September 20, 2012

Get the 4 Career “Rights” Right

right choice highway conceptHard work. Skill mastery. A variety of experiences. A remarkable portfolio. These are the primary ingredients to landing your next big job or promotion… or so you thought.

Of course, these factors are major influences on how your career advances, but there are a handful of other factors – the four “rights” – that have nothing to do with your performance. Put bluntly, most of these other factors have little or nothing to do with you at all, though they can potentially have a profound impact on the trajectory and success of your career. Take a look at some of the external “passive” factors that influence your growth as a professional and how to transform them into stepping stones to better things.

1. The first “right” is finding the right industry in which to focus your abilities. No matter what field you find yourself in, there are understood ways to advance your career, but it is easy to see that growth industries will offer the most opportunities for climbing the ladder compared to businesses that are stagnant or declining in scope. So being enmeshed in an emerging, booming, or stable industry will always be your best bet for finding plentiful ways to reach your goals. And while this doesn’t mean you should abandon your current industry if you are firmly established or passionate about it, you can’t go wrong by at least exploring options in other related fields that may interest you.

2. Knowing the right location can also play a major role in determining whether you will find sufficient opportunities for forwarding your career. It’s a good bet that you can examine your industry and imagine areas of the country that would best suit your skill set (e.g. Silicon Valley for technology jobs). So, if you are committed to a particular industry, it is smart to consider where your field is more prevalent so that you can more easily find beneficial opportunities, develop more relationships with people in your industry, and avoid the level of job competition that would be present in an area with fewer opportunities.

3. Speaking of developing relationships, who you know can be the most influential factor in how you progress in your career field. In fact, your professional network is often the primary means of finding new jobs or getting bumped up the ladder. Having the right professional network is a powerful tool whether you are in the job market or not. Perhaps the best way to expand this vital network is to join an industry group which not only offer opportunities to meet other industry professionals, but also occasions for specialized training, job boards, and other resources that can help heave your career forward.

4. Finally, it is often necessary to realize that no matter how well the previous three factors come together, having the right mentor at your disposal can mean the difference between years of trial-and-error toiling and a fast track to the top of your field. Education is never a replacement for experience and a lot of that experience can be condensed from having great conversations with a well-heeled mentor. Not only can a mentor guide you in avoiding career pitfalls but can also identify easily overlooked advancement opportunities, facilitate the development of relationships with upper management, and guide you through some of the more challenging aspects of your profession. Mentors can also be good resources for recognizing skill areas that need to be explored to open up more varied opportunities.

Career advancement is never easy, nor should it be. But by keeping a tight grip on the variables that you can control, and identifying and taking advantage of external factors that may not involve you directly, you can place yourself on the right career track and propel yourself towards your career goals at a faster, but more manageable, pace.

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Joshua Bjerke, from Savannah, Georgia, focuses on articles involving the labor force, economy, and HR topics including new technology and workplace news. Joshua has a B.A. in Political Science with a Minor in International Studies and is currently pursuing his M.A. in International Security.