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As a responsible young professional, you pay close attention to the management of your financial assets. You put aside a bit of each paycheck towards savings and paying off student loans, and you watch your 401K like a hawk. You try to follow the advice of financial advisors: implement a long-term strategy, and your diligence will pay off.
Now here’s a question about an even bigger asset: how well have you managed your own career?
Over the long-term, workers who earn the median US income of approximately $50,000 per year could earn more than a million dollars during their lifetimes. As important as the earnings, a career also brings a source of pride and identity. If you manage your career like your most important asset, you’ll not only maximize your financial return, but also achieve greater lifetime satisfaction.
To manage your career as your most important asset, follow these 10 steps:
1. Establish your own goals for growth, risk tolerance and security needs
You need a sense of what you want to accomplish. How high do you want to climb? How hard do you want to push? What risks, like moving to a new city, are you willing to take?
2. Find a mentor
Seek expert guidance from a knowledgeable person who’s interested in your success. Don’t just rely on your boss. Your mentor could be a sponsor, rabbi, colleague or family member who can share valuable wisdom and experience that you can apply to your career.
3. Strengthen and diversify your portfolio
What skills do you have, and what do you need to create the future you want to create? For example, if you specialize in a particular line of work, do you need general management skills and experience? If so, how can you get that experience?
One analyst I know could not get promoted to manager because she had no management experience—everyone’s Career Catch-22. She took a leadership position in a volunteer organization in her community and gained excellent experience quickly.
4. Assess the current market
Find out what’s available in the job market and what it’s worth. What are the trends? Where is the growth? Mainstream publications often publish lists of “fastest growing jobs.” Adapt your skill set to meet the demand.
5. Make career decisions based on facts, not emotions
Yes, trust your gut—but be sure your gut has been informed by the facts. Choose your next opportunity as carefully as you would choose a stock or mutual fund. Who is the manager? What’s their track record? How do others evaluate their performance? For mutual funds, we have Morningstar. For work environments, we have the word of mouth of employees or sites like Glassdoor to get an inside look at the culture and job satisfaction of others who work there.
6. Ask for what you need
We can be experts in some things, but not in everything. If your career isn’t moving in the direction you want or at the pace you expect, get specific feedback and guidance from bosses and colleagues that will allow you make changes.
7. Show a fast ROI
When you do get the opportunity you want, balance the learning curve with the need to show an immediate lift in your new organization. Establish a reputation for effectiveness, and then learn more. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “Did I add value today?” and “Did I enhance my own portfolio today?”
8. Monitor your progress and make course corrections as needed
Don’t wait for your annual review to take stock. A year is a long time. Too many opportunities to add value and build your network can be missed over that time.
9. Use all tools available to you
Look both inside and outside the organization to invest in your career and benchmark your progress. Check online postings, outside listings, articles on hot careers, classes to take, networks to join, etc.
10. Own it!
We would never say to someone else, “Here’s my house. Figure out what to do with it, and let me know.” Like homes, careers require ongoing maintenance, upgrading and periodