Taking Control of Your Career

Everything you need to know about Career Development

"Continuous learning leads to continuous improvement." – Pamela Gill Alabaster

What is career development?

Career development is the act of learning and of growing your skills and abilities as they relate to your chosen profession. Ten years from now, you likely don’t want to be in the same professional role you’re in right now. As the year's pass, most of us want new challenges, greater knowledge, more leadership opportunities, and even more money. It’s called a career ladder, after all. Career development comprises many things, including career planning, creating your personal brand, job searching, and work-life balance.

Career development is important for so many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is it keeps you competitive. Imagine working at the same job for 15 years, using the same tools, and working on the same projects. How would you grow in that scenario? 

Stagnate career growth is not as uncommon as you think. Putting a career development plan in place will help you stay competitive and prevent you from aging out of the workforce. It will also motivate you to find skill gaps and mitigate them, as well as identify stretch opportunities. If career development is what you desire, it’s important you plan what that will look like.

The Importance of Career Planning

Gone are the days when you work at one company your entire career and depend solely on your employer for career progression. It’s now up to individual contributors in the workplace to take the reigns of where they want their career to lead. 

IAW members are professional women who have career aspirations. Most have identified their long-term goals and what it will take to get there. In essence, that’s all career planning is – a map of where you want your career to go and how you plan to get there. Simply knowing you want to be, say, a university president isn’t enough. You need to have a clear career plan that leads to that goal. Detailing the steps you’ll take, the skills you’ll need and the stakeholders with whom you’ll engage are all crucial elements of a quality career plan. 

Why You Need a Plan 

One of the major benefits of career planning is the ability to make more strategic decisions. Questions such as “What projects should I take on?”, “Which job offer should I accept?” and “What courses should I take?” can all be answered with a well-thought-out career plan.

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With a career plan, you're not just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks, but aiming a dart at a bull’s-eye with every career move you make. You’re not just writing down goals but you’re making them SMART and outlining the action steps needed to make them happen. 

You likely wouldn’t go on a trip that has no destination. Well, the same logic applies to your career. If you know where you intend to go, you’ll make better decisions along the way. No matter how detailed your career planning process is, there will likely be obstacles and diversions. However, with a solid plan in place, you’ll always be able to get back on track even if you face obstacles. 

There are many practical ways that planning can help progress your career, including helping you reduce distractions, engage your career stakeholders and acquire the necessary skills to accomplish your goals. Let’s break each step down:

Reducing Distractions on Your Way to Success

There seems to always be infinite projects to take on and a finite amount of time to complete them. The reality is you can’t say yes to every project, volunteer opportunity, conference, or speaking engagement that may come your way, and having a sense of what to focus on is crucial to the success of accomplishing your career goals. Knowing how to most efficiently use your limited time is one of the best consequences of career planning. 

A career plan can also help you manage your time at work. How much time are you dedicating to projects that make you visible and are consequential to the organization? Doing the work, wherever possible, that will most elevate your career is ideal. We don’t always have a say in what kind of work we do so achieving this will likely require a discussion with your supervisors, which is part of stakeholder management. 

Engaging Your Stakeholders

If you're honest with yourself, you’ll acknowledge that no one gets anywhere alone, especially in their career. Your life is filled with stakeholders who are invested in your career success or can contribute to it, at the very least. Your list of stakeholders may include your spouse/partner, your supervisors, other IAW members, your mentors, and your sponsors

To know how these people can best support your career aspirations, you have to outline what those aspirations are at each stage. Stakeholder engagement might include discussing with your supervisor how you can get that promotion that’s part of your career plan. Or perhaps, asking a spouse if they can take on more household responsibility while you work on a consequential project that will increase your visibility at work. Speaking up and asking your stakeholders for what you need is crucial to career progression. 

Acquiring the Right Skills

Another important result of career planning is being aware of your skill gaps. Let’s say you're just beginning your career and your goal is to be a university president. It’s likely you don’t have the skills today you would need to make that happen. But part of the career planning process is determining the skills you need to acquire and creating an action plan to learn them. 

As your career progresses, the skills you need will likely evolve just as your chosen profession will, which is why it’s important to update your career planning document regularly. If you think about your career plan in stages, it’s easier to determine exactly what skills you may need at each stage. For example, you probably wouldn’t need managerial skills and training in your first job, but those are skills that would become a necessity later on as your career progresses. 

Career planning isn’t just for early-career professionals. If your career has stalled or you’ve jumped from position to position with little direction, you’re likely a good candidate for career development planning. Even as a more seasoned professional, it’s never too late to start career planning. A good starting place for creating your career plan is the IAW Career Planning template. Your career plan can act as a guiding light when making the thousands of decisions you’ll make over the course of your career. It’s important to remember that interests change, purposes change and industries change. For these reasons, you must remain flexible to the effects of those changes in order to create a career that’s purposeful and long-lasting.

