Crafting your career path: 5 tips and strategies for a fulfilling professional journey

November 16, 2023

Many people just see someone at the top of their field and think to themselves: “I want to be there.” That’s right, “be there,” not “get there.” In reality, however, getting there is the tricky part. People just see the money, the lifestyle, the authority, and the respect (all of the most appealing parts).

Succeeding in your career can be a slow and difficult pathway. It requires you to plan three steps, sometimes making counter-intuitive moves. Your main objective is to find out where you want to be, identify what it takes to get that kind of job and work toward obtaining these skills and attributes.

Moreover, applying for jobs is a skill on its own, and you need to learn how to do well at finding jobs, writing resumes, and attending interviews.

With all of this in mind, here are some strategies that could help you.

1. Look for jobs with worthwhile skills and professional experiences

Most professionally qualified people look for work that will provide them with good income for their efforts. This is natural, but it’s not the most satisfying or financially rewarding strategy in the long run.

A job where you can acquire a new skill or a position that will look amazing on your resume is not necessarily a job that will pay you the most. Still, when looking for employment, people always prioritize pay over experience. This can turn out to be an inadequate long-term strategy.

So, you need to start by adopting a slightly different mindset. You can start backward tracing (like solving a puzzle labyrinth by starting from the end). It goes something like this:

  • Imagine a job that you would like to have in the long run
  • Look up online ads for this type of job
  • Pay attention to the requirements that are listed, including the soft (transferable) skills
  • In the short-to-medium term, look for jobs that would help you acquire these skills.

In other words, imagine the interview and what the interviewer will ask of you. Think of specific questions they will ask. This will enable you to prepare your answer ahead of time.

2. Use your time for self-improvement

Earlier in this article we talked about how choosing jobs can help set you on the path of self-improvement and get you where you ultimately want to be. Just working 9-to-5 is not a recipe for career growth.

You need to adopt the mindset of continuous learning. This includes keeping your mind sharp with micro-learning, which involves short sessions of training at work that can fit in, for instance, just before a lunch break, or just before the standard working day starts. Micro-learning is a great way to learn how to optimize processes and structures, leadership skills, knowledge of management tools and creating a good understanding of business models. Speak to your employer about AI and data competency training as well as opportunities to learn transferable skills.

AI training sessions at work and in your own time provide the perfect opportunity to increase your skills and value to your employer. This knowledge will be a big plus for you in your career path, especially in the communication profession where 2021 research found that only half of communicators have the competencies needed for acting as a manager. Despite data handling being an important skill for knowledge workers these days, the lack of data competencies is alarming. These skills are essential as you are promoted to future positions as a supervisor or manager. Most industries would suffer from the same issue.

Vital to strengthen your transferable job skills

Transferable skills are at the core of all professions. They are the foundation skills in the job you have, and are applicable to all jobs you will ever have. You take these skills with you from one job to another. All transferable job skills are interconnected.

If you don’t have all the hard skills required for a new position, you can provide more detail about the important transferable skills you have gained in previous jobs that would be valuable in the new role. The most important transferable skills are listed below:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Multitasking
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Leadership

The four most important transferable skills

Many experts consider the four most important transferable skills needed for any job are:

1. Communication

Being able to communicate effectively with others is essential – and should be core to all professional communicators. Communication is an essential soft skill in the workplace because it helps you solve problems, build relationships, and prevent conflict.

2. Critical thinking

Critical thinking refers to analyzing information objectively and making a reasoned judgment. It is a skill that allows you to make intelligent decisions based on available data. Critical thinking is helpful in almost any type of job..

3. Teamwork and collaboration

Teamwork involves working well with others in a group setting instead of just working independently or competitively. This is especially important in the post-COVID world in which teams need to work together in remote or hybrid mode. True collaboration occurs when everyone on a team feels empowered to speak up, share their opinions, and openly debate without fear of being shut down or punished for voicing a dissenting view.

4. Problem-solving

Problem-solving means that you can use logic, analysis, and creativity to identify solutions when confronted with obstacles. Once you get into the habit of approaching problems with a calm, cool head, you’ll find that they don’t seem quite so intimidating anymore. The good news is that there are various techniques you can use to become better at problem-solving.

Networking and attending industry events

Research consistently shows that around 85% of jobs are filled through face-to-face networking, and not formal advertising. This is often described as being within the ‘hidden job market’. The old adage of ‘it’s not what you know, but who’ has never been more true.

Getting to know people in your target market, building networks and connections, whether they be online or in person, is crucial. And which of those options may well depend on who your target market is, or whether you are seeking a new role internally or externally.

One of the best ways to stay on top of industry changes and learn trends is to attend industry events. You can find out about conferences, workshops and networking events – and as long as you make good choices, your employer is likely to pay for your attendance, either live or by Zoom etc. You can also subscribe to free industry mailing lists, join Facebook groups, or check websites like Eventbrite and Meetup.

3. Take job applications more seriously

If you want to dedicate yourself to advancing your career, you must start taking job applications far more seriously. This means adopting a more professional resume format, writing a killer follow-up letter, and learning to conduct yourself during an interview.

You need to see this as a process. Your application is the first step on this journey. Everything needs to be well-crafted and proofread at least several times. A grammar or spelling error sends a message that you didn’t put enough effort into it. It sends a message that you either don’t care or are not professional enough. Neither of the two looks good.

First, you need to prepare for the meeting. Have all the documentation ready and practice answering some hard questions. Be strong, confident, and unwavering.

