As we grow in our profession, we naturally pick up things here and there which aid us in operating as a professional. These little nuances of professional life often times can’t be learned in a class room setting or text book, especially when it comes to behavioral tips like how to handle yourself in certain situations, shaking hands and introducing yourself at a networking event, overcoming challenges, etc.
Over the course of my career one of the best sources for information and perspective have come through mentors. I’ve been blessed to have four (4) mentors throughout my adult life, each of them providing a different perspective and approach that I’ve been able to utilize to craft my own personal style of ‘me’. For what it’s worth, I’m grateful beyond words to these four people for instilling in me valuable lessons about life, family, work and relationships.
Through these relationships I’ve learned a vital lesson that I will carry with me throughout my career, which is:
The only person responsible for your career is YOU.
Each one of my mentors have preached this lesson, using their own approach to reinstate the fact that we [you and I] are ultimately in charge of our own careers. No one else. Not our parents, not our teachers and certainly not our bosses. It’s a universal truth I’ve tested now dozens of times and I still get the same outcome – it’s up to us, not them.
When we develop a mindset of self accountability we learn that it is in fact up to us [you] to drive our careers in the direction we want them to head.
When people aren’t responsible for their own careers it shows up sounding like the following excuses: “my boss didn’t do anything for me”, “that’s not my job responsibility”, “I didn’t know I could do that”, “no one told me that was possible”, “that mistake wasn’t my fault” and on and on.
Casting aside the multitude of excuses we can drum up, once we learn it’s our ultimate responsibility to drive our careers it then becomes easier to ask for help while navigating the many facets of a career. Once we ask for help and start getting it we remain in the drivers seat asking questions, following up and initiating conversation. As a result we take responsibility for the outcomes. What comes from this type of mindset and approach is an increasing attitude and desire to improve, learn and grow.
Key Take Away:
Asking for help and guidance is a big step. It means you want to improve yourself, congrats as you’re already ahead of many people around you. When you ask for help from someone, whether that be a mentor, boss, teacher, friend, it’s up to you to drive that interaction. It is your responsibility to drive the communication, follow up and request for direction. Don’t sit back and wait for that person to do the work. They are there strictly as advisors to give feedback and perspective, you must put in the time and effort.
Spend some time in a quiet place thinking about your own career and how you’ve gotten to where you are. Happy with the present circumstances? If you still have more you want to achieve go get yourself a mentor asap. A good place to start is www.micromentor.org. It’s a free service, one I wholeheartedly endorse.
For the past 13 years I’ve worked exclusively supporting Orange County, CA ecosystem of growing gigs (aka consultants, freelancers, etc). It’s been a while ride to say the least with endless learning opportunities along the way!
During my time working with gigs and professionals alike I seem to find myself engaged in a variety of conversations having to do with professional guidance. I’m certainly no career counselor but have witnessed enough over the years to have noticed more than a few trends with the path and decision making an average career takes.
One of the most consistent questions I get from people I’m interacting with is…
“How can I become a consultant [gig]?”
This question is interesting in of itself because the very statement overlooks a very important consideration: do we understand what the life of a full-time consultant is like? And just as important, can I keep my full-time job and do consulting (aka freelancing, moonlighting, etc) on the side? Lastly, why are you considering being a consultant in the first place?
Before you start considering leaving your comfy desk job for the wild ride of becoming a career consultant spend time thinking about how you feel and perform with the following:
Key Take Away: Check yourself before you wreck yourself. (thanks Ice Cube for that insightful lyrical melody) Ice Cube was on to something here – before you jump into [consulting] spend time to learn about the life of a consultant and the realities that come with it.
Action Item: Rather than leaving your day job, start your consulting experience by picking up a couple small jobs you can do on the side in the evenings or weekends. This will give you a chance to learn how to interact with clients, manage projects and your time. Do 3-4 projects then reassess those experiences, what you learned, how you performed and things to change for the future. Once you’ve done that you’ll have a better perspective of the life of a consultant and whether or not its right for you.
How often do you hear someone say “I’m going to be (or am at present) great at my job”, yet when you begin to peel back the onion we learn the difference between being great professionally in the spoken word is often VERY different than being great in action and execution.
