Career Management Advice: Creating Your Own Opportunities

You’ve heard it many times. You should be actively managing your career. But what does that actually mean? With so many things that are out of your control, like the economy, your company’s decision to move or eliminate jobs, a new boss or co-worker that you don’t get along with, how do you “manage” your career? My mentor once described it in a way that made a lot of sense to me.

He said that it is all about engineering your own opportunities to get the things you want in your career. Instead of waiting for special projects to be assigned or hoping that you’ll get your manager’s role when she moves on, proactively put yourself in situations that give you greater visibility. The more you are known and seen as a valuable contributor to the team, the better your chances are of being tapped for important tasks or roles and getting support or sponsorship when you ask for certain opportunities. That translates to options, flexibility and ultimately more control over your career.

How do you do engineer or create your own opportunities?

Clearly, it’s not about running into your manager’s office and constantly reminding him to consider you for the next big project. Perhaps, you can approach him and see if there are any projects that need more attention. Or you could go even further by heading into the office and suggesting brand new ideas and projects that you can take the lead on. There is actually one way that I’ve seen works extremely well. That is: Become the “Go-To”

Those who become known for having a specialty quickly set themselves apart and attract opportunities. As the name suggests, people literally go to them. You probably know them. The people who are considered the experts. They’re seen as the authority in key areas that really matter for the company or industry. They’re consulted for high profile projects, asked to sit on committees or provide their input on important decisions.

You can also be a “go-to” person for a special skill like great people skills. I know of numerous examples where certain people were chosen to lead a group or manage a particular client, specifically for their interpersonal skills.  They may not have been the most knowledgable in the business, but what was most important at the time was their ability to lead and build or improve relationships.

What are some ways to become that person?

1. Keep Learning
Everyone, even experts, at one point had to learn what they know. Always have a book on the go that will expand your knowledge or perspective in some way. Keep yourself informed and up to date on a particular issue or subject matter. Engage in conversations or participate in training opportunities to help you develop a greater understanding of the topic. Trying to coast on what you already know is a surefire way to stall and become static in your career. Find something that really interests you or that you have already acquired some level of expertise in. Build on it. The more you know, the easier it will be to recognize opportunities to get involved and add value.

2. Know Yourself
What are you good at? No, I mean what are you really good at? Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses allows you to find the opportunities that best suit you. What have you been good at for as long as you can remember? What do people come to you for? Do you get complimented on a particular skill again and again?  The first step in becoming a go-to person is seeing yourself in that light. Do you make good decisions under pressure? Are you good at getting others to focus on something that is important to you? Reflect on your past achievements, abilities and the feedback you get. Fully own the strengths you have if you want to be known for them. Then figure out all the ways you can use your strengths at work.

3. Help Others
This idea is actually an often overlooked, especially when we’re talking about making yourself more visible and known. The truth is you might already be an expert or have a strength that just isn’t getting used in your own job. (If so, you may need a different job!)  A great question to ask yourself is whether your expertise could be helpful to a co-worker’s project. Not only do you get recognition for your knowledge or ability, but it will opens doors for you to build a relationship with the people you help. Hopefully they will reach out to you again for assistance or even to return the favor by helping you when you need them.

4. Solve a Particular Problem
Focus on a very specific issue that your department, company or industry is experiencing. Showing that you have a track record for successfully solving a particular kind of problem, over and over, such as implementing technology changes related to new regulations, or delivering specific results (always discovering ways to reach a new client base) can also help you establish yourself as an expert or authority. I know a project manager who was exceptional when it came to building “one-pager” presentations. He had a good eye for knowing what visuals worked well and how to perfectly word the content in a compelling way. In just a few months with the company, managers from all areas were coming to him for advice on revamping their one-pagers, which were often used to provide updates to senior management. He made quite a few connections this way with people that directly supported him in his career later on.

You may not get exactly what you want in your career when you want it, but it always helps to have the options and support. Set yourself up by becoming a go-to person so people are coming to you with new opportunities. You just read four ideas on how to get started.  Don’t wait for decisions to be made or for things around you to change as you hope for the best.