I have been whispering about jobs and careers for a very long time, and publishing this little blog for almost five years. This month, it’s Back to Basics. Here are ten fundamental principles that are worth repeating every once in a while:
1. One size does not fit all; that is, career advice is not universal. It differs depending on markets, professions, individual competency, life strategy, and so many other things. It isn’t a good idea to automatically accept a Truth you read about on the Internet or in your morning paper.
2. Make a plan, and write it down. It isn’t real if it isn’t written down. Plans need action items, goals, timelines, and key players, among other things, to create energy and make them real. One reason it’s hard to document your intentions is that you have to face reality; you are probably missing some connections, logic, clarity, or courage and when you write out the plan, you can see what isn’t there as well as what is. Realization is a good thing. Part of the process is affirming what you are going to do about that.
3. Know yourself and trust yourself; you are who you are. You should try to be the best you, and you may want to change what you can change for the better, but you should not try to be, or pretend to be, anyone else in order to qualify for a job. First, it is more apparent than you think it is, and makes people uncomfortable and distrustful of you. Second, if by some chance you are temporarily successful, you will be miserable faking your enthusiasm and comfort in what will probably be a very awkward fit.
4. Pace yourself. The point of a process is to do things in a logical order, making sure that each step is correctly undertaken and puts you in a favorable light with assorted stakeholders and decision-makers. For example, a connection to a possible opportunity begins with an inquiry, not a request for a job, a cover letter seeks a meeting, not a job, and an interview inherently is a conversation, in which each party is trying to determine if further discussion is warranted. And, if you don’t pace yourself, you will feel rejected, when in fact your timing is simply off. They are two very different things.
5. Choose confidantes and advisors carefully, and do not share your feelings and fears outside your innermost inside circle. If you take advice from someone who does not have your own interest as motivation to help you, know why they want to help. Validate specific advice. Don’t share secrets.
6. Try new things in order to gain new skills and acquire new competencies, but don’t try things out for the first time on the biggest or best opportunities. Practice is important; you have to get your stupid out—that means being clumsy once or twice in order to learn what clumsy feels like, why it feels that way, and what it would look and feel like if you did it better.
7. Manage your behavior well. Lose the drama. Keep your temper. Thank people often. Return favors. Pay it forward. Be nice. Watch your tone. Don’t fuss. Stay calm, even when no one else is calm. But don’t overdo, oversell, overcompensate, or overwork. Balance is really important.
8. Get good at administration. That means keep your life and affairs in very good order. If I asked you when was the last time you changed the oil in your car, would you know the answer? The amount of the last check you wrote? Do you know the balance in your savings account? The date of your next dentist appointment? Resources are finite, you have to replace what you use up, and it’s really important to know what you have and what you need.
9. Give priority to relationships; people and their values matter. Some people value your respect, others value your kindness. Know who is who in your life, and what matters to them. Remember birthdays, or write them down. You build relationships by being accessible, taking some risk when you reach out, and trusting that your intentions are worthy.
10. Build and carefully and deliberately maintain a reputation for something that others value. That’s not just doing a thing well, or making a bold mark, but ensuring that you are very consistent: if you are in your groove, there is an outcome or a feature to what you are doing that will benefit the greater good. You want others to remember you, to think of your name when the subject of your specialty arises.
That’s how careers happen and how careers are made.
It doesn’t take that much discipline, but it does take a dedication of your time and it does require conscious decision-making to turn toward production and away from dreaming.