Why is this? For starters, it’s easy to say we want to be great in our career, achieving success along the way. Make lots of money, have the prestigious title, corner office and be free in all sense of the word.
What isn’t so easy or talked about enough is what it actually takes to be successful in a career. It’s also worth noting that success can be very different from one person to the next.
Behind the scenes, successful careers always have three things in common:
1. failure and set backs
2. strong work ethic
The reason why there is a discrepancy between the ‘talk and action’ paradigm to a successful career is it just isn’t easy to be successful. If it was easy to be great in your career, reaching monumental levels, everyone would do it. Yet, the reality is not everyone is interested in putting in that kind of work ethic or commitment, regardless of what their mouths may say.
Of the three commonalities which make up a successful career the one I’ve found to be most influential is #3: SUPPORT. Most people who have reached success in their career will tell you they didn’t do it alone; what is common is to hear these people talk about others who have influenced them, guided them and been a shoulder to cry on during the hard times.
Want to become unstoppable in your career? Get a MENTOR!
No matter where you are in your career having a mentor is highly advisable as it can be the difference between you navigating the waters of a successful career versus drowning in the murky depths of the rat race. Mentors aren’t just strategic career advisers, they’re the professional voice of reason whispering notes of encouragement, big picture perspective and even accountability.
Mentors provide highly valuable insight and support to professionals of all ages, such as:
1. Business savvy
2. External perspective
3. Confidant (listener/ sounding board)
5. Comfort zone demolishers
Key Take Away: Mentors have the ability to guide you through the peaks and valleys of your career while providing you with insight that will help make important career-based decisions.
Action Item: Put together a list of the attributes you would like to get help with in your professional career and the ideal type of person that could help you with it. Check out www.micromentor.org for access to thousands of professionals interested in getting connected with you to help guide you on your professional journey. Micromentor is a non-profit organization that acts like an online dating service paring people who are interested in mentoring with people who need a mentor. I’ve been connected with a mentor now for almost 3 years and it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my professional career.
The biggest fallacy in business: if I work hard I’ll eventually get to where I want to be.
While hard work and a myriad of other competency-based characteristics are certainly important in growing ones career, they play second fiddle to the #1 most important thing that drives our careers.
Recently I found myself engaged in a discussion I hear all too often:
“I’ve been trying to land a job doing (insert job title) but I’m not getting any responses from my job applications online.”
This was coupled with:
“I’m trying to break into (insert industry) but I have no direct industry experience and am having a hard time with people taking my capabilities serious without industry experience.”
Both of these situations and the people involved are experiencing the same thing – they haven’t built or leaned on the appropriate people to help them with their career quest.
Enter in the #1 career advancement driver: RELATIONSHIPS
The people which make up your professional ecosystem are ultimately the ones who will make the difference in your career, not just hard work.
Back to our scenario above. Applying to jobs on the internet, or the black hole of death as I commonly refer to it, does have its merits, yet by no means are online job boards the best place to land your dream job. Online job boards are built to do one thing and one thing well – weed people like you out. According to Robert Meier, President of Job Market Experts, only 2% of candidates applying for jobs online actually get an interview.
My personal experiences have shown that many people find the online job board process frustrating, cumbersome and verging on a galactic time suck.
If we can’t rely on online job boards, what options do we have? Enter back to the stage our good ole friend ‘Relationships’, our #1 suitor for career advancement.
Your education, hard work and perhaps charm will only take you so far. Relationships, the people above you, below you and your peers, are the ones that stand to make the biggest impact in your career. When we are in school, soon to graduate and looking for our first opportunity, it’s people that give us the chance, not necessarily our stellar academic performance. Our grades may assist in getting us to the conversation however the driver behind making the decision is someone who wants to give you a shot.
Same can be said in corporate America. I remember the first time I was going for a management promotion. My boss at the time told me, “it’s not the people above you that will promote you, it’s your peers and people who report to you.” That really struck home because if my boss were to ask my peers and employees what they thought of me and the response he got was less than stellar the likelihood that feedback would impact my forward progress in my career is likely to be substantial.
