You’ve been in the same job or company for a while; the honeymoon ended long ago, and you’ve been pretty comfortable. You work with friends, they know you well, and you have no serious complaints about the organization. Work life is good.
Except for one not-so-little thing. You just put a good bit of time and effort into getting your advanced degree in an discipline related to your work–let’s say an MBA. But when you did that, after the celebratory party and the cards of congratulations from your coworkers, nothing changed. It’s same old, same old.
You probably didn’t have a new career plan for your newly minted, better credentialed, and more prepared, educated, and informed self–you never saw yourself leaving and you don’t need a career plan if you aren’t seeking a new job, right?
Not so much. Assuming you don’t want to put all that work you did to waste, you need a career plan for blooming where you’re planted, as they say (though I don’t know anything about horticulture, I love that expression).
This isn’t always easy, and there are some risks. If you have ever gone back to a high school reunion after many years, you know that when you do, you are likely to be treated by your former classmates as if you were in twelfth grade, and you are likely to react to that as you would if you were in tenth grade or younger. And, if you showed up dramatically changed, even your best friends don’t know what to do or what to say. You just don’t seem like you.
Of course your education isn’t sudden; you’ve been changing ever so gradually all along your path. But you have been attending to your classwork and you have been wearing the pained expression of a work in progress, that students in graduate programs tend to wear. You’re not where you were, and not where you are headed; in transit. That all changes when you are finally fully degreed and decreed.
And, that MBA (or whatever your new credential you have earned) isn’t front and center for anyone in your workplace except you. If people know about it; they are waiting to see the evidence–it helps them, or it doesn’t. It helps the organization, or it doesn’t. You help, or you don’t. So the first thing is identifying how you can help. And then helping–really helping, not issuing new opinions or making corrections that to the new you seem obvious. It’s a long way between theoretically and technically accurate and actually useful and operationally viable. We all forget that sometimes
But here are some ideas about managing what you can manage on the personal branding front.
1. Avoid this: “In my finance class, Dr. So and So said to do it this way.” I have no further comment. Just don’t do that.
2. Change your resume and change your LinkedIn profile, and anything else that shows where you have been and what you have done. That way, you can articulate exactly what has changed and exactly what hasn’t, which is very important.
3. Do have a conversation with whomever in your organization has those conversations about how you can accept more work and responsibility, in addition to what you already have. Yes–more work, not a better job or title or more money. You have something to prove before you move up. Test your wings before you ask for their gilding.
4. Volunteer for the drudgery and the most difficult of the unpleasant assignments. That is more important than anything else you can think of to get noticed.
5. Seek a mentor, or several in different areas of your interest. Ask for help in promoting what you can do–ask for change, not advancement. Rebranding is not self-promotion; you are asking for help in crafting a new narrative, one in which you are versatile, reliable, willing, loyal, open to new ideas, and always willing to help. And you happen to have more education than everyone thought you did.
6. Try new things. Things you didn’t know you would like.
7. If you work in a really big company, one with a job posting system, bid on jobs. However, understand that there is an informal system and a little track that runs alongside the formal one. You have to run on both tracks–you have to have political as well as educational capital. If you have not been nice, start being nice right now.
8. And to that point, if you have been a diva or the equivalent, you might want to quietly let folks know you have seen the light and you are doing some serious self -assessment. And that you are making changes; if you are, be truthful, and make the changes. Think about your narrative–you can’t erase the past, but you can acknowledge that you learned from it.
9. Clean up the outer image, if need be. If you have gotten into the habit of wearing jeans and dressing more casually than the management in your organization, you are remediating at this point. Don’t do that suddenly; take one step up the sartorial ladder every few months. We go from jeans, to slacks, to slacks with a jacket. . . . . or mix it up. Dress for meeting days.
10. Bear in mind that accomplishing an educational goal is a huge personal step–it takes time, money, and there is opportunity cost. Others were growing and working hard while you were growing and working hard, though perhaps at other–equally important–qualifiers. Be sure you notice, when you come up for air, all of the other changes and advancements around you.
When it comes to promotions and advancements, it isn’t always fair and it isn’t always your turn. And you may not get what you thought you would from your hard work.
More education may give you many more choices, but it doesn’t guarantee the other elements of your personal brand. What it’s like to work with you, how you treat the work and the others around you, and how you represent your employer and organization are functions of who you are and what brought you to this point.
And that’s usually what earns you opportunity.