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The Seven Truths of Career Success
1. The most qualified candidate does not necessarily get the job offer
Many times, candidates with lesser qualifications get job offers simply because they’ve prepared and presented themselves in a more compelling way. In other words, they’re better self-marketers than the other candidates!
In a tight job market, being qualified is never enough. You must DEMONSTRATE to the employer that you’re the best candidate for the job. Depending on your age and how your parents raised you, you may be operating under a “wishful thinking” mindset regarding the concept of meritocracy. This would include the following cultural messages and ingrained assumptions that many of us had “drilled into our heads” by well-meaning parents and teachers:
* Getting good grades guarantees success in college and in life
* Being smart means that you’ll do better than people who are not smart (or at least not as smart as you)
* Hard work is its own reward – and is also the best path to other rewards
* Achievement and recognition go hand-in-hand. In other words, just do well and other people (teachers, professors, employers, bosses, the CEO) will recognize and reward you for it
In a difficult employment landscape, strong qualifications and accomplishments are necessary, but not sufficient, to find a job you love and earn what you deserve.
Let’s say that you’re competing against another candidate whose qualifications are just as strong as yours. What is the hiring manager supposed to do? Well, the answer is obvious – they will be influenced by how good a job you do in MARKETING, SELLING and POSITIONING those strong qualifications.
At the end of the day, it’s the best self-marketer who gets the job. Don’t be fooled into believing that the business world is a meritocracy – it’s not. This can, obviously, be either good news or bad news, depending on how you’ve positioned yourself up to this point in your career. You need to boost your self-marketing skills to the point where you can land a great job regardless of the economic “weather,” unemployment news, or latest Wall Street implosion!
2. The best time to work on your career is when your job is secure
Even if you’re very happily employed today, you never know what may happen tomorrow! To avoid a career disaster, you should incorporate the concept of “Perpetual Career Management” into your professional life.
Vital tasks like keeping your success stories up to date, or networking regularly with professionals in your industry, should be incorporated into your routine whether the economy is good or bad – and whether you feel you need to or not.
Here’s a real-life example. A few years ago, I had a client who was in a senior-level sales and marketing position at a large manufacturing company. He had everything going for him with the employer – he was a member of the senior management team, he had been with the firm for 13 years, and he was consistently praised for his hard work and professionalism. Needless to say, he felt very comfortable and secure in his position. He never saw what was about to happen.
Due to an economic downturn and an eventual acquisition of the company, my client was suddenly let go on a crisp November morning. An hour later, he found himself sitting in his car in the parking lot – asking himself over and over, “How could this have happened? I did such a good job for them!” And worst of all, my client was totally unprepared! He had none of the tools necessary to find another appropriate position within a reasonable period of time. Naturally, he felt concerned and scared. He later told me that toughest part was feeling completely helpless.
What does this mean for you? It means that you should consider adopting a different approach, the “Perpetual Career Management” approach – not only to avoid feeling helpless, but to truly take charge of your career once and for all.
As we said earlier, instead of focusing completely on your job, you should focus on managing your career – at all times, regardless of where the economy or job market happens to be!
That’s the key that will help you to chop months off your next job search, significantly boost your salary, get promoted faster, and never worry again about job security or layoffs.
Instead of focusing completely on your job, you should focus on managing your career – at all times, regardless of where the economy or job market happens to be!
3. Graduating from school is the beginning of your education, not the end
In good economic times or bad, you should always look for ways to advance your industry knowledge and professional qualifications. Attending seminars, reading trade journals, pursuing certifications, etc. – these activities should be a part of your ongoing professional development process. It’s imperative that every professional remain current in his or her field. No company wants to hire a candidate whose base of knowledge is out of date. Moreover, why would your current organization and current boss want to work with someone like that? NOT upgrading your knowledge and skills on a continual basis is a risk you can’t afford to take.
As a professional, you should continually build your credentials, which will make you more attractive and marketable as a candidate – both inside your company and in “the outside world.”
NOT upgrading your knowledge and skills on a continual basis is a risk you can’t afford to take.
Plus, in a down economy, the greatest asset you have to sell is your knowledge and intellectual resources. When business gets tough, the demand for people who can think strategically and deliver results goes UP, not down!
4. An employer’s first offer is NEVER their best offer
Employers expect that you’ve done salary research, and they anticipate having dynamic negotiations with you. In fact, they’ll often be disappointed and question your candidacy if you DON’T negotiate – even when no one’s hiring. You might be tempted to think ANY job offer is great in a tough economy or that this is the WORST time to negotiate – but you’d be dead wrong.
Employers usually start with a low salary offer merely as a “trial balloon,” to see how you’ll react – and there’s almost always room to improve on the initial compensation offer, even in a tight job market. In a way, compensation negotiation is a game, with its own set of rules and guidelines. Be aware that the first offer is merely a starting point. If you don’t negotiate further, I guarantee that you’ll be leaving money – and possibly a whole lot more – on the table.
