10 Top Tips For Career Development
Post-PhD and as an ECR, it can feel like you’re on a never-ending cycle of short-term contracts. Based on my own experience and that of my clients, here are my 10 top tips for career development.
Before doing anything else, it’s important to get clarity on your goals – in all areas of your life.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Macmillan, 1920.
Define your personal mission. If you’ve never written down your goals, why not experiment with something different..?
Brian Tracy advocates ‘thinking on paper’ – so grab a pen and paper, and give yourself 30s to write down the 3 most important things to you in your life.
Chances are, you’ll have written something to do with finance or career development, something about significant relationships, and something about health. Perfect!
(You probably would have come up with the same 3 if you spent 30min or 3hr on the list…)
Still sticking with the big picture and long-term, thinking about your goals, spend some time considering what you want your career to give
Doing the following exercise helped me figure out what I wanted and needed in life, and helped me make a significant career change…
I’ve used this exercise with clients looking to develop or to change their career (through choice or otherwise). The exercise can help you figure out what you want in the ideal case and to compare that with your current situation. Once you know where you want to be, exactly where you are right now, and the gap between the two, then your brain can go to work on finding creative ways to bridge that gap.
Let’s ‘begin with the end in mind’
On a large blank piece of paper, capture something that represents you in the centre. Place our 6 human needs around the outside:
For each of the above needs, capture what that would look like in YOUR ideal career.
For example, next to ‘certainty’ you might write: regular income, ability to pay bills, ability to pay the mortgage, stability for the next 5-10 years etc. For significance, you might put: having my own group of PhD students and ECRs, or fellowship of the Royal Society, thought leadership, professorship etc
– Remember to let yourself dream big!
(don’t worry about practicalities yet – ignore your inner critic! – you also don’t have to show this to anyone else!)
Your current situation and any future opportunities can now be compared against this map. Do you have currently have too little certainty, but just the right amount of connection to your work and its purpose? etc.
Tot up how many of your needs are currently being met:
– People who love what they do are getting 6/6 needs met.
– People who choose to quit are getting < 4 needs met…
What do you need to do to get more of your needs met?
Seven years on from when I first did this exercise, having made some significant changes, I am loving what I do and my ‘map’ is much more balanced.
For more information on our six human needs, see for example Tony Robbins’ 2006 TED talk:
Knowing your long term career development goals, and what you want your career to give you, AND having a clear understanding of your current reality, you can evaluate potential opportunities (and everyday choices):
Is this moving me towards, or away from, my goals?
Is this a useful stepping stone, or a potential dead end?
Is this the best use of my time, right now?
When you’re very clear on what it is you’re looking for, you will spot opportunities – just as when you decide you’d like a particular brand of phone or new(er) car, suddenly you see those phones or cars for sale everywhere! Those cars and phones were there previously, but now they’re on your radar…
What needs to be on your career development radar?
Embrace the power of your network.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘networking’?
When I worked as a research scientist at a well-known pharmaceutical company, ‘networking’ was a euphemism for staying up late in the bar at a conference…(!)
I used to think of networking as a bit of a dirty word, that (deliberate or strategic) networking was even a bit sleazy. That one’s career benefiting from your network is somehow cheating, that you didn’t get where you are on your own merits, or that you’re employing tactics used by those in sales…
I was wrong.
Networking is simply relationship building, finding things in common with like-minded individuals. Through networking you may be able to seize strategic opportunities, to find potential collaborators, to find your mentors – which brings me on to tip 5.
Which people/group/network/academic body could be influential for your next career move?
I was once asked, ‘who is going to give you your next job?’ I found the question odd at the time as I tried to interpret it literally, but in its wider context of ‘who could help you find your next position, how might they be able to help you, do they even know you exist?’, it helped me to do some quality thinking:
Who needs to know about me?
What do they need to know about me?
Who do I need to influence?
Who can help me?
How might they be able to help me? (now or in the future)
When you’ve identified these key individuals, how can you get yourself in front of them, build relationships with them, help them to know, like and trust you?
What skills are going to get you where you want to be?
These may well not be the research skills that got you where you are today. Do you need to brush up your teaching, coaching/mentoring, grant/application writing, public speaking, PR, optimising your online presence, networking skills…?
If any of these are not your ‘favourite’ activities, they’re probably the ones you need to do more of…(sorry)
Ensure you understand the process.
Whether it’s the application process, promotions process, benchmarking process…
Do your homework. Be prepared. Have your stories and examples ready.
You may not like some of the processes, but don’t let yourself get in your own way just because some of the processes seem unfair, a chore, or unnecessary.
Blow your own trumpet!
It may not feel natural, or comfortable, but it’s important that you ‘wave your flag’. Don’t be the world’s best kept secret!
What stories do you tell yourself about self-promotion? How is that helping you get where you want to be? Is that inner voice holding you back? What stories could you be telling yourself instead?
Optimise your digital footprint.
If I ‘Google’ you, what will I find? Do a digital audit, is it what you want people to find?
Make good use of online visibility and networking tools. Take the opportunity to network, to build relationships on Twitter, LinkedIn and other relevant platforms. Remember that your profile on platforms like LinkedIn should reflect what you want to be doing next, rather than a cut-and-paste job from your career history on your CV, i.e. it should be forward-looking, rather than backwards-looking.
And lastly, it may seem obvious, but…
Get those papers out!
You’ve done the work, get it out there. Don’t be tempted to put this off!
Also take up opportunities to present you and your work – posters, talks, newsletters, opinion pieces, press releases, book contributions… make the most of your writing efforts and repurpose the content.
In conclusion, if you do nothing else as a result of reading this, take 30s to do career development tip #1. Get absolute clarity on your goals, write them down – and then take up the opportunities that take you towards (not away from) your long-term goal. Good luck!
For more advice see:
- Managing Your Continuing Professional Development
- What Does Success Look Like For You?
- Top Tips for a Career Change
- How to Create a Professional Development Plan