Small talk is important at the start of an interview

When you go into an interview, be the professional you – more cheerful and more confident. You kind of step into that new persona. That’s just the nature of interviews. These first few minutes are crucial for you to make that good first impression and establish rapport. In fact, “there’s data to suggest that interviewers decide if they are going to hire you within two minutes,” says Lauren Rivera, Professor of Management & Organizations at Northwestern University, in a 2023 US News and World Report article.

The first impression of you in an in-person interview starts in the lobby or reception area with small talk. When a person arrives and accompanies you to the interview room you can make observations like, “Your product displays here look really good. Which is your most popular product?” Other observations could be along the lines of “Those industry award certificates on the wall certainly back up your marketing about your quality processes.” And, “Seeing your staff receiving employee recognition awards in these photos certainly is a positive reminder of your good corporate culture.” Also, “This positive coverage in the business media reflects well on your company. What was the background to this article?”

When you arrive at the interview itself, use the opportunity while taking your place to make small talk again – this time to the whole interview panel. You can repeat or embellish something you have said on the way, like, “Those product displays in the lobby/reception area give visitors an impressive overview of your product range. Great idea!” Or you could comment on something in the interview room (as in the above photo), such as, “Great views from this building. I imagine this would contribute to a positive working atmosphere.” etc. No need to ask a question to follow up because that time will eat into interview time.

Awkward? The best way to sound natural is to practice the interview with a partner. Practice helps you to get used to chatting more conversationally about your work experience. Also, you can practice making small talk in your daily life, such as when you go to buy a sandwich for lunch. As long as you aren’t getting in the way of others, build rapport with the person serving you with something like, “Busy day here? What’s your own favorite sandwich?” These little interactions from your daily life are good practice for an interview – and you find you are not as scared or nervous to engage in small talk with the interviewer about observations you have made, because you have done it many times with comparative strangers.

Make the most of a Zoom interview

For a Zoom interview, you turn the camera on, and they’re like, “Oh, hey, does everything work? Does your mic work? Are you okay? Do you need to take some notes?” You can make small talk about that situation, eg “I hope your mic always works OK.” Do you get to make many Zoom interviews?” etc.

If you want, a Zoom interview actually allows you to “cheat.” This means you can put Post-It notes in front of you to remind you of the key points you want to make, even if you are quite nervous and could forget some of these key points. This works really well if you have two screens and can put the Post-It notes on the second screen. Practice with a friend to do it naturally! Don’t make it obvious! Some people even post their resume close to the screen so they can peek unobtrusively at important points or sections in it.

A great formula for answering questions

Here’s a really simple and clear method for answering questions in a job interview. It’s called the STAR Method. It’s an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This helps you to develop direct and concise answers to impress interviewers. You talk about the situation at hand, the objective/s you had, the action that you took in order to solve that problem, and the result of that situation. Refer to numbers achieved in the result, if you can. Practice all this! You can even put STAR on a Post-It note during the interview in case your nerves overcome your memory.

4. Always look for something better

One thing that separates professionals from regular people is that pros always keep aware of other job opportunities.

However, changing jobs too often will not look good on your resume. Therefore, you should stick around after landing a job. A timeline of at least two years is recommended.

Another reason why you should always be on the lookout for better offers is the fact that you need a reference point. A good offer is a constantly evolving concept, and you need to keep updated on what’s a decent offer now. This can help you plot your future career development path and prepare for the long journey ahead.

It will also help you hold higher standards when it comes to the way you approach this process. The biggest mistake you can make is to act desperately, which is hard to avoid in scenarios where you are desperate. So, how do you get less desperate? It’s simple: you don’t wait to be jobless before applying for a new position.

People fear change, but you’re likely to change many different job posts throughout your career either way. Why not do it out of your own volition? Either way, this is a fear you’ll have to overcome.

5. Earn your promotion and recommendation

A lot of people look for a quick way to get where they want when the truth is that they may just have to put in the work. What do we mean by that? Well, many people are not very realistic about how fast their career is progressing, but this is mostly because they lack a reference point.

Just take a step back and try to find someone currently occupying the long-term position you’re aiming for. Then, check out their background. Nepotism and old-money privilege are real, even though they might not be fair, and comparing yourself to someone who had a starting advantage will always give you a false sense that you haven’t accomplished enough.

Think about it: have you ever heard of someone who complained about not becoming a doctor after three years? Of course not, but why not? Because everyone knows that it takes 10-14 years to get there. The problem is that, with most other careers, you don’t have such a clear guideline. Still, looking for averages and basing your expectations on this may set you straight.

Next, if you want a recommendation, you have to earn it. We’re talking about a real recommendation, not just something generic that your boss rewards you for not messing up anything major while you were there.

Don’t complain, try to be more of a team player, and understand that you have to make sacrifices to get ahead. Help others and lean into the power of reciprocity. Everyone in the office would like a raise and a promotion, and the only way to get ahead is not to backstab and plot but to do more than they do. Again, this requires a sacrifice, but developing a good career was never supposed to be easy.

Building a career is a project that will span decades

This is what a lot of people don’t want to accept. Creating a career is a lot of work, and it may require you to take some counter-intuitive steps along the way. You may need to take a job posting that pays less because it’s better for your career in the long run. It also requires you to look for a new job while you’re still fine at your current one, even sending applications you don’t intend to follow through. Either way, it’s a lot harder without a strategy.

Top image source: Unsplash

 

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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