When it comes to advancing your career, there are so many possible steps to take it can be paralyzing. Karen Jackson-Cox, Executive Director of the Business Career Centre at Smith School of Business, advises 6 steps to help you look inward and reflect before making any bold moves.
By Hailey Eisen
You’ve reached the mid-career point and while you’re happy with what you’ve accomplished to date, you’re starting to feel like you’re ready for the next move. You’ve got a healthy dose of ambition — but what’s lacking is a solid plan. What do you need to do to ensure career success over the next 10 years? According to Karen Jackson-Cox, Executive Director of the Business Career Centre at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, it’s time to implement “Project Me.”
“People think they’re being too self-centered if they focus on themselves in great detail, but this is the time to give yourself the focus and attention you deserve,” she says. “With so many options out there, you want to prepare to meet them in a strategic way.”
These six simple steps can have a big impact on your career, in both the short and long term.
Define your vision and goals.
Not sure what you want to do next in your career? It’s a good time to step back and do some self-reflection, Karen advises. “You’ll want to get clear on a few things, namely: what are you interested in, what drives your passion, what motivates you, and what are your core values and strengths?” For some, these answers will come easily, and writing them down will help solidify them. For others, an assessment tool might be required. “At Smith, we use Gallup’s StrengthsFinder and CareerLeader, both of which help you map out your strengths, passions, values, motivation, and interests,” Karen says. Another way to get clear on your vision and goals is to probe your network: Have individuals who know you well validate the things you likely already know about yourself.
Invest in a coach or find a mentor.
Once you’ve done your self-assessment you’ll know where your gaps or deficiencies lie. If it’s important for you to overcome those gaps, investing in a coach or seeking a mentor can be extremely valuable. “These career catalysts will be of great value if you can’t seem to get the career clarity you’re looking for,” Karen says. “At Smith, we have a strong culture of coaching and believe coaches can be extremely helpful in building out a well-rounded professional.”
Map out a plan.
Based on the advice you get from assessment tools and your network, start to map out a plan as though you’re executing a project for work. “Include key milestones and dates in order to keep yourself on track and to make this an actual priority,” Karen advises. “People tend to underestimate how long it takes to do the groundwork needed to get to the next level in their careers. That’s why careful planning is so important.”
Consider further education.
Often graduate education, like an MBA, can go a long way towards advancing your career. “We typically recommend planning one- to two-years out if you’re thinking of going back to school,” says Karen. “You’ll need to think about budgeting and funding options, studying for the GMAT exam, preparing your applications and planning around your current job situation.” You’ll want to choose a program that’s best aligned with the career area you’re targeting and will help you achieve your overall goals. For example, “the choice between a full-time MBA and an Executive MBA should be made based on where you’re at in your career and what you’re looking to accomplish,” Karen says. The full-time MBA is suited for people who want to achieve a significant career change or growth and develop the skills and the network needed to do so. The Executive MBA program is more suitable to those desiring to advance in senior positions who plan to stay in their roles while completing the MBA program.
Grow & nurture your network.
“Building your network should never stop, no matter what position you’re in,” Karen advises. “Seek out networks through your workplace, including women’s groups and affinity groups, and look to join external professional associations as well.” There’s great power in LinkedIn groups and you’ll want to leverage that as well. Building your social visibility requires finding a balance between growing your network, sharing tips and links that will add value for others, and ensuring you have authentic, genuine relationships so you have those warm leads in place when you actually need to reach out for support. “You don’t want to be the person who reaches out only when you need something,” Karen says.
Let your experiences define you.
Before you make the next move, you’ll want your resume to showcase that you are a well-rounded individual. Always be thinking about what experiences you can garner, both from within and beyond the workplace. “Your results on the job demonstrate you’re a high achiever, but what else can you do to highlight your interests and values?” Karen asks. “From volunteering in your community, to travel experiences that help develop a global mindset, to hobbies you pursue, and leadership roles you’ve taken on—the key is to show that you’re an interesting and unique person who can adapt to a variety of circumstances.”