When you’re neck deep in your career often times it’s who you know, not what you know. The ‘who you know’ opens doors, ‘what you know’ helps you facilitate the work at hand, not landing the job itself.
What many professionals miss out on is the importance of building lasting professional relationships.
Not every relationship has the capacity to turn into something that is special and will impact your career however if carefully practiced and made a priority it is certainly possible several of your professional relationships overtime can produce fruitful results for both parties involved.
Why is it then people don’t spend more time and energy in building their ecosystem of professional relationships?
Answer: because it isn’t easy nor is it quick in producing results.
Relationships take time and investment. The best relationships have a ‘pay-it-forward’ mentality where both people see the bigger opportunity to help one another without quid pro quo. If you’ve ever read the book ‘Go Giver’ by Bob Burg, it also happens to be my favorite all time book on life and business, you know that relationships and the power of doing for others often times sets the stage for incredible life experience to come. This of course is true in business.
Relationships are hard to foster over long periods of time. It takes trust, consistency and energy. Yet when done genuinely relationships have the power to open doors that may not have been available without it.
If you’re read this and feel like it’s time for you to step up and grow your ecosystem of professional relationships follow these steps to get on the glory road of professional relationships.
1. Understand what your WHY is for building relationships? (most importantly, what can you offer to others in the process?)
2. Identify 2-3 professionals within your circle of influence, take each of them out to coffee for the purpose of building a better, tighter and more collaborative relationship
3. Go to industry networking events
4. Rinse and repeat (a couple in-person meetings or events is only the start; build into your schedule 2-3 times a month where you make it a priority to meet with people)
Have you found yourself saying ‘Yes’ to something at work and as you said it you wished you had said ‘No’?
This sound familiar:
Coworker: “Hey Jezebel, we’re starting a new project team to [insert mindless crap you don’t want to do] and we need an extra person. I know you’re swamped, it’s last minute and a bit outside your work but we could really use the help.”
Jezebel: [yes, this is you] “Oh I don’t know, I’m really busy with a lot of other projects. I’m in over my head already.”
Coworker: “C’mon, we really could use your help. We don’t have any other options and we can’t do it without you. Plus, you’re good at running projects. I’ll buy you lunch too!”
Jezebel: [still you] “Ughhh, okay fine. Just let me know when we’ll start.”
Coworker: “Right now.”
Let’s be honest here – this has happened to all of us at one point or another, and I’ve been Jezebel on more occasions than I’d care to admit. So why do we have such a hard time saying no at work?
Here’s are the nine most common reasons why we say yes at work when no is what we’re screaming from the mountain tops, silently in our heads of course:
Saying yes when you really want to say no is indeed a problem. According to the Harvard Business Review many of us say yes to avoid conflict at the office. When we experience this it leaves us deflated, frustrated and stressed. It can also lead to resentment between coworkers and an unhealthy work environment. Sounds fantastic!
So how do we go about saying no while doing so professionally and politely?
Dr. Travis Bradley, author of the best-selling book ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’ and contributor for Forbes Magazine, summarizes the art of saying no beautifully in 5 steps:
When we say no our “ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects you’re in the drivers seat of your own life. It gives you a sense of empowerment.” – Vanessa Patrick, Prof at University of Houston
In theory this sounds fantastic. It’s a new sense of self. We’re walking tall and not going to take crap from no one. We’re almost begging for an opportunity to show off our new ‘No’ skills. Before you go off dodging and ducking everything that comes your way at the office make sure you keep in mind two things before you consider a ‘No’:
If the answer to either of these questions is yes be sure to purposefully slow your decision making down and get introspective.
Making decisions about your career, involvement in work at the office, supporting your boss or other management and professional opportunities up for considered is no easy task. It’s rarely a black and white decision as moments like this love to play in the gray area. When you’re confronted with a tough decision and you feel like you want to say no quickly think about the two questions above, assess the situation then move forward with your answer. If ‘No’ is still the right choice be sure to follow Dr. Bradberry’s advice to ensure your no lands as best as possible with your audience.
For the past 13 years I’ve worked exclusively supporting Orange County, CA ecosystem of growing Gigs. It’s been a while ride to say the least with endless learning opportunities along the way! In August of 2016 I wrote on a similar topic of how Gigs are changing our economy. Interestingly enough my perspective was quite the understatement as Gigs have done more than just change it, they’ve revolutionized it!
During my time working with Gigs and professionals alike I seem to find myself engaged in a variety of conversations having to do with professional guidance. I’m certainly no career counselor but have witnessed enough over the years to have noticed more than a few trends with the path and decision making an average career takes.
One of the most consistent questions I get from people I’m interacting with is…
“How should I go about transitioning to become a consultant [gig]?”
This question is interesting in of itself because the very statement overlooks a very important consideration: do we understand what the life of a full-time consultant is like?
As I’ve asked this question some have responded correctly, whereas many have fallen short. Not understanding what the life of a consultant is truly like doesn’t mean we’re a dunce, it just means we need more information before we can make an informed decision for ourselves.
Before you start considering leaving your comfy desk job for the wild ride of becoming a career consultant, or gig, be sure you think about how you feel and perform with the following:
1. SALES – every consultant that is successful understands this #1 fact – if you are going to be a consultant working on your own you’ll need to be able to sell yourself and do so often.
2. NETWORKING – similar to sales, getting your name and service out there is paramount to customers finding out who you are and what you’re all about. Networking is crucial because it helps builds trust amongst new relationships while building a wider circle of influence.
3. RIDING the ROLLERCOASTER – The life of a consultant if full of ambiguity, ups and downs. One minute you’re deployed doing well then next minute you’ve worked yourself out of a job and are scrambling to find the next project. Also, it’s common for projects to not be fully scoped out as the customer expects the consultant to come in and tell them what to do. This inevitably leads to a certain amount of ambiguity and risk taking.
The life of a consultant can certainly be exciting and equally fulfilling, especially if you’re seeking a change in your career. Once we know what we’re up against and how to be successful we stand a better chance of enjoying the ride along the way.
How do you know the decisions you make for your career are the right ones to make?
On February 20th DeviceAlliance and UCI’s Division of Continuing Education will take aim at the in’s and out’s we face throughout our careers in an event called ‘Medical Device Career Navigation’.
While we are all very different as people in our behaviors and our mindsets it’s remarkable how those differences bond us in similarity.
Many of us will experience the same decisions throughout our career. Do we take the money or the training? Prestigious titles versus meaningful work? Take a step back to hopefully take two forward. Be my own boss or work for someone else? Stay the path of employee or seek opportunities in management? Or even leaving a career to begin anew.
The answers to these questions are never easy yet we are all faced them! In this, a powerful opportunity exists - learning from those who have been there before.
On the 20th of February in Irvine, CA the event ‘Medical Device Career Navigation’ will embark on a journey through the entire life cycle of a career from college graduate to retirement, and everything in between. Attendees will hear from experienced professionals who represent three career segments:
As we work our way through each career segment we will hear and learn first hand from professionals who have been there and done it before. We’ll discover the lessons they learned, decisions they made and outcomes they experienced along the way. We’ll learn from their stories and have opportunities to inquire about our own situations to collect feedback and direction.
During this event we will also discuss structured processes for decision making, like ACIP. ACIP, or Alternatives, Consequences, Information and Plans, is a process for collecting information and understanding our options BEFORE we make a decision.
Utilizing processes like ACIP and others which are similar can help improve your decision making process. Combine that with experienced anecdotes from people who have done it themselves and we have a recipe for improving our chances of making the best decisions for ourselves while reducing regret or heartache along the way.
Save the Date: Be sure to join DeviceAlliance and UCI’s Division of Continuing Education on February 20th, 2018 at 5:30PM for an evening of learning and discussion on ‘Medical Device Career Navigation’. Event details and RSVP click HERE.
About the Author
Serving over a decade in the technical services industry in Orange County, CA, Travis Smith has developed a talent for assessing technical talent and overseeing technical projects. His other areas of specialty include: leadership development, business development, resource planning and creative solutioning.