More often than not, I am asked for career advice. How did I get started? How did I get to where I am today? What can I do to have a strong career plan for myself?
Given we are all back from summer vacations now and getting back to selling and growing CSC, I thought I would take the opportunity to plant some seeds for you on how to sell and grow you!
Top advice to remember
I have career coached several hundred people in their teens trying to decide on what major to take at University to people 2 years from retirement and what to do in their last few years working and after retirement. One thing in my career journey I have found is that I love interacting with people and can learn from anyone.
1) Have a plan
At the end of the day it really comes down to one thing – have a plan. Plans can change, but you need a compass heading to know where you want to go. If that is not clear, then it is hard to build a plan to get there. This is not easy work for most people, including myself. When I was deciding where to go to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I liked science and math. I literally looked at the latest data for starting salaries for engineering (old school style in a magazine) and there at the top was electrical engineering. So I applied to several schools and chose to attend UCLA – top 5 at the time and with some good weather (important to a California native from San Diego – why the heck am I in the Nordics is another future blog subject). As I finished up at UCLA, there was a huge reduction in engineering in the aerospace industry and others where I had planned on working. So I executed plan B, get a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering – which I did at San Diego State University as I was paying for it myself and could live for free at home (thanks Mom & Dad). As I was finishing up my MSEE, I started applying everywhere and my plan was find a stable, well paying job where I could learn a lot.
2) Find a job where you will learn a lot
This last point is key to supporting your career plan – ALWAYS find a job where you will learn a LOT – of course you need to bring your skills to the table, but find a job you are a bit worried you can do. It will challenge you, it will force you to grow, and build your confidence in the skills you have, and also shine light on those areas where you can improve. Many of the jobs I have taken, people (and I mean very senior people who I respect) have questioned why would I want to do that job? For me, it was a hunger to learn. And when you learn, you add content to your resume. I tell people when they ask me, look at your resume every six months – if you can’t add something new to it, you are not learning.
3) Know your enablers and constraints in your career
One of the first things I ask people when I talk to them about their career is “what is most important to you?”. Is it who you work for, is it making a difference to society, is it making the most money you can – what is it that makes you jump out of bed in the morning excited to go to work? Make a list of the top 3 and then use these as a set of attributes you should see your career plan making happen. For me, I was lucky enough to have a Saint for a wife – she has been up for making moves at the drop of a hat and doing more than her share of parenting and taking care of home. This is not always the case. Sometimes aging parents, kids schools, a spouses career will affect your career plan. These enablers and constraints will allow you to create a realistic plan where you will be happy.
When I was finishing my MSEE at San Diego State, I was recruited by the United States Government. The pay was awful, but I could be promoted quickly if I performed and I would get more experience thrown on my shoulders earlier than any of my peers in the private industry. On top of that, it was very fulfilling knowing that I was serving my country and helping in my own way, the world to be a better, safer place. In a few years, I was one of the deepest technical experts in complex missile systems, satellite communications, and the Global Positioning System. As I was given more responsibility, I was asked to lead teams of people and found out soon enough that was my passion.
4) You should have a plan, but feel free to change it
So instead of pursuing a PhD at the Naval Postgraduate School, I decided to do my MBA. My new passion was to be the best leader I could be. Also, I was rapidly outgrowing the U.S. Government’s career path. Within 7 years, I had reached the top of the civil service. In addition, with two kids, a mortgage, and underwhelming pay in the civil service, I really felt it was time to do something different. I decided to consciously change my next couple job’s experience to be marketable outside of the Government and in the next few jobs got great experience in this “new thing” called the Internet and technology. After over 110 interviews with several companies that don’t exist anymore, I joined CSC. I actually had bad experience with CSC, but a relentless recruiter who kept asking me to talk to someone new at CSC every month, finally connect me with someone great. Someone I could learn from and in a role that I could do, but would be newly challenged – in management.
5) Create your own luck
HR will not create a career plan for you. Only you know after some thought what you are interested in doing next. Take positive control of your destiny, but be opportunistic. Decide what role or roles you would be thrilled to have when you retire. Make them ambitious enough that if you only made it “half way” to that goal you would still have a rewarding career. Then map the next several roles it takes to get to that final role. Look at the next job you need to get on that plan and start developing yourself for that role. Are you on that persons succession plan? Do people know you would like to have that job someday? Is there someone that can replace you when you leave (don’t get stuck because “you are too valuable”)? Look at the job description for that next role and look at your resume. Would you hire yourself for that job or what is missing? Get that experience. I heard a wise person once say “Luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity”. Be prepared, and when that role comes up, you are the only logical choice.
6) Have role models
When you decide what that final role before you retire is, find some role models who are in that job today. Follow them on Twitter, read about their experience, get to know people who are doing that job today. This will do several things for you. You will learn from their mistakes on what not to do. You will learn from their successes on what worked for them. You will begin to picture yourself in detail and in color doing that job – this will either reaffirm that you would love that job, or on second thought, maybe another role is better.
7) Build a personal board of directors & network
I once read that “you are the average of the people that you spend time with”. I am not sure I completely subscribe to that notion, but it does highlight the importance of challenging yourself to connect with new people you can learn from and challenge you. As you build your career over time, you will naturally build through job experiences a network of great people. In CSC, it’s such a great place to do this. With the combinations of clients, partners, competitors, and the great team we have, it is hard not to run into someone you can learn a lot from. Take advantage of this opportunity and be overly generous with your time to help and learn from others. Over time, build a trusted inner circle of people who know your career and can give you candid, direct advice on how to be a better leader, a better Java programmer, whatever your passion is – surround yourself with these advisors. They will lean on you and you can lean on them for help and advice.
To sum up – don’t become a victim of circumstances
In this first blog post, I just wanted to give you some background on my experience with career planning and what has worked for me, those I have coached, and many of my successful peers. I hope you found some inspiration in putting some structure around your career planning so you control your destiny and not become a victim of circumstances.
Keep charging, stay healthy, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback on planning a career.