Want to hit those career goals you’ve set for yourself? Liane Davey is a New York Times bestselling author and career expert. Throughout her career, she has studied how individuals and teams can work effectively together, and now spreads her message at management retreats and conferences. Liane writes here for Inc. magazine about the best way to achieve your career goals, quickly:
First things first: How do you come up with a plan to achieve your career goals?
Consider your career goals: what knowledge, skills, and experience will be required to achieve those goals? If you don’t know, seek advice and counsel from someone with inside knowledge such as a superior or an HR advisor.
Once you have a sense of what’s required, take stock of your current knowledge, skills, and experiences. How can you use those assets as a currency and what opportunities can you buy with them? Map out a route as a series of trades where you use existing skills to get access to new experiences.
If you have data analytic skills but your career goal is a management position, see if you can manage a project. Once you’ve managed a couple of projects, apply for a supervisory position. (Hint: some of the most valuable steps will be unconventional, lateral, or even downward moves that give you a unique skill or perspective that others don’t have!)
Some might say coming up with a plan is the easy part. How do you keep yourself accountable throughout the year?
One technique to strengthen accountability is to set periodic review points where you assess your progress and recommit or course correct, if required. Use your calendar to block out a short time each month and longer time periods each quarter to consider your progress.
If you’re really serious, block a vacation day each quarter to dedicate to your career development. As you put the dates in your calendar, leave notes to yourself about your goals and the interim milestone that you want to have completed by that date.
A second technique is to engage one or two trusted allies in your career quest. A quarterly breakfast or dinner meeting is a great chance to share progress, commiserate about challenges, and brainstorm solutions. You’ll also find that accessing each other’s networks can be extremely valuable.
Don’t get too myopic about your career goals. Be open to a change in trajectory. The most fascinating careers are often the ones that emerge as the universe sends you new and unexpected opportunities. When those opportunities arise, just be deliberate about the choice to move off your intended course; don’t abandon your goals at the first opportunity that appears before you.
OK, our minds are open! But what do we do when life gets in the way? With so much else going on in life, how do you prioritize your career goals?
Life is very busy. That’s why it’s important to choose career goals that are genuinely important to you. If you choose a goal based on impressing someone else or living up to their expectation of you, your goal won’t have staying power. Ask yourself honestly, is this what I want?
In some cases, you need to prioritize your goal over other activities (for example, if you need to return to school for a period of time). But most of the time, you can make progress on your goal while doing other things. Instead of thinking of it as adding more activities to your day, think about how your goal can give you a different lens on the activities you’re already doing.
For example, how could you be more strategic about a project you’re doing; are there important stakeholders you’re meeting that you could have a different conversation with; is there an opportunity to sign up for additional training? Keep your career goal top of mind so it can guide what you pay attention to as you go about your daily life.
As time goes on, how do you stay motivated?
The best way to stay motivated is to build momentum with some early wins. Set a few very achievable goals and accomplish them as soon as possible. If you have enlisted friends as a support group, use one of your regular meetings of the group to share these successes and get some very well deserved kudos.
Don’t make the mistake of only celebrating success. I’m a big believer that failure is an important step on the road to success. Find a friend who is willing to celebrate your noble failures with you too. (A noble failure is when you take a calculated risk, work hard and it still doesn’t turn out–such as applying for and not getting a promotion.) Celebrating the noble failures will make it less aversive to experience a setback and less likely that you will give up at the first sign of adversity.
Noted. Changing the topic a bit, we’re curious to see what you think about how others can (if at all) help us with our career goals?
Achieving your career goal is ultimately about you and you shouldn’t expect anyone to feel as invested in your goals as you do. That said, it’s a much more enjoyable and sustainable journey if you take some important people on the ride with you.
At the very least, you will benefit from mentors, coaches, and friends. You will need mentors, who have more experience and wisdom than you, to give you perspective and help you navigate the unwritten rules of your organization.
You will need coaches, who see you in action regularly, to watch you and provide feedback and suggestions to increase your effectiveness.
You need friends, who believe in you and care about you, to pick you up and dust you on when things get tough.
Identify these people and ask for their help. Share with them what you’re trying to achieve and see if they are willing to help you.
Let’s cut to the chase: What are your top five tips for reaching career goals?
- Choose the right career goals. Ask questions to get informed and make sure that you are genuinely attracted to the work and the associated lifestyle, not just the title or the salary.
- Use your current knowledge, skills, and experience to trade your way into positions and opportunities that will give you new knowledge, skills, and experiences. (e.g., I’ll bring you my great sales skills, if you start to train me to be a supervisor.)
- Break down your career goals into small steps, each of which is no longer than about 6 months (e.g., in the next six months, I will give 3 presentations to audiences of more than 50 people).
- Engage the help of at least one mentor (to help you navigate the organization), one coach (to help you hone your skills), and one friend (to support you and cheer for you) and be explicit with them about your goals and how you’d like them to help.
- Take unconventional steps along the way, regardless of the title or even the compensation. Sometimes it’s a lateral move or a jump to a completely different part of the organization that gives you an edge you wouldn’t get by sticking with the safe and linear path.
Can tools like Trello help you along the way? Which top five would you pick for your career tool belt?
- The informational interview. People are incredibly generous with their time when you ask for their advice. Do your research in advance and go prepared to ask really good questions. You will learn a lifetime’s lessons in 30 minutes.
- An assessment. Use a career and personality assessment tool to increase your self-awareness and get a sense of the types of roles and organizations that will fit you like a glove.
- A career map. Draw a picture of your career path and all the associated milestones and keep it somewhere you will see it often.
- Feedback. Get good at asking for feedback. Develop your go-to questions (e.g., How could I improve my work? What could I do to take my performance to the next level?) and ask them of a variety of people.
- The internet. I have yet to find a topic I can’t learn valuable information about with a quick Google search. Find a LinkedIn group or a great blog (you can get tips like this on my blog at 3coze.com) that will provide food for thought. YouTube is full of practical tips and training on foundational skills such as building effective presentations, giving a compelling speech, or using macros in Excel.
One last question: What has been the best advice you’ve received about reaching career goals?
My mentor once told me “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all on Tuesday.” I have always kept that with me. It taught me to set lofty goals but to be patient when the opportunities come more slowly than I might like or when other priorities in life take precedent for a while.