How to Achieve Greater Control over the Trajectory of Your Career

For maximum success, run your career like a business

By Martin Yate Feb 7, 2017
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Editor's Note: Instead of his Q&A column that offers answers to readers' questions, this week Martin discusses his philosophy on career planning. Check back next week for the usual Q&A format.  Coming this fall, SHRM will publish Martin's latest book offering career guidance for HR professionals.

We all want success, and we all make resolutions to take steps to achieve it. But too many resolutions are really only wishes because they are not harnessed to actionable plans. You can achieve a more prosperous, personally fulfilling career but you have to change your mindset, starting with clearing out ingrained but outmoded beliefs.

Traditional career advice tells you to pay for an education, choose a career, work hard, be loyal and make sacrifices and, in return, you will be rewarded with job security, steady professional growth and an increasing income. But that is no longer the reality of today's world of work. 

Whatever Happened to Job Security?

When a company lets you go, you may be told, "It's nothing personal, it's just business." From the corporate perspective this is true, as the employer is doing what it must to maximize profitability and survive—the very reasons for its existence.

The only business constant is the increasing rapidity of relentless change and disruption. To successfully manage your career, you need to get comfortable with change. 

A Changed World Demands a Different Approach

There is a better way to manage your career over the arc of the decades you'll spend at work. You, too, are a financial entity with the same goals for profit and survival as any corporation. How you adapt, learn and build your career management skills impacts the quality of your future. When you start thinking of yourself as a business, your career stops being something that happens to you. Instead, you become the CEO of Me Inc., responsible for determining long-term goals and putting into place the short-term actions that achieve them.  

You can guide the trajectory of your professional life to achieve the outcomes you want and lead a life lived on your terms. 

Your Life Is What You Make of It

If an employer can replace you with someone who is younger and perhaps cheaper, or automate your job out of existence, it will and it must. It's all about profitability since it's a business.

Accept this truth and instigate a strategy that eliminates blind loyalty to employers that don't return it and instills a focus on what's best for you as CEO of Me Inc. Embrace a life-changing new approach that puts your success and fulfillment at the center of all you do; nothing personal, just business. 

How to Get Started

Me Inc.'s mission is to generate a steadily growing and diversified revenue stream. Learn to organize, plan for and execute your career decisions with the same organizational objectivity and forethought as the CEOs whom you've worked so hard for.

Me Inc., like any company, will need:

Research and development (R&D). You must stay current with the development of in-demand skills that support your stability, earnings, promotability and the options available to you on the open market.

Strategic planning. Monitor the health of the employer you are working for, your industry and your profession. With the insight gained from R&D, you will develop effective strategies for growth at your current employer, including how to execute career moves on your timetable and how to create a comprehensive plan that maps the pathways leading to your ultimate goals.

Entrepreneurship. Through R&D, you may identify opportunities to pursue completely new revenue streams. Maximizing Me Inc.'s agility while minimizing cash flow disruption will lead to great innovation and opportunity.

Marketing and public relations. Increase your visibility and help establish relevant credibility, beginning in the HR department and then expanding your influence outwards around the company, as well as to the local professional community and beyond, as your goals dictate.

Sales. When you pursue promotions or new opportunities, you're offering yourself as a commodity. You need the most effective tools to execute the smoothest and most desirable transitions, including:

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Use Social Media for Applicant Screening]

Finance and accounting. Being responsible with your money will keep you stable and prepare you for financing the pursuit of your future goals. 

Next Steps to Success

If you follow outdated career management rules, you give your employer exclusive control over your life. You become focused on keeping a paycheck—not growing your career—often to the exclusion of having a life outside of work.

By creating Me Inc., your new business-like focus will allow you to develop the tools needed to anticipate and navigate challenges over a long career. Greater resiliency leads to greater success, stability and fulfillment. These are the foundations to build a life lived on your own terms.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. 

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