Creating Your Personal Brand

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Much has been written about the importance of personal branding. Yet, it may still seem like an enigma, because what has been written often doesn’t focus on how to put it into practice.

Before you start building your personal brand, you need to determine your “why.” Why do you think it’s necessary to have a well-curated personal brand—exposure, job opportunities, clients? Once you know the “why” you’ll know what steps you should take to create the personal brand that will lead you to the opportunities you want to have.

A personal brand will look vastly different depending on your “why,” your audience, and your personality. If your audience is potential clients, then a quality website and brand assets, such as a logo, will be a necessary part of building your authentic personal brand. However, if your goal is to get a new job you may not need such a big deliverable. Your brand goal will help you tailor your personal brand statement to highlight the skills your audience will be searching for.

Although the “why” and the audience may vary from person to person, here are four practical tips for creating a personal brand that everyone can use:

Google yourself

If you haven’t Googled yourself recently, you might be surprised at what you find. Think about it: Potential clients, employers, and other gatekeepers of opportunity are certainly Googling you. They want to know more about you and that’s likely the first place they will check.
It’s important to be aware of what comes up when you Google yourself, so you can remove anything that is counter to the brand you are trying to create. Be sure to check your privacy settings on certain social media sites. YouTube and Pinterest, for example, allow you to hide your profile from search engines. Do you really want potential contacts finding your dream wedding pins or your saved workout playlists? If not, consider hiding personal material to be low-hanging fruit on your personal branding journey.

Showcase yourself

The whole reason you’re creating a personal brand is so others can see it, right? That means you have to put yourself out there. Here are a few ways to make yourself visible to your target audience:
Public speaking: Personal branding is all about building your authority as an expert in your field. There’s no better way to do that than to speak or present at an industry event. Most networking events have space for speakers to apply on their websites. Try reaching out to event planners, local organizations, marketing departments, and your IAW Local Chapter President to inquire about speaking opportunities at meetings and events.
Articles: The internet has made self-publishing easier than ever before. Websites such as Medium make it easy to write articles or blog posts on subjects you care about. This is another great way to start positioning yourself as an authority. In addition, reaching out to already established blogs and publications and offering to write a guest post is a great way of putting yourself out there.

Website: A website can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. With drag-and-drop platforms such as Wix and WordPress, you can have a website up and running in 30 minutes. However, if you’re looking for something more customized or sophisticated, you’ll need to spend more time and money. Today, most people won’t do business with an organization that doesn’t have a website. If you’re performing a service, a strong website is a must. IAW members get special rates from our partner Dotlogics on web design services.

Online portfolio: If domain names, hosting, and designing all seem like a bit much to you, you may not need a website. If you’re simply looking for a way to showcase your skills and projects, websites such as Journoportfolio or Behance offer a platform for you to do just that, with very little effort on your part. Having a quality portfolio is the best way to stand out from the competition.

Use media—Social and Traditional

The great thing about social media is there are no gatekeepers. Everyone, in theory, has an opportunity to be heard and can amplify their thoughts to a virtually limitless audience. Using social media sites such as Twitter, Linkedin, Fishbowl or ClubHouse is a great way to start building a following of people who find value in what you have to say. Everyone has a unique perspective. Connecting with your audience authentically is the best way to build a great online reputation. Getting to know people on social media and turning likes and comments into stronger relationships is another way to expand your network.
Traditional media is also a very important avenue for building personal brands that businesses shouldn’t neglect. Yet, depending on your “why” and audience, traditional media opportunities can be much more difficult to pursue. Tools like H/A/R/O make it a bit easier to find and get traditional media opportunities.

Build your network

We all know success in the business world is based on connections. When you build quality relationships with people in your industry, those relationships can reinforce your personal brand. It’s akin to someone endorsing your skills on LinkedIn. They’re saying they know what you’re qualified to do and can vouch for it. Networking can be tricky, especially during a pandemic. There are options, however: IAW and many other organizations are still hosting multiple virtual events weekly. Consider dedicating a few hours a month to attending relevant events and meeting new people.

Building your personal brand may seem like a lot of work, but don’t overthink it. Your main task is to make genuine connections with people and to your authentic self, regardless of the stage of your career. Remember, personal brand building is a continuous process. As your career goals and your audience change, your branding strategy and tactics will likely change as well.

Everyone has something of value to offer. Personal branding is about finding what that is and elevating it so it can be seen by the people who will help you succeed.

Searching for Work

Millions of people lost their jobs when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and while the job market has started bouncing back in some areas, unemployment still remains high. There’s so much competition for open jobs that it’s more difficult than ever to get beyond the application stage to that critical interview.

Maybe you’ve already updated your resume, perfected your IAW profile, found potential jobs, and submitted applications. If you’re striking out, you’re not alone, but you can take some measures to make sure you stand out as an applicant. Companies are hiring, so the trick is to make your application shine brighter than the rest.

How do you do that? We’ve put together these 5 helpful strategies and “secret weapons” you can use to increase your chance of scoring an interview:

Strategy #1 – Think Outside the Box When Applying

Lately, hiring managers deal with a high volume of job applications, which means it’s even more challenging to stand out from the crowd. Make their job easy by thinking outside the box and doing something different that will grab their attention. Consider sending a short video or even a PowerPoint pitch deck instead of using a traditional cover letter. Thinking outside the box can take your application to the forefront quickly.

Strategy #2 – Show, Don’t Just Tell, Your Skills

Your skills are an essential part of your resume and application, but why not go beyond simply telling potential employers about them? While your resume and cover letter describe your skills, having a portfolio will show off those abilities. An online portfolio that potential employers can easily access when they get your application will go a long way in helping you land that interview. Showcasing your skills might be the difference between ending up at the bottom of the application pile and getting called in for an interview.

Strategy #3 – Show How You Can Contribute

The next strategy is to show how you’ll actually contribute to the company. While it’s essential to display the skills you possess, explain what those skills can do for the company. Maybe you can reduce financial losses, improve ease of use for a product or create a healthier workforce. Wherever you can contribute, be sure to present it in your initial application so hiring managers aren’t left guessing how you’ll make a difference in the organization.

Strategy #4 – Build Your Personal Brand on Social Media

Social media isn’t just useful for building company brands, it’s essential to building your own brand. It’s a powerful tool you can use to further show your work, skills, and reputation. Most hiring managers will take time to check out your social media channels before they call you in for an interview. Make sure your channels set you up for success by displaying your connections, skills, and job responsibilities.

Speaking of social media campaign, LinkedIn is one of the most powerful social media channels (Link to the using social to activate your personal brand ebook) for connecting with other professionals. Many organizations even look for potential job candidates on this platform. Since searches often use keywords, give your LinkedIn profile a refresh, including keywords that potential employers may use to search for prospective candidates.

Strategy #5 – Tap Into Entrepreneurial Behaviors

Even if you’ve had some downtime due to job loss during the global pandemic, you can still show potential employers you have an entrepreneurial spirit. Hiring managers often look for individuals who show entrepreneurial behaviors. Maybe you started a side business once you got laid off or you spent time working for a charity. Perhaps you took on a leadership role in your IAW Local Chapter. Whatever the case, if you can show how you’ve been pushing forward and continuing to improve yourself during the tough times we’ve all faced over the past several months, you are sure to stand out to potential employers.

Yes, the job market is tough right now, but if you’re applying for jobs with the same old resume and cover letter every other applicant is using, you won’t land an interview, much less the job. Make an investment in yourself and your future and begin using these strategies so you stand out from your competition for the best reasons.

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While you wait for your applications to bear fruit, consider doing these 4 things in the meantime.

Creating Work-Life Balance

You may have big, ambitious dreams for your career development, but it’s important to remember you are a whole person and there are other areas of your life that need care and attention. Your physical and mental health, your relationships, your hobbies, your religious practices are all a part of making you whole. If you neglect these parts of yourself in search of career fulfillment you may find yourself failing to achieve those objectives, especially if you burn out. And, if you’re a working mom, no doubt things have felt especially crazy this past year.

Here are 4 practical tips for maintaining a healthy work-life balance:

Prioritize eating well and moving your body:

If your mental and physical health is not prioritized it will eventually prevent you from being able to do your best work. That’s why prioritizing eating well and moving your body is more important than anything you do at the office. A lot of times, we try to fit cooking healthy meals and exercising into our already packed schedules. Then, when things get too busy, they are the first activities to be cut. Instead of trying to squeeze them in, put your health first by planning the rest of your day around eating well and exercising, and whatever other self-care activities you need to feel whole

Schedule time for family and friends: 

It may seem harsh or impersonal to pencil in quality time, but it’s more likely you’ll stick with and prioritize quality time if you make it an official part of your schedule. If every day you intend to call a loved one but keep putting it off, it may be time to write it down. When we build a ritual around communicating with and spending time with family and friends, it soon becomes part of your regular schedule; not something you must remember to do.

Get a hobby: 

You may love your job, but inevitably there will be times when your job causes you stress. What will you do to unwind after a stressful week? How will you find joy and fulfillment outside of your job? The key is to find something you can do simply because you enjoy doing it. Perhaps it’s working out, joining a book club, or taking up knitting. Whatever it is, be sure to carve out time daily, weekly, or monthly to do what pleases you. If you don’t already have a hobby that brings you joy, explore different ones until you find one that’s right for you.

Set boundaries around your work: 

Do you answer emails off the clock? Pick up the slack on others’ work? Deliver on assignments with unreasonable turnaround times? If so, it may be time to set some boundaries at work (and maybe at home, too). Setting boundaries at work may involve having a conversation with your supervisor about workloads or it can be as simple as turning the computer off when work is over and keeping it closed until the next day. 

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