You may have the right skills and work ethic to advance your career, but if you don't pay attention to certain x-factors, you'll be pushing a boulder up a mountain. Working hard means nothing if you aren't making the important decisions in these five key areas:
1. Choose the right industry. If you love to write, you could choose a career in newspaper journalism, but you'd be setting yourself up for failure. In contrast, software development is a field with tons of growth potential and many opportunities to do meaningful work. You're welcome to pursue any career you want, but realize that some paths may be substantially more difficult than others.
To jumpstart your career, look for industries that hire in a recession—companies that save consumers money. Public sector jobs and new growth markets like green, tech, and healthcare are all good places to start your search. You may be writing copy for a startup instead of the next great American novel, but at least you'll get paid.
2. Choose the right city. You'll have more opportunities depending on where you live, so decide now, do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? Living in a small town may mean the opportunity to become a leader quickly, but it also means there are less opportunities for growth. In contrast, big-city life may mean you're competing with more job seekers, but more jobs will also be available. Plus, you'll have the opportunity to learn from the best in your field.
Also decide what you want your work style to be. There is a big difference between living on the East Coast and living in the Midwest. Are you willing to acclimate to a quicker pace of business to get ahead? Your short-term choices will have long-term consequences over the course of your career.
3. Choose the right partner. Behind every successful leader is a supportive partner. You can't do it alone. Go ahead and systematically think through what you need mentally and emotionally to support your career. Is your partner unconditionally supportive? Who cleans? Will your partner move for your career? Knowing the answers to these and other similar questions will allow you to take greater risks in your career.
Just because you're career-oriented doesn't mean that your partner needs to stay at home while you work, but you should have a mutual understanding of how day-to-day life will operate and how you will make the tough job decisions that will inevitably arise. Communicating and supporting each other along whatever path each of you decides to take can mean the difference between making do and making it.
4. Choose the right lifestyle. How you allocate your money, what you do in your spare time, and who you surround yourself with all influence your lifestyle. And it's easy to get stuck in a comfortable lifestyle, or feel pressure to support an extravagant one. Make your choices on where to live and what to do consciously. Will you spend time with negative people or surround yourself with high-performers? Will you spend money on high rent or nice clothes? Will you watch TV when you get home or go to a networking event?
There are no right answers; you must decide based on your definition of work-life balance. But you should understand that your lifestyle can either support, remain neutral, or be detrimental to your career. Daily habits are difficult to change. So ensure the actions you take contribute to the vision you want to achieve now, before it's too late.
5. Choose the right salary. Money can't buy you happiness, but it can certainly make the path to get there easier. That's why you need to negotiate your salary right off the bat. You may not think how much you get paid is something you can control, but it's up to you to show your employer why you deserve a salary in line with your expertise and experience. If you choose to forgo these negotiations, you will have put yourself at a permanent disadvantage.
Making more money can also be achieved through side jobs, and the extra income can allow you to build your emergency fund, contribute to your retirement, and fund a better lifestyle. All of these benefits allow you to increase your ability to take on risks, go after opportunities, and meet more people to advance your career.
When building your career, take a step back to evaluate the big picture. These five areas are important x-factors that advance or hold back your career. Choose wisely.
Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.