Thursday, December 27, 2012

Do you really need to build a great career?

A career isn't what it used to be. Who has a job for life anymore? Who would want one anyway? 

Playing the new career game means learning new rules and making tough decisions. 

Should I take a job that pays less because it means more? 

Should I take a job I don't like to get skills I need? 

How do I know when it's time to go? 

I am asking 30 business leaders, all with undeniably intriguing careers, to offer hands-on advice for moving ahead.

Don't pick a job. Pick a boss. Your first boss is probably the biggest factor in your career success. A boss who doesn't trust you won't give you opportunities to grow.

A boss who's too easy on you won't drive you to improve. When you accept your first job, you're hiring a tutor to teach you about work. Be sure to hire wisely.

My first boss (when I was a 22-year-old executive assistant) taught me the basics of work: be honest. He hired new assistant at 2500 Indian rupee for a month. But he'd always calculate their first paycheck at 2500 Indian rupee. If you reported the "error," you kept the job and stayed at 2500. If you didn't, you lost the job.

Over time, the most important skill for advancing your career is learning how to work to an agenda rather than to a schedule. A successful business person always kills more than one bird with one stone.

Figure out what needs to happen, and then find ways to make it happen. A 30-second elevator exchange can be as productive as a one-hour meeting, but only if you know in advance what you need from the encounter.

If you want to play the new career game, you have to be a good negotiator. It's not a natural skill. But for talented people, in sports or business, this is a seller's market. Keep these five principles in mind before you sit across the table from your next employer.

Know what you want before you ask. Are you looking for short-term gain or long-term security? How important, really, are the people you work with? What about the company's products and their impact on the world? Make a list of what matters.

Figure out who's on the other side. Identify their priorities and goals. What are they trying to achieve? What pressures are they under? Do they have total authority? The more you know about the other side, the more power you have.

If you want to be heard, make noise. Someone who wanted to work for the firm created a mock Sports Illustrated cover featuring him as "Employee of the Year." Someone else put together a newspaper with lots of funny comments. Sure, they were gimmicks, but they distinguished these candidates from a flood of applicants. And they were also signs of initiative and cleverness, which we find extremely important.

You are somebody! The biggest obstacle to negotiating well is our  inherent modesty. People are uncomfortable asserting their best attributes. So let other people sing your praises. Assemble compelling references and make sure your potential employer speaks with these people.

Negotiations require confrontation. Any negotiation has its difficult moments. Don't let them trigger undue anger. Hold mock negotiations in which a colleague or family member plays the other side, and operate under a general paradigm of cooperation. The only thing that's certain about a negotiation is that it will lead to another negotiation, and then another.

It's simple, really. When what you do and care about is aligned with what the market wants and cares about, you've created a recipe for career success.

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