Is work the same old thing for you everyday? Do the same stuff for 8 hours, attend the same meetings, talk to the same people, go home, rinse and repeat for x number of days after?
What are the words that pop up in your mind when you think of your career? Boring. Monotonous. Lame. Awful. Stupid.
OR. Do words like – Exciting! Fun! Purposeful! Meaningful! Amazing! Appear more?
Notice how different each set of descriptors make you feel?
If you belong in the former group and are dying to feel more excited about your job, look no further. Here are some hacks that will guarantee you get out of your career rut, learn new skills, get more out of your work hours and experience amazing growth and development. Work will never be the same again!
1) Develop a personal brand
Are you strong in a specific skill? Are you the go-to person for a particular domain knowledge? Developing your personal selling points that make you unique helps build a story or an image about you in people’s heads. Take for example, Starbucks or McDonald’s – we all associate certain characteristics with those brands. Be it good service, good food etc.
Building a personal brand for yourself follows the same principle – what do you want to be known for? Figuring out what your strengths are and how you can align it with your organisational and long-term career goals is a good start. For eg, Maybe you are great at statistics – it comes naturally to you. Or perhaps, you are a high-performing manager who is able to turn a team’s performance around.
It is about knowing what you can bring to the table and how you can use your strengths to create value for the organisation. You can also build a great career path based on your personal brand.
2) Carve out a career plan
Give some thought – if you haven’t – about the ‘ultimate’ place you would like to be at in your career. It could be a role, an organisation or even a particular industry or country. Then, work backwards. How does that look like? What does it take to get there? What are the specific skills you would need? Then work out a plan or a map of how you would like to get there and how long that would take.
Instead of leaving it to fate or external circumstances, you will get more out of your career (and your life) if you have a structure about it. This is not rock solid – remember plans and dreams change. You might find your “calling” 5 years down the road in something totally different from where you are now. But it’s good to start early. Thinking about what meaning or purpose you would like to get out of your career can help keep you grounded.
3) Constantly look for ways to expand your job role
A lot of us are pretty focused on climbing the career ladder. That’s the typical “vertical” promotion. But, have you thought about the “horizontal” expansion? That could involve moving sideways into other departments or taking on different roles in the same department. An article in Forbes compares the vertical promotion to the horizontal one as a Ladder vs a Lattice. The article argues that vertical promotions are seen as getting “better job titles”, whilst horizontal expansions as taking on new skills and adding value.
Personally, I think horizontal expansions are useful for you as they make you more all-rounded. You will be learning skills that you probably wouldn’t learn if you stay in the same department. And the different skills you gain will be extremely useful in future as many jobs demand that employees are all rounded.
Beyond promotions and expansions, expanding your job role could mean taking the initiative to volunteer for projects or small tasks. This allows you to learn new things and gives you a glimpse into how other departments in the organisation operate – something you might have been clueless about prior to this.
4) Go deep and go wide
There are loads of debates around how someone should be a generalist vs a specialist. Well, why not both? For instance, if you are a researcher in the Psychology field – learning about Cognitive Psychology is very specific psychologicali skill or knowledge domain that you can really go deep in. In contrast, a general research skill that researchers have is – data analysis. So I could then choose to develop my knowledge in Cognitive Psychology or in analysing data, or, I could even do it simultaneously.
Also, general skills are actually transferable – meaning, if you would want to change careers in the near future, it would be slightly easier. For instance, the data analysis skills can be transferred from the Psychology industry to say, the IT industry. Of course there will be gaps you need to plug, but at least you’ve got the fundamentals down pat. Having a specific skill that you are very good at can also be a part of your personal brand (see point number 1).
5) Expand your social networks
Networking sessions can be great, but if you aren’t into meeting strangers – try something closer to home. Mingle with your colleagues more – go for lunches or after work coffee together. It draws you closer and helps get to know the more personal side of your colleagues.
Who knows, a colleague might have knowledge of someone or something that will greatly help your life. I’ve had colleagues introduce me to fun social events that I still attend, help me discover new music and books; simply by having coffee with them.
Research has also shown that it helps build team spirit, resilience, strengthens communication and acts as a source of emotional support. These aids collaboration and overcoming challenges when shit hits the roof. Having networks with people outside your organisation or department is also a great way to seek alternative ideas, new ideas and to provide information.
6) Find a career coach or mentor
I personally recommend finding someone:
- Whom you have a good personal relationship with and who knows you fairly well. They are also in a better position to give advice that is tailored to your personality. People you have a personal relationship with are more invested in your growth and development – they are more likely to be interested in your needs, want to see you succeed and won’t hold back from giving you great advice.
- Who is in a similar role or industry and is more senior than you or a few steps ahead of you in their careers. They are able to give you advice on the potential challenges, options that you might have ahead of you and point out potential pitfalls.
It is important to make the most of these mentoring sessions. One recommendation is to discuss a “problem area” and work out the steps you would want to take to grow and have your mentor guide you through it. Each session could be a progress check. Having these sessions also enable you to be more purposeful and reflective about how you spend your time in the office.
7) Subscribe to your favourite career blogs
Career blogs cover a wide range of topics. Many address reader questions in their blog posts and have tons of recommendations. It is also helpful to see what issues others might be facing and learn from them – even if you aren’t facing them right now.
Ask A Manager is my absolute fav. The author, Alison is extremely knowledgeable and writes in a very authoritative but friendly manner. I learnt a alot of interview tips from her site and from fellow commenters. Some others include The Muse and Career Contessa. Forbes and HBR Blog (though this might require a subscription) also has some really thought provoking articles.
8) Read widely
This includes both news and books. Reading widely means you have interesting topics handy to talk about at networking sessions, business lunches etc. It helps break the ice and give you something to talk about other than work.
Reading books can also help you understand yourself, your colleagues and even your work better. I’ve read about things that have given me new ideas, new information about my work or the industry and solutions to problems. For instance, I’m not in the Education field, but picking up Dr. Carol Dweck’s book on Mindset has got to be one of the best things I’ve done this year. It has helped me see life – and my career from a very learning-oriented, “growth mindset” perspective. I’ve implemented some tips from the book and the results have been incredible.
There are many books and publications out there. They not only help you tackle tasks at work, but also offer you solutions for handling colleagues, bosses, work processes, asking for a higher pay and so on. The list is endless.
Which ones will you implement today?