now; why don’t I have my shit together?!” feeling. Career advice, articles, and a nifty animation-fueled process to work through their website; you can’t go wrong.

For job boards in the nonprofit sector, DevNet Jobs is key. They post worldly, and for the most part (they have persnickety hidden “Premium” jobs), they’re free to use.

Still not convinced, or do you feel like you’re missing a skill? Try Udacity (MOOC courses), Coursera (MOOC courses), or Memrise (free language learning app). I’ve learned French, Portuguese, and am completing a specialization in Investment Management – all without paying a dime (until I decided to purchase the certificates, that is). Showing your employer you’re open to learning is a huge win – for them, you’ll be a dynamic employee, and personally, you’ll never know where you’ll find the use for these skills.

Last and most importantly, focus on the people and ideas in your network. It doesn’t truly matter which tool you use – blogs, social media, newspaper articles – as long as you connect with others. Don’t know where to start? Try following thought leaders. Share their articles, comment when appropriate, rebut them when you disagree, but most importantly support them; because one day, they may be supporting you. Search for Meetup groups or LinkedIn Local events, and be approachable. Put in as much as you want to get out. Be genuine.

One final thought – as with anything, keep a balance. You’ll know your limits, because they will appear. Push them enough to grow, but not enough to implode. Once you define your path and begin to follow it, the rest will appear as needed.

Remember, each job, each company, each industry has benefits and costs. The key is to make the cost-benefit ratio always work in your favor.