The ladder is the most enduring metaphor for career advancement, yet it is no longer constructive to think of your career progression as climbing a ladder.
In the ladder metaphor, you ascend one rung at a time, progressing in your career through a series of milestones. At each rung, you work hard on what you are doing at the moment. You forget about that next step because you're sure you'll get there when the right time comes, without encountering any obstacles.
You fall into complacency.
Then something happens. Perhaps you make it happen:
- You realize one day that you feel bored and unchallenged. You know there is more to work and crave greater fulfillment.
- You want more responsibility. You find what you are doing routine and know you are capable of a greater challenge.
- You decide you want more pay. After all, if you are going to put up with the high pressure of getting campaigns out on time, you want to ensure you will be compensated for it.
- You feel an urge to try something new. You know it's now or never if you are going to make a change.
- You realize that you've had your fill of a nasty boss or an uncomfortable organizational culture. Life's too short to deal with an environment that stomps all over your personal values.
Perhaps the something comes from outside your control:
- Your company decides it's time to "right-size." Mergers and acquisitions, soft markets, shareholder pressure, and numerous other events make layoffs a common part of today's world of work. Even companies that are doing well feel the need to "resize" from time to time.
- The product you're working on gets canceled. Let's face it, we live in a disposable economy. What's hot one day (think of the low-fat diet) is replaced by the latest craze (eliminating evil simple carbohydrates, for example). Who would have ever thought that IBM would sell its ThinkPad business to Lenovo?
- The industry you work in is hit by a destructive scandal. Think Enron, Arthur Anderson, or Airbus.
- Your manager leaves the company, taking several team members with her, and the company decides to eliminate your job.
Only when that something happens do you think about that next rung in your career ladder. You revise your resume (which you haven't even looked at since you got your current job), reconnect with lost professional contacts, and so forth.
You expend enormous effort connecting with marketing recruiters, writing cover letters, refining your career marketing materials, searching through job boards—all the fallback methods that people used back when the world of work was predictable.
Well, it's not your father's IBM anymore.
In today's dynamic knowledge economy, this sporadic, effortful approach to career management isn't the most effective. Instead, you have to kick over the ladder and view your career climb as a ramp.
When you're ascending a ramp, you don't stop and relax—you're advancing in perpetual motion toward your professional goals. In this scenario, you don't wait for a trigger to move you to your next step in your career: You manage that movement yourself, every day of your life:
- You update and revise your resume in real time.
- You maintain networking contacts rather than letting them fade away.
- You seek out tasks and activities that will move you closer to your goals.
- You apply your strengths and unique talents to every task you undertake.
- You stay connected to the job market, understanding your worth and the factors that are affecting your job function.
Doing so ensures that you are prepared for any eventuality.
Perhaps you're thinking, "This sounds like a lot more work than climbing a ladder." Well, in fact, perpetual career management is a lot less work.
That's because you build momentum: Once you adopt this mindset and make the corresponding behaviors part of your regular routine, you never have to make a focused effort to work on your career again. Instead, you're always thinking about it and tweaking it as a matter of course. It's like brushing your teeth in the morning. Career management becomes something you just do. As our colleague Wendy Terwelp says "You're always ready for your next big gig."
Let's be clear that we are talking about a ramp, not an escalator. On a ramp, you are still in control. You're ascending the ramp by moving your own feet forward. You are responsible for reaching the top. You are mindful of the actions necessary to propel yourself forward. On an escalator, you're standing there helplessly as the mechanism moves you up. You are giving away control and hoping to be taken to (rather than working toward) your desired destination.
Ten Tips to Perpetual Career Management
- At the end of each week, document your accomplishments. This will ensure that you have an accurate record of the value you provide, making it easier to update your resume.
- Google yourself every Monday morning and ask yourself whether the results truly reflect what makes you unique and compelling. Determine what you need to do to build a stellar online identity.
- Update your resume regularly. Every month, look at your accomplishments (from your list in item 1, and make quick updates to your resume.
- Stay up on what's happening in the world of marketing. What are the latest trends? What's hot? Always have a professional development plan that will keep you current in the skills necessary to succeed in your specific area of marketing.
- Stay connected to the job market. Join career portals and browse job boards so you know what jobs are hot and what's happening with compensation.
- Join and participate in social-networking sites. Networking is the best way to get a job. But remember that the most successful networkers approach networking with an attitude of generosity and not need. Building enduring relationships is the key. It's all about career karma.
- Join a career management Web site like JibberJobber (www.jibberjobber.com) to help you maintain your career momentum and automate the process of staying in touch with the members of your brand community.
- Join marketing portals, like marketingprofs.com, so you can keep contribute to and learn from communities of colleagues.
- Live in the inquiry. Ask yourself how you can inject more of yourself into everything you do—every report you write, every meeting you attend, etc. Never accept an assignment without thinking about how you will put your unique stamp on it.
- Join professional associations and take a leadership role that gives you access to all members and enables you to be visible to your peers.
Note: This article was adapted from Career Distinction: Stand Out By Building Your Brand.
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