When it comes to career success, skills are just part of the answer. That is why a well-rounded game plan can help employees move to the next level.
Regardless of economic cycles, there are some people who consistently navigate their way to positions of increasing responsibility, prestige and compensation. While skill and luck can contribute to that success, the determining factor is more often rooted in a disciplined, well-executed career plan.
"Employees need to look at themselves from a marketing perspective," says Cindy Chandler, principal of Chandler Group Executive Search in Spring Park. "That means being really clear about what they do well, where they do it, and how they excel relative to their competition."
Getting clear perspective on those points requires more than introspection. It also requires ambitious career builders to build networks that can help them polish their business and relationship skills. To those ends, Chandler suggests the following tips:
Get coaching. This approach can take many forms. For example, a Web-based tool called StrengthFinder helps ambitious employees assess their talents and develop an action plan to apply them. On the other hand, personal coaching and assessments can deliver a more detailed, interactive game plan for career development.
Embrace challenges. At a time when many companies are struggling to stay afloat, Chandler says a great way to gain positive visibility is to get on a work team charged with tackling a tough business problem. "For this approach, it's important that the employee chooses a team where not everyone has the same strengths," she says. "Otherwise, it's much harder for that person's distinct gifts to emerge."
Volunteer time. Not all volunteer opportunities are alike when it comes to career development. For example, Chandler says committee or board-level service with a non-profit group can be a great tool for extending professional networks and gaining management skills. "By spending time with their favorite charity, people can often develop leadership skills they have not been able to grow in their own workplace," she says.
Fit factor. With rare exceptions, people are usually hired on the basis of specific skills or qualifications they bring to a position. However, if an employee is a hard-charger in an organization with a passive-aggressive culture, it's highly unlikely that person will advance above their current post. That's why Chandler says it is important for employees to determine if their personality meshes with prevailing corporate winds. "Particularly when you're talking about managerial or leadership positions, fit is every bit as important as the skills one brings to the table."
Brett Pyrtle is a principal of Turning Point Communications LLC, a marketing communications firm based in St. Paul