How will you decide along the way?
While it’s true your career and life build behind you, decisions on what to do come one at a time. Your choices will influence the depth at which you succeed, as well as how others see your judgment.
Here are some decisions you’ll need to think through:
1. The positions you accept. While you can’t chart out a perfect career, you can be smart about the roles you accept by having a rough idea of where you want to go and keeping a list of the positions and related experiences you’ll need to get there.
Of course, there will always be temptations to veer from this path. But don’t make the mistake of settling for the wrong job or job offer.
2. The risks you take. Your best next position might be in another state or in another country. Are you willing to try something new? Early on, look to take risks which will expand your mind and expose you to new environments. Just worked for a really big company? Try a small one to see how it fits your personality and social needs.
Take calculated risks early. Try to succeed at something difficult, and you’ll be rewarded with confidence to do something even more challenging next time.
3. The companies you work for. Look for target companies early in your career who will train you. For example, one might offer an on-the-job MBA program or the like in your industry. You’ll be thankful you’ve been through a boot camp as your career progresses, especially if the training allows you exposure to other departments, functions, and locations.
Look for companies that are doing something unique and valuable, and that use a technology or capability that separates them from their competitors. When you work for innovative companies, it rubs off on you and your resume.
4. The managers you report to. You’ll find managers out there who stub their toes every day on the foreheads of their employees. Others provide an incredible career experience for their employees. The good news is you can learn from both types.
Keep a notebook of actions you will and won’t take as a manager, because it may be your turn someday. And don’t spend too much time with a bad manager. This is one way you can maintain a positive attitude in your career and life.
5. The promotions you seek. Most of us want promotions before we’re ready for them. It’s OK to be aggressive if you know what you want, as long as aggression doesn’t drip off you all the time.
Use obvious opportunities like performance reviews to highlight your key accomplishments for the year and confidently let your company and manager know you have big plans to keep the accomplishments coming.
6. The work friends you keep. Be the kind of employee who supports and backs up members of the team, and look for others with same mindset. The company you keep at work will affect the work you do, your ability to succeed on cross-functional teams and the influence you have inside the company.
To some extent, “we are who we hang out with.” And who we eat with. And strategize with. What kind of an influencer are you?
Your work life does not need to be over-planned. It’s best to allow for some spontaneity. But be ready for these decisions when they come, so you’ll be able to think about them in the context of your longer-term career goals.
Tim Tyrell-Smith is founder of Tim's Strategy, a site that helps professionals succeed in job search, career and life strategy. Follow Tim on Twitter, @TimsStrategy, and share his 30 Ideas Book with job-seeking friends.