Creating a dynamic career is often a mix of good luck, hard work, and an ability to position yourself smack in the middle of the “path of opportunity” – that spot where cool new things are happening, and someone needs to take charge. If that’s where you’d like to be, consider the following four actions to get things moving:
One of the biggest challenges in growing your career is getting people to be aware of you – to know who you are and what you can contribute. The best way to overcome anonymity is to get yourself on people’s radar before you want to approach them for a job or a project. You want to become visible to them in a neutral setting (i.e., one where they’re not being asked to make a decision about your value) so they have a chance to be impressed without you having to tell them how terrific you are. Remember that line from your creative writing class, “Don’t tell me, show me?” Well it’s a similar concept here. How to accomplish this?
First, volunteer. Every time you have a chance to demonstrate your expertise, people skills, and willingness to go the extra mile, you’ve just registered with your fellow volunteers (and the project leaders) as someone of distinction. In addition, you’ll often be the only person the rest of the team knows who knows how to do what you know how to do. This not only makes you a very valuable addition to the volunteer group, it also means you’ll be the person your fellow volunteers think to call if they need a person with these skills.
Second, consider creating an online resume for one of the professional social networking sites, for example, LinkedIn. Although they’re intended to support power networking activities, many of us use it instead as a place to post a publicly available, beefed-up resume.
Although many of us may have a personal website, a LinkedIn or similar online profile can be easier to get to, more specific about the kinds of work/projects you’re interested in, and allows you to highlight key professional themes and interests. Then if you meet someone who would like to know more about you, your LinkedIn profile will showcase the strengths you’d like to be known for without you having to bend their ear with a snarky elevator speech.
Third, create opportunities to write or speak or otherwise contribute meaningful information to your professional community. Write or present about something that interests you and about which you’ve made the effort to become informed; readers will associate your name with that topic, and with an expertise in that area. It builds both credibility and visibility for you – and you never know who’s going to be in the audience, looking for someone with just the expertise you’re demonstrating…
Monitor Your Environment
In order to be standing in the path of opportunity, you have to have at least some idea of where it might be coming from. The best way to do this is to engage in an ongoing environmental scan, or monitoring of print and online resources related to your career/professional interests. Think magazines and journals; blogs, listservs, e-newsletters, podcasts, and recent influential business books.
Whether print or online, it helps to read not just your core professional resources, but also material from such areas as marketing, technology, demographics, science, psychology, social issues, etc. These resources offer two benefits: first, no matter what sort of work you do, it’s likely that changes and/or trends in one or more of these areas will sooner or later impact your career, and second, sometimes an idea that comes out of, say, the science world may have resonance in a non-science setting – perhaps it will be an idea that you can apply to create an innovative solution or new opportunity.
As you do your environmental scan, keep in mind that opportunities are almost always the result of some sort of change. So as you read, keep an eye out for changes that may seem small at the time but will grow to have a larger impact. To quote management guru Peter Drucker: “I never predict. I just look out the window and see what’s visible – but not yet seen.”
Be Prepared to Act
Just as chance favors the prepared mind (thank you, Louis Pasteur), opportunity favors the prepared professional.
Train yourself to deal positively with change, so that you’re able to put your energy into responding to opportunity rather than into resisting changes headed your way. Consider experimenting with changes now that you create in order to get used to your change process. That way you’ll be in a much better position to shift your energy from a negative to a positive response when change opens up new opportunities.
Make sure you’ve created a personal brand that showcases you as a positive professional who is energized by new challenges. You want to be the person who springs to mind when a new initiative is being considered, because you have demonstrated through your actions and attitudes that you are capable, responsible, and thrive on challenge.
Last, if your environmental scanning has identified some potential emerging opportunities that you’d like to pursue, do a skills analysis to see if you need to pick up more education in order to meet the requirements for the position you might seek. If needed, go get it.
Take the Initiative
Opportunity may be driven by change, but change also drives other less positive outcomes – like our duck-and-cover response. But this is no time to duck; as Alan Watts pointed out, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
What the heck, why not step forward and offer to lead the dance, even if you’re leading that dance from a wheelchair? Pull together a team, develop innovative solutions, chart a new path. Don’t wait to be asked to participate – take the initiative to meet the opportunity. And if none seem to be looming on the horizon? Don’t be afraid to create your own.