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Many of us know what we want for our careers, but how many of us know what our options really are? How do we know that we didn’t just miss our dream opportunity because we were too busy to keep an eye out or we didn’t have the right connections? How do we know that we didn’t just take a job that’s actually a terrible fit for us? If I find a great opportunity, how do I give myself the best chance of getting it? We can’t always be job searching, it’s too impractical, but we all know those people who seem to have a knack for landing great roles that are good for them and their careers. There certainly is a degree of luck to being in the right place at the right time, but there is a lot you can do to impact your odds of getting that opportunity you are truly excited about.
First, you should have a goal that is focused on you. OK – not the secret of the century there, but it’s trickier than it sounds. Unless work is purely about getting a paycheck, then the goal is not to just get the job. Most Americans will spend over forty years at work and for all but a few of us, what we do for work over that span will significantly impact who we are in everything from our character and our mood to our level of satisfaction with our accomplishments and how well we retire. The reality is that all those things and more need to be considered in this goal. Too often we see a bigger salary, closer commute, or some other shiny toy to play with at a new job and we forget to evaluate many of the attributes that have made us unhappy in prior jobs or vice versa. Taking the time to sculpt this goal will give you your guide. It’s what will help keep you from taking the wrong job and keep your eyes open to making the right move when the opportunity strikes instead of when you are actively job searching.
Having an internal focus on your goals to keep you on the path towards your career aspirations is really important because it keeps your perspective on the whole range of things that are important to you long term, but since we can’t promote ourselves, we have to remember that it’s not all about us. We need others to help us along the way in our career development. We need their recognition, their support, and we need them to know how good we are at our last job and how good we will be at our next job (and we need to do this without being needy). It is also extremely important to remember that the other half of networking is being there for others. This quality of networking is perhaps the most important aspect of career development and the area with the largest delta effect from those who do it well and those who do it poorly.
Networking takes time and statistics say that networking is three times more likely to land you your next job than applying for job postings if you make over $100,000 annually. Since co-workers are perhaps the most common networking group to have a significant impact on referring quality job opportunities (current colleagues for internal opportunities, former colleagues for outside opportunities) this means, whether you like it or not, your career development is always happening. This makes two things important to recognize. One, if you are only broadcasting an interest in career development when you are actively job searching then you are missing out on a large number of potential opportunities. Two, if you do not impress your colleagues, then some of the best potential jobs are closed to you before you even knew they existed. If you are looking to evaluate the strength of your network then you should ask yourself one question: how many people in my network know why I’m the kind of person they want on their team?
If your network has yielded a great “in” with a company then often times a resume doesn’t really matter too much, but if you don’t, then the traditional resume and interview process is still very important. I’ve talked to thousands of candidates and I would say more than half of them have overly explanatory resumes that are difficult to sift through, create no identity for me to relate to and create no picture of why that person would be good to have on my team. A resume should not be a comprehensive list of prior responsibilities and every single technology you’ve used. A resume should be an advertisement; a quick preview of what you can do, skewed towards what you want to do and it should be easy to understand how and where you have used your relevant skills. The point of every advertisement is to answer the question, “why do I want this?” and the good advertisements answer that when you didn’t even know you wanted that thing. Your resume should do the same for you with hiring managers.
Career development is not an exact science. You don’t have to have the greatest pedigree in your education or career experience to get a job that’s a great fit for your long term goals. You just have to keep a set of goals for what you want, other people have to know why they should want you, and you have to remember that those two factors are not an on and off switch that change with when you “need” a job. They are constantly evolving attributes that the most successful professionals are always keeping in consideration.