Winning the career war

by Thakkar, Nimish Wednesday, September 29, 2010
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In the secure walls of corporate fortresses career warriors are relentlessly fighting -- at times with their own selves -- the battle to succeed. Although, victory and defeat have different connotations in this war, the rules, the challenges, and the strategies are like any other.

As elusive as winning the battle on the career front may sound, it really is a game of good timing, great strategy, and powerful allies (smart networking).

Consider the following tips:

1. Reprogram your mindset

Sally held a lucrative job at a career development firm. Despite a comfortable salary, plush office, and enviable flex time benefits, she found herself dragging to work every morning. After a few career coaching sessions she realized she was in a profession that was in sync with her interests and talents. What was missing then?

Many individuals approach their work with a “need-the-job-to-pay-my-bills” attitude -- not a winner’s strategy. Adhering to employer-laborer dynamics, reminiscent of the nineteenth century, provides very little motivation to the workforce. Work becomes a forced endeavor with such a mindset and there is no desire to make a difference or to go the extra mile. The byproducts of this approach are minimal professional growth and a lack of satisfaction.

What if the perspective were reprogrammed?

Let’s visualize a scenario where the employee is a self-employed independent consultant selling professional services to the employer. The relationship now undergoes a dramatic transformation due to the intense desire to please the client (employer), outperform the competition (peers), [constantly] upgrade services (professional development), and deliver the best service possible (translation: performance). Such employees will always find creative solutions to satisfy and benefit the customer (employer) and, thus, themselves.

Sally adopted this attitude and soon found herself energized and motivated. Empowered by her [self-imposed] promotion, she metamorphosed into an “idea machine” that constantly generated newer ways of improving efficiency and profitability. She worked with her superiors to launch several new programs and was soon promoted to a bigger and better role.

2. Establish goals and develop a game plan

Jim was a business analyst at a leading pharmaceutical company. He was drawing a comfortable salary and was very content with his work until he realized that despite all the hard work he had not grown much in over three years. He knew something wasn’t right and immediately embarked on an honest self assessment.

The first outcome of the exercise was the realization that Jim was not working toward a clear goal. Further work revealed his interests in a brand management position. Once the goal was defined, the next step involved the development of a game plan, a roadmap that entailed working extra hours (voluntarily) with the brand team and a detailed strategy for developing brand management competencies. He developed these skills by participating in numerous projects and by undertaking training programs and MBA-level courses. Jim is now interviewing for positions with brand teams.


3. Build powerful allies

It may be lonely at the top but those who reached there did not walk alone. Networking is a crucial component of any career success campaign; from growth prospects to new job offers, opportunities always knock at the doors of the well-connected.

Start building alliances within the organization. Supervisors, peers, team members, vendors, customers -- all of these are potential networking contacts. Even better, each of these contacts may know many others, and if one were to tap into this pool of “friends of friends,” the list of allies could snowball to sizeable proportions within a very short period of time.

In addition to internal networking, opportunities for networking outside the organization are virtually infinite. From subway riders to presidents of industry associations, almost everyone is a potential ally. Serious career warriors know this secret and will be not lose the opportunity to make friends. They will be omnipresent at networking events.

4. Fire up the PR ammunition

Gone are the days when PR strategies were the exclusive domain of commercial enterprises. We live in times where individuals, too, can leverage PR tactics to their advantage.

With a plethora of publishing and speaking opportunities, it is very easy to boost visibility and establish one’s image as an expert. Blogs, articles, trade journals, teaching opportunities, seminars, webinars, conferences -- all of these are excellent avenues to showcase professional expertise and to generate some buzz.

5. Position effectively

During my MBA program, our marketing professor initiated us into a very powerful mantra: “To be successful, be different.” Almost every successful brand would swear by his words.

Speaking of brands, ever wonder why popular brands are more successful than their competitors? It is no secret that these brands have worked very hard to position themselves as being unique and a cut above the competition.

Great lessons for career stalwarts desirous of developing their own positioning strategies.

In order to stand out from the crowd of “me too” professionals career warriors, need to carefully evaluate and understand their signature strengths and leverage them to develop an effective positioning strategy. A manager, for example, may choose to position herself as a “growth-focused team leader who specializes in turning around failing divisions”. An administrative assistant may, on the other hand, position himself as an “extremely efficient administrative ace that can ensure seamless operation of highly-complex, multi-million dollar organizations”.

Success in the career war -- it is like a war, after all -- is a carefully planned enterprise where rewards come to those who patiently, but smartly, persevere in the “right direction”.