College students and new graduates often seek advice from me. Typically, they want to know how they can maximize their chances to gain employment at various companies in industry. What we often don’t get to discuss, however, is what they can do to maintain their jobs once attained – and even better, how to grow their career inside and outside of the company going forward.
Interestingly, it is the “soft skills” that often defines a young professional’s chance for professional growth. Typically, people have fairly comparable technical skills for the roles in which they have been given. But it is the soft skills, the ability to have a bigger vision – for themselves and the company – and how they can best serve and provide value to their colleagues and leaders, that distinguishes them.
Unfortunately there are some cases where politics and workplace issues may negatively impact one’s chances for career growth at a particular company. The other issue that comes up is that individuals often think that career growth means jumping from company to company. And while it is true that we can often get a better title and salary by changing companies, we also need to make the most of our current roles, to develop our experience and demonstrate why we can handle the next level roles. If there is no leadership experience, as an example, it’s hard to make a case or justify hiring someone from the outside applying for a leadership position.
Ultimately, regardless of the paths taken, if one’s goal is to truly grow as a person, and provide value in his or her profession, then cultivating and incorporating the following five concepts will be beneficial for that individual:
As discussed previously on my blog, recent psychology research from Carol Dweck, Ph.D. emphasizes the importance of having a growth mindset (click here to access that post). Very quickly, a “fixed mindset” means that we believe we have a finite amount of intelligence or ability (and wind up defending or proving that in our endeavors), whereas “growth minded” individuals go through life thinking that they can always improve and learn more. Essentially, growth minded individuals focus on the process of learning and essentially don’t pressure themselves into thinking they only have so much ability or intelligence — that ability and intelligence are not necessarily innate.
This is something I absolutely wish I knew at 22 years old. Interestingly, I recall one of my first managers talking with me about how it was okay to make mistakes, that it’s part of the learning process. I’m not sure why he mentioned that during a conversation with me, but I suspect he detected that I didn’t want to take much risk with my work! I remember thinking, “How could I possibly allow myself to make a mistake? I could get fired!”
But in hindsight, I think his real message was to adopt the growth mindset. I now realize his true warning, that by pressuring myself to be perfect all the time, I wasn’t giving myself the permission to grow. And putting that undue pressure on myself was making my life more stressful and perhaps inhibiting my learning.
Therefore, when we start our careers, it’s best to acknowledge we don’t know everything and to do our best to keep growing, that we “just haven’t mastered it yet.” This mindset will be more fruitful in the long run.
If you’re familiar with my first book, or a member of my coaching program, the Design Your Success Academy, then you know what the “Optimization Framework” is. But if you haven’t heard of it, it can be boiled down to this:
We can apply engineering concepts to our lives. We can look at ourselves as a “system to engineer” and put all extraneous things outside of our system.
While it may sound simple, I explain in my book that most of us do not operate that way. The world is so complex, with so many distractions, and it often requires conscious effort to separate ourselves from everything entering our attention. That’s why we have to consciously realize that the only thing we can 100% control is ourselves, and therefore we can look for ways we can “optimize” (as an engineer would) our success by optimizing ourselves.
If we applied this concept as new grads / working professionals, it would be so helpful. I have had hundreds of conversations with friends over the years about stressful work situations, managers, colleagues, etc. But the fact of the matter is, we really can’t change the things we complain about (and yet most conversations always ended with the glimmer of hope that the other entity – the perceived source of the issue — would change!) The best we can do is control ourselves, and perhaps by being our “best selves,” we can influence things for the better.
Adopting this framework would help reduce the stress, thereby allowing management of the multitude of issues that come up to be better. In turn, we can focus on our growth more and spend less energy on being upset about everything else.
Perspective: Practice Different Vantage Points to Develop Strategic Thinking
This is a concept I touched on it a previous post (click here to access it). The bottom line is that we need to develop strategic thinking. One of the best ways to develop strategic thinking is to practice looking at situations from different perspectives. For instance, if I start to get stressed by something in my life, I take the 30,000 foot view of it. Somehow, pretending that I’m in a plane, looking down on an issue, helps me separate and get the clarity and objective view that I need to make better decisions in a situation. Learning this skill is very valuable, especially when you start working and need to be objective as you manage various issues.
Entrepreneurial Mindset: Be the CEO
Thinking of myself as the CEO of my own company, as if my company is being paid to deliver services where I’m employed, is a subtle but powerful mindset shift for a working professional. This entrepreneurial mindset is an advanced version of the optimization framework I mentioned earlier, where you are learning to take responsibility for yourself. If you can get to this point, where you are taking full responsibility for every action (or lack of action) and looking at everything as an entrepreneur, you can really boost your effectiveness.
One of the reasons I think this is so powerful is because many working professionals I know don’t read any personal development books; however, entrepreneurs often do. I find it so interesting that “career development” and “personal development” are often different in terms of topics. One of the reasons I like to frame everything in the “engineering” or “optimization” framework is because it actually brings all of this together: figuring out how to optimize or be your best self; it doesn’t necessarily boil down to having the best resume. It boils down to having both the best resume and a DEEP foundation in terms of mindset, skills, approach, etc. — essentially the best of both the “career development” and “personal development” worlds.
Adopt a Productivity System that Works for You
I have experimented with many different approaches to be productive (hence my inspiration for my productivity book). There is no one system that is perfect for everyone, which is why it is important to find the system that works for you. Some systems are very complex while others are simple. My focuses on a system you can use if other systems haven’t really worked for you, and furthermore will focus on root cause analysis and deeper issues to help you in the future.
This post is only the tip of the iceberg (many books could be written on this topic); I hope it served you. Feel free to comment below!
Lisa Kardos, Ph.D. blogs about how we can optimize our lives for the better! (achieve happiness, success, and what we hold in our hearts!) She enjoys helping people overcome challenges to achieve their dreams.
Dr. Lisa Kardos has experience in chemical engineering, management, higher education, public speaking, and career development. She is the Founder of the Lisa Kardos School of Excellence and the Amazon Bestselling Author of Optimize for Victory: A Simple Approach to Overcome Challenges and Achieve Your Dreams.