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Dear Diary: why pausing to reflect on your career can be your best competitive advantage of all

Dear Diary: why pausing to reflect on your career can be your best competitive advantage of all

In our last blog we thought about some actions that anyone can take to deliver quick but small marginal gains in their search for a job. But I'd also encourage you to delve a little deeper. Here are some actions you can take that may take a little longer, but that can help you to be the best you can be in your career. In the true spirit of Kaizen, which we touched upon in the last blog, some of these ideas work best as part of an ongoing project or process of review.

1. Think about what you want from a job

I mean this not in any conventional sense, but in the deeper sense about what role you want a career to play in your life.

We all need money, and many people are motivated by pay. Survey results released by Glassdoor earlier this year show a third of employers expect employees to leave in 2018, with nearly half citing salary as the top reason for employees changing jobs. And while it is normal for people to change jobs for money, it is also normal for people to want to change the role a job plays in their life.

So I suggest spending some time thinking about what you want from your career, how big a part it plays in your identity – your sense of self-worth. Money does not have to be your key motivator.

Although we live in a competitive age, one of the more encouraging trends in professional life is that the "conventional" norms and assumptions about how, when and why we work are changing, allowing for more freedom, portfolio careers and "free-range thinking".

Understanding what you want from work in this deeper sense can be enormously liberating and empowering. Imagine if you spent a few weeks thinking about and discussing what you want from a job – with the result that you realise you need to make some dramatic changes. What a difference that could make to your life!

Why does this knowledge give you competitive advantage? Because it helps to focus on you on what's really right for you and ensure you don't waste your time. So many candidates waste their own time and energy in the white heat of a job search. They're flailing about when they could be focused in the right area. I can't promise you that your job search will be easier if you get this bit right, but it will most likely be much more rewarding.

2. Keep a journal

Make a note of the above in a journal so you don't lose your ideas. That journal could be your new best friend. You can also use a journal to record and reflect on many of the other activities and actions mentioned in the last blog and in this one.

You can use it to record things that make you happy about your job, things you don't like, things you can do to improve yourself as a candidate, and key career achievements and highlights that can you add to your CV and talk about in interviews. You don't have to keep more than one journal – whatever works for you. But get into the habit of documenting your career and you'll soon find a journal is an invaluable resource.

3. Look after your network

Spend some time thinking about who supports you. Make a list of your most important network, professionally and personally. Who brings out the best in you? Who appreciates you? Who likes your work and will always be happy to recommend you? Who challenges you, in a way that is helpful and positive? Who have you enjoyed working with? Who do you hope to work with again, for whatever reason? Keep in touch with these people and be grateful for what they have already brought to your life. Help them when you can.
Something else for that journal, perhaps!

4. Keep raising your standards

If you are set on moving onwards and upwards in your career, there are lots of things you can do to keep pushing yourself and ensure you don't get stale in a role. It is possible to continually evaluate and raise your own standards.

A lot of people do this temporarily in preparation for a role. They think hard about what they can offer and come into a new role with a fresh head and a lot of ambition, only to gradually let it slide over a period of time. Most of us have done this at some point in our career.

But if you continually remind yourself of your ambitions, skills, limits and objectives, you can treat yourself as a work in progress and, consequently, improve. This is where your journal comes in again! Keeping a learning and objectives diary can be really valuable because it allows you to stop and reflect occasionally on what you've learned. It can also serve as a timely reminder that you promised yourself you'd take a spreadsheets course two years ago and never got around to it!

Another thing that can really help you to improve your outlook and potential at work is to learn how to manage upwards. This is an invaluable skill that can have serious implications for your future. (When you've finished this article, why not check out this one about managing upwards!). 

5. Get a mentor!

If there's someone in your company who you respect and who has the kind of reputation and brand you want to have, why not ask them to be your mentor? It's a good idea to check with HR or your manager first and find out whether there are existing protocols within a business for mentoring. But, provided you do it right, mentoring can be a wonderful tool for growing professionals and helping them to realise their potential. A mentor could be someone within your skillset or business function, or simply someone who understands your organisation well. Either way, they could teach you plenty about your chosen career path or be an advocate on your behalf.

If you want to talk to us about career advice in general, we're just a phone call or email away!


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