(By Judy Martel)
“Polishing your brand, or image, involves working on how you present yourself. Make sure you have what I call an ‘executive presence,’ which I describe as the ability to communicate and act with both warmth and strength, this applies not just to executives, but to everyone. In doing so, you will convey confidence and expertise in your field“.
A career consumes the waking hours of most working people’s lives, yet few take the time to thoughtfully plan for how they’ll invest their most important asset: human capital.
“Advancing in your career in a purposeful way requires a sense of self-awareness and the knowledge that you will be the one to make it happen,” said Peggy Klaus, executive consultant and author.
“The first thing I tell people is to think of yourself as an entrepreneur, even if you’re in a corporate setting,” she said. “While you may have mentors, sponsors and a boss, you’re it. You’re the person navigating and investing in your career.”
Karen Cates, executive coach and lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, stressed that you should consider more than just your salary when making career decisions. “It’s nice to earn money, and sometimes money will be the priority in your life, but make a conscious choice,” she said. “If you’re not experiencing some kind of passion in your job, at best you’ll be pretty good but not excellent.”
Developing Your Career Path
When plotting your career path, Klaus said it helps to think of yourself as a brand, and as such, you need to understand not only the passion you’ll bring to the job for eight hours every day but also how you are perceived by others.
Here are seven tips to get started:
1. Do a self-assessment. “Assess your soft skills and your hard skills,” Klaus said. “Your knowledge and technical skills are the hard skills. The soft skills are everything else, such as your ability to communicate, manage others, be politically savvy and manage your emotions. Let’s say you’re a computer programmer, and you also enjoy mentoring younger staff. That’s an example of using both your hard and soft skills.” The skills assessment will also reveal if you lack sufficient training or education for your desired career path, Klaus noted. Before investing in additional education, you’ll know exactly what’s needed.
2. Get feedback. To see yourself the way others do, it’s important to get feedback, Klaus said. “People love to give you their opinions. Go to a boss or colleague and say, ‘I really want to improve; could you tell me what I do well and what you think I don’t do well?’”
3. Establish goals. Cates counsels her clients to think about what they want to be able to say about their position after they leave it. “Everything you do in your job goes back to what you want to accomplish during your tenure—and that not only helps you personally develop your career goals, but you also have to translate that to how it will benefit the company,” she said. “It’s a very holistic approach.”
4. Develop an executive presence. Polishing your brand, or image, involves working on how you present yourself. “Make sure you have what I call an ‘executive presence,’ which I describe as the ability to communicate and act with both warmth and strength,” Klaus advised. “This applies not just to executives, but to everyone.” In doing so, you will convey confidence and expertise in your field.
5. Build your network. Maintaining an online presence is important in getting your brand noticed, Klaus said, so keep your resume or profile current on networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. “You want your resume and cover letter to be picked out of the pile.” Also, make sure your online presence is professional. “No racy photos or inappropriate comments. Make sure that wherever you are online, you are represented the way you want to be.”
6. Develop a career timeline. Develop a timeline outlining your desired career moves, add in your salary requirements, and determine what you are willing to do to achieve your goal, Klaus said. Would you move or accept more hours, for instance? “Decide what success looks like to you,” she added. “Then you can decide whether to seek another role in the company or look elsewhere.”
7. Talk to your manager. The most successful negotiators are able to demonstrate the benefits that will come back to the company in exchange for the increased responsibilities or salary they are requesting, Cates said. “Think about your timing and what’s going on in the company before you ask.”
According to Klaus, an ideal time to broach the possibility of advancement is during a performance review. “That’s absolutely a time to discuss career goals and ask what the boss thinks you should do to move up.” Outside of a performance review, unless a position you desire opens up, asking too often for a promotion can actually be detrimental, Klaus added. But in the end, you do have to ask.
Investing in your human capital can pay off in a bigger paycheck or in a more satisfying job that better suits your personality. The definition of a successful career is different for everyone, but if you’re willing to do the work, results will follow. “Ask, ‘What do I really want to have in my life?’” said Klaus. “You really have to be honest with yourself with what you want.”
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