Great, you’ve done a lot of thinking about your strengths and interests and made a decision about the kind of career you want to pursue. You now need to develop and implement a strategy for that career. There are a few things you need to consider before doing so.
Suppose you and your partner or family decide that your key goals include houses in the city and country, travel, sending your children to private high schools and possibly offshore universities. Achievement of these goals will require a specific career strategy. If these goals do not reflect your life ambition, your career approach will differ significantly.
It is an unfortunate consideration, but your strategy must recognize that the choice of sector you work in may trump talent. Just by nature of the success of different industries, an individual of average talent working at Google may have done better over the past decade than someone of great talent at General Motors. Any opportunity you have early in your career to choose among different paths is a blessing.
That said, here are some additional recommendations for putting your career plan into action:
- Do not ignore STEM sectors simply because you do not possess technical qualifications. Growing organizations will provide opportunities in non-technical functions, such as human resources, marketing and sales. Recruiting and retaining talent is becoming increasingly competitive among companies and there is a school of thought that it will become an even more critical organizational competency.
- Regardless of your goals and strategy, be a warrior – mentally and physically. Don’t do only what you are asked to do, but what you are capable of doing. Think of it as boot camp before being sent to battle. There are millions of other warriors fighting to win the same areas of success.
- Embrace a degree of stoicism early in your career. Allocate your energy and skills to three things: work, relationships and fitness.
- If you are seeking work-life balance, understand that there will be trade-offs. It is improbable that you will become a member of the leadership team of a large organization or unicorn without working very hard and for many hours. In the absence of a financial fairy godperson or a lucrative source of passive income, you will likely have to some sacrifice family dinners, weekends and important family events for more time behind your desk, travelling and networking.
Once you’ve understood the above, then it’s time to network your way into target organizations. You want to connect with the senior executive responsible and accountable for the function you are targeting. It is always best to have a warm connection. Go through your contact list. Ask your friends who they know. Leverage your alumni connections and any others you have. For example, others who volunteer at the same organizations you do.
Send your targets an e-mail to their professional e-mail address – there are several online tools available that will allow you to find it. Tell them what careers you are exploring and ask for their advice and counsel. Be as explicit as you can. Most people have been helped in their careers and are willing to “pay it forward”; however, they have to know how. Saying that you are exploring career options is not actionable, but indicating that you are exploring marketing careers in the consumer products sector is. Do not ask about jobs – that is a binary question – you want to engage them in a conversation. Tell them that you would like to get their insights and perspectives. Send three e-mails five business days apart until you get a response. This process will lead to an informational meeting or interview. The primary objectives of the informational interview are to:
- Secure referrals to the other individual’s network with the ultimate objective of a referral to a decision-maker.
- Get information on the organization or industry that can be used in subsequent interviews.
People will not refer others to their network unless they trust and have confidence that the person they refer will reflect well on them. The way you earn the trust and confidence of others is by acknowledging them as an expert by asking them questions they can answer. The key to successful and productive meetings is preparation. Do not be nonchalant in these meetings – they are critically important. You must prepare for them and execute them well.
For better or worse, the DNA of your career and professional trajectory is disproportionately, unfairly, set by the early years of your career. Some people blossom in their 40s. Most successful people, however, burn a great deal of fuel in their 20s and 30s. They cover greater ground in their 40s and 50s thanks to the velocity established in their first 20 professional years.
Peter Caven is the managing director of Launched Careers, a Toronto-based career advisory organization for young professionals. He is the Leadership Lab columnist for August, 2021.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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