5. Always research and be “plugged in” to the competition
Research and be aware of the competition – whether it be information about other companies or other professionals in your industry. Always know who they are and what they’re doing. Endeavor to “know the competition better than they know themselves.” This will greatly enhance your competitiveness when jobs are hard to come by, and it will allow you to jump on opportunities that others might not yet be aware of!
If you don’t negotiate, I guarantee that you’ll be leaving money – and possibly a whole lot more – on the table.
Here’s an example of how important it is to be “plugged into” your competitors. One of my clients is the President of a small advertising agency. Her client base is solid, her creative work is excellent, and she makes a very good living in this role. But the thing that my client is most proud of is the fact that her firm is the envy of every small-to-medium sized agency in town.
Not because of the creative awards my client has won, and not because of how impressive her offices are – although these are certainly noteworthy achievements. The reason my client is so envied is that she always seems to get the most prestigious accounts and the most interesting assignments. My client also has a real knack for getting the best designers in the region to work for her. The other agency owners in the region just stand around, shaking their heads in disbelief and frustration. “How does she do it?” they ask themselves, repeatedly.
Well, just between you and me – it’s not because my client’s work is so much better than the work of the other agencies. No, the way she keeps winning, over and over, is that her investigative research is superior to that of any of her competitors. She makes it her business to know what’s going on in her market – what company is doing what; which accounts are going where, who’s working for whom, what challenges or trends are affecting local companies – and all the rest. The bottom line is simply that my client is far more “plugged in” – and she has used this knowledge to beat out the competition, year after year after year!
So what does this mean to you? It means you should start to “research your way to success.” Read industry publications, trade magazines, your local Business Journal, your daily newspaper’s business section, Business Week, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and so on. Pay attention to other local, regional, and national sources of “business intelligence,” such as web sites, newsletters, blogs, and radio or TV shows. Learn to frame your expertise, your ideas, and your value in terms that are relevant to the current business and economic landscape.
Learn to frame your expertise, your ideas, and your value
in terms that are relevant to the current business and
Connect with people, companies, and groups that you read about. If you can move and shake with the movers and shakers, so much the better. If you can’t – you should at least know what they’re thinking, what they’re concerned about, and what opportunities they see ahead. The more you know about the competition, the easier it will be to get a job when no one seems to be hiring.
6. Networking is not as important as you think it is
It is more important!! Put time aside every week for active networking to maintain established relationships and develop new ones – both inside and outside the company where you work.
You should always be positioned to leverage your professional and personal contacts when the need arises. So, adopt the discipline of blocking-out time on your calendar specifically for networking activities – every week, every month, and every year, for the duration of your career!
I’ll never forget a story I heard when I was facilitating a “job search team” several years ago. We had about 15 people in the conference room. After I conducted a brief presentation about professional networking, one of the participants asked if she could share a personal story.
She said that she had just been laid-off from her employer of almost 25 years! She had started at the company as an entry-level Customer Support Representative. On that same day, another individual started at the company in the same job. They discovered that they were just about the same age, and that their backgrounds were very similar, in terms of education, interests, family history, and so on. My client and this man worked well together for about two years, when he was suddenly transferred to another department, and at a higher level, within the company.
She didn’t see him much after that, but she did occasionally hear about how well he was doing with the firm. Years passed, until eventually she was laid-off and wound-up at my office in need of career help. “By the way,” she said, “that man who started at the company with me became, and is still, the President of that company!”
At the time of her layoff, on the other hand, my client had held the same position for which she was hired nearly 25 years ago. When I asked her to tell the group why she thought she had remained at the same level, while her colleague had moved up to claim the Presidency of their company, she said, without hesitation, “Oh that’s an easy one. He was always a master networker. Me? I was just doing my job.”
This story proves, without any doubt, how important it is to keep networking in both good economic times and bad – and to continually update your success file so that you can “promote yourself” to greater levels of responsibility!
Adopt the discipline of blocking-out time on your calendar specifically for networking activities – every week, every month, and every year, for the duration of your career.
7. If YOU’RE not managing your career, nobody is!
When I speak to audiences about career management strategies, I show a slide that has the following quiz on it:
QUIZ: Who is responsible for managing your career?
Human Resources Executive Search Firm
My Manager Career Consultant
Recruiter None of the above
At different times and under different circumstances, perhaps any combination of these would have been the correct answer. But in today’s economy, the answer is clearly “None of the above.”
It doesn’t matter what your Human Resources department says about “succession planning” or “leadership development” or “career pathing.” It doesn’t matter that you have great relationships with recruiting firms – perhaps even the one that connected you with your current position (remember: recruiters work for employers, not for candidates). It doesn’t matter if you’re working with the world’s best Career Coach. It doesn’t even matter if your boss loves everything you’re doing, has big plans for you, and has nothing but glowing praise for you at every performance review.
The bottom line is that YOU, and only you, hold the keys to your career, your future, and your own brand of “career security” – even if there is no longer such a thing as “job security” (and there isn’t).
This may seem like a lot of responsibility “on your shoulders,” but this is also liberating in the sense that you have a lot more control over your career success than you might have thought!
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