Whether the economy is booming or stumbling along, taking charge of your career and planning your next step should always be a priority.
You can’t wait for your genius to be benevolently discovered — the bottom line is that no one is as interested in your career, your talents, your aspirations as you are.
If you want to take that next step, work your way up the corporate ladder, and find the dream job that you’re looking for, then you’re going to have to take charge and make it happen.
I sat down with human resources strategist Joseph Palmer for some tough love and some advice on how to go about taking my career to the next level.
"The main advice that I would give is to be memorable..." explained Palmer. "It’s always better to stand out and make an impression, rather than fade into the background. However searching for your dream job or securing that promotion does take a fairly targeted and strategic approach."
Here are the seven things Palmer suggested that I work on:
Work out what job you want
You need to be clear in your own mind about what sort of job that you’re looking for. Try writing down your strengths, what you like, and what you don’t like. You’re going to spend a lot of time each day in work, so it’s important that you find a good fit.
Discussing your thoughts with a mentor can be really helpful — it’s good to have someone that's outside of your immediate workplace but within your sector who you can use as a sounding board for this type of self-reflection.
Identify your ‘Unique Selling Point’
What is it that makes you special or different to the many other people that are likely to be just as qualified or experienced for this role?
You have to be able to articulate “why you” — you need to be able to clearly show and demonstrate why your skills and experience are right for that job and that organisation.
Research the job
The more you know about the role that you’re targeting and the organisation that you want to work for, the greater your chances of landing it.
Some key points to look for:
- Understand what it is that they need.
- What will be their selection criteria (and how might you address any gaps that you have against the criteria).
- Understand whether the job will be advertised or whether you will need to find another way to be considered for the role.
- Who is making the decision (and do you have any connection to them through your networks).
Nail the interview
Once you’ve got in front of the decision-maker you need to make sure you tick all of their boxes:
- Be relevant and topical, demonstrate that you know what is going on in that industry.
- Understand not just the role today, but the role and the business in the future – where it’s going and how will your skills/experience fit that need?
- Plan what you’re going to say — think about your experience and how you’re going to convey this with impact.
- Adapt your content to the format of the interview and the style of the decision-maker. Is it a coffee chat, a formal interview, or a presentation to a panel?
- Never underestimate the power of enthusiasm — I’ve given jobs to people who may have seemed less qualified but have demonstrated passion and enthusiasm for the opportunity.
Create your own opportunities
Your dream job may not be advertised or placed with a recruitment agency — it may not even exist yet. If you get an opportunity to pitch yourself or your ideas to someone who can help you make your dream job happen, you have to make the absolute most of that situation.
This is sometimes referred to as a “power opening” or “elevator pitch” — how do you grab that person’s attention with your opening line and make them ask for more. A bad example would be: “Hi, I’m Stephen — I’m a compliance offer and I’ve had my head buried in spreadsheets all day.” It would be just as accurate but much more powerful to have said : “Hi, I’m Stephen — I’ve been spending my day keeping you out of jail.”
Spend time cultivating your personal and professional networks — everyone has different strengths that you may be able to draw on as you refine your search and research your dream job.
Social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook can play an important role, but never underestimate the value of having an informal chat over a coffee with a key connection.
Don’t apologise or be embarrassed about networking — it’s a strength and people will feel flattered that you value their opinion and insights. Most people love talking about themselves — an invitation along the lines of: “Let’s have a coffee so you can tell me what you’ve been up to!” will get you a long way.
Take some risks
Don’t play it too safe in your search for your dream job — be open to something a bit left-field, or perhaps something that seems like a sideways step. It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb rather than half-way up one that you don’t.