If I were to ask you when the last time you made a career-related decision was, your answer might be about the last time you applied for a new position. Or it may be about when you decided to move departments, or take a break from work to pursue an advanced degree. You probably wouldn’t have told me about how you responded to questions in a weekly meeting or who you had lunch with. Unfortunately, that mindset is all too common, and it means that you could be missing out on all sorts of chances to advance your career.
People typically think only about their big, focused efforts in relation to career choices. We think about career choices as major decisions such as whether or not to stay in a particular job, or whether to accept an opportunity to go on an overseas assignment. Yet the truth is that we make career choices every day.
All of the following are choices which impact our careers, though we might not realize it:
Who do you spend time with and associate with at work? Who are the people you are learning from (intentionally and unintentionally)? Do you have people around you who challenge and support you in your professional life? People are one of the most important factors shaping our careers; the old saying about how “it’s not what you know, but who you know” really does have a lot of truth to it. The people around you can influence the way you think, and ultimately, the decisions you make about your career.
It’s not just how other people affect you, either, but the impression you have on them. How you communicate and present yourself in front of decision makers impacts the way they perceive you. Do you come across as a leader, as a team player, or neither? That plays a huge part in determining what types of opportunities they offer you. Wonder why someone who is newer to the company gets a promotion or big assignment before you? It might be because of the small, everyday decisions they make about how to present themselves at work.
Finally, how you choose to improve yourself on a daily basis matters, too. You need to think about what you choose to say yes or no to, when considering the way you spend your time. Are you saying “Yes” to learning a new skill or are you putting it off? Are you saying “No” to networking events that are inconvenient or you just don’t feel like going to, even if they could be useful? Of course, you still need to balance your time and focus on what is most important to accomplish.
Saying “Yes” to too many projects, can result in poor performance because you have taken on too much. That can have negative effects, even as bad as being overlooked for a promotion because you don’t appear to be able to handle your workload. You still need to prioritize your tasks and give your best effort to the ones which matter most for your career.
If you want to know what will help you the most at work, think about where you want your career to go. What type of person do you see yourself developing into, and what role does that person play professionally? Then you need to think about how to get there from where you are now.
Ask yourself three questions:
- Are you surrounding yourself with the sorts of people who can help you advance?
- Do your communication behaviors and actions at work reflect the way you want to portray yourself professionally?
- Are you making choices about how you spend your time that are aligned with your career goals?
If the answer to any of these questions is "no," you need to make changes in order to achieve the outcomes you truly desire. Career changes may appear to just happen to you, and you may previously have thought of career decisions as being isolated events, but neither of these is really the case. The little choices you make every day add up to create bigger shifts in your career path.
I like to think it’s very empowering, knowing that the everyday choices we make lead to new opportunities presenting themselves. The way you decide to do things on a daily basis can have big impacts on your career. All of these decisions manifest themselves in the form of unexpected promotions, new paths to explore professionally, and recognition for your efforts. You have more control over your career than you realize!