Realise Your Potential: 7 Key Principles for Effective Career Management

This article covers principles of focus to work on in your mentoring discussions, and in your private thoughts when looking to take charge of managing your own career.

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Over 20 years ago, I attended a training workshop by a leading Consumer Brands Marketing Director. She looked at how we as individuals can work to bring out the best in our careers. That is by having a self-marketing plan and then putting this into practice as an ongoing campaign. A marketing campaign to “Realise Your Potential“.

Reading and reflecting on this again recently, and in discussion with four of my PushFar mentees, I have now distilled this into 7 key principles. These are principles to focus on and work on in your mentoring discussions, and in your private thoughts when looking to take charge of managing your own career.

Here they are:

Principle 1: First Take Time to Be Clear on Where You Are Going

Seek first to understand who you are, what you can offer in a career and what is important to you. You need to reflect on your desired job elements and skills to shape your choices intelligently. Only then, when you are sure about this, aim to focus on a maximum of two or three career options to start the next steps of your career plan.

After doing this, now ensure your CV is concise, and tailored by you to express your desired focus of career pursuit. For professional career roles, your LinkedIn profile is as essential as your CV. Both need to be aligned. So, work on your LinkedIn profile too to ensure consistency between your CV and LinkedIn profiles in what you say about yourself, the facts of your career, education and the keywords you choose.

It is important that the recruiter/potential employer or customer of your services sees the same you, what you stand for. This ensures that your profile and career, skills and experience to date are clear to the reader/the reviewer.

“Put first things first”…

Build your career plan first. It is the starting point to have a plan before you dive into the task. Like building a house the plan is your foundation before you create windows or paint the walls. Be careful not to just drift around without a clear aim. Or at the other extreme shoot like a scattergun, reactively responding to the latest vacancy, job advertisement or head-hunter call.

Have the patience to wait, be still. At least until you have defined yourself and your working preferences, or your new ones for the future. It is not always easy to do this. It takes time, reflection, and awareness of self to become clearer on this. A bit more like doing meditation or yoga!

You need to know where the goalposts are if you are going to score a goal. Otherwise, you may be blindly dribbling around and losing the ball. Wasting energy and missing winning. So, do get yourself a mentor or career advisor. They can help to give you objectives and independent advice about your current strengths, skills, and career options.

Align your CV and LinkedIn profile and make sure it has the keywords clear and easy to read which describe you best for the job roles you want.

Always play to your strengths, passion, motivation, the things that you can do and want to do. This will give you energy and fuel for your journey ahead. Get your vision into a “sound bite”. Something you can easily explain in one minute.

If you were with a stranger in the lift going up or down to another floor, and in 2 minutes they asked you, “What do you do?” how would you answer succinctly, quickly, and convincingly? This would be what the Americans call your “elevator pitch”.

Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound. Keep a journal - a digital record, an audio app, or even a video diary. “Keep track” of all your thoughts and your feelings as you record your progress on the journey. Regularly check to see that you are on track with your vision. Yet always recognise the need to be flexible to changing circumstances and environmental factors along the way.

Principle 2: A Career Is but a Journey

Challenge your inner paradigm, your own initial viewpoint, to consider what you can offer in this new world, and what is your “success” story to date. What your future employer or clients want is a breadth of relevant experience, transferable skills that you can offer, and draw upon and deliver in new assignments.

Every job is just an assignment/an opportunity to sell. It is you who determines if it is a good or bad one.

Mark the milestones of progress and achievement on your journey. It is you who brings out those examples in your resume/cv, cover letter, and interview or your client pitch.

But don’t hold back from asking for help. A sponsor, champion or mentor can help guide you on your career journey. They can provide knowledge and experience which gives you energy and a fresh perspective. And they are, often, very willing to offer to give their advice. Just ask.

Principle 3: You Must Make a Positive Impact in All Your Assignments

Assess how you can make a positive impact. You are marketing YOU in the marketplace that you have defined.

So, treat yourself like a Brand – create a brand tagline, a set of colours and a logo (think Nike, think Coca-Cola). Ask yourself these questions:
• What does your brand stand for? What are its strengths?
• Where is your market, and how do your consumers define your market?
• What factors will affect your future growth – opportunities and barriers or threats?
• Precisely who are you selling to? Who is your target audience?
• How will you grow your market? What are your points of difference?
• What is your USP (unique selling proposition)?
• What is your brand personality? How would you describe its persona?
• How would you like your target audience to describe your brand?

Build a brand launch plan - plan time to:
• think and reflect,
• time to do,
• time to check the impact of what you do,
time to act, to adjust your plan dynamically to meet consumer needs and trends and changing environmental factors.

Recognise that what you do or choose not to do is your legacy, the choice you make, regardless of what level or scale it is.

Make your legacy measurable, full of achievements expressed in £, $, euros, %, and numbers. Your footprints in the sand.

For example:
• deliver x more to the bottom line,
• improve a process by y or person(s) skills by z,
• or reduce costs by % or £ $, euro, currency, grow your regular client list by 123.

You are marketing YOU, and the services or products, skills, or knowledge that you can provide. Make sure you are the best you can be to communicate this - clearly, succinctly, and convincingly.

Practice with your mentor and rehearse it on video or in front of your mirror.

Principle 4: Manage Your Skills Like Your Money

Treat your skill base as you would your financial investments - balance your account, diversify & monitor the interest.

Nothing ventured = nothing gained. Minimal risk/low return leaves you broke in 25 years.

Give yourself credit, do not talk yourself down. If you doubt yourself, you can soon fall into debt - and that is depressing.

In this case, take out a loan of optimism and positive thinking from your mentor/career advisor. The investment of time with them will always pay you back with dividends.

Principle 5: Go Where No Woman/Man Has Gone Before

This often gives you unique insights and fresh opportunities - especially if you are a creative thinker, someone who always looks for fresh new ideas and unique original approaches.

Even with voluntary work with out-of-the-box/free-thinking organisations, or your own business, you will not be confined to barracks but are free to march on with your innovations and creations.

International or blue-chip opportunities can have great returns but must be purposeful and driven to make an impact. Otherwise, you could become a small fish, a specialist somewhere in a small area of a big pond.

Think about whether the above would be satisfying. Or whether you would rather work for a smaller organisation where your role can be more general or with a wider span. A Big Fish in a smaller pond.

You may not reap a traditional reward in the short term, but if you understand how:
• it will build your skill portfolio,
• help you make an impact,
• or support your long-term objective - it can be worth it!

At a minimum: get out of your comfort zone. You need to be in your stretch zone to optimise learning. You need to reach out and do something. We learn from what we do, including truly learning from our mistakes.

Principle 6: Keep Your Ego in Check & Keep Your Mind Open

Look at the big picture. Pick your battles. Do not be too proud to admit to those mistakes. Be confident but not overconfident. Pride comes before a fall. Few people relate to the “big head.”

On the other hand, do not let yourself become paralysed by your own overthinking into inaction by your fear of failure. Aim to avoid getting yourself sucked into a feeling of “imposter syndrome” when you do better than you thought you would at first. Enjoy the moment of your success and your achievement.

Embrace diversity to ensure you cover gaps in your perspective. Try to collaborate with people that you know will have a different perspective to yours.

Surround yourself with positive people and let go of those who talk negatively and drain your energy.

Reach out – No need to be shy in seeking advice. People love to talk about what they do and their point of view.

Back to your paradigm: your place in the world view.

Work toward peace with yourself to ensure you can savour your journey experience.

Principle 7: Embrace Feedback

It is your responsibility to collect specific actionable information.

Ask others and yourself rich questions, for example:

Should I be doing something differently or different?
• What impact am I making?
• Am I doing a fantastic job?
• How would you describe me to another manager or customer in that situation or this meeting?
• To what extent did I perform in the way you expected me to perform?

Even if you did not ask for feedback but got a piece of “unsolicited” feedback - be open to this feedback. Try not to be defensive.

Let it in, reflect on it and process it. Do not let it define you. But do let it refine you. Or at least help you to become more aware of how others in the wider circle perceive you.

Finally, don’t wait for Someone to tell you what to do. It is your career. Own it. Enjoy it!

You will be the one that makes things happen.

Take charge of your career and steer it like you imagine you would with a stylish carriage and well-trained horse. Or a top-quality smooth-driving, fully charged electric car.

Simon Brown (with thanks for the input from 4 of my PushFar mentees) - July 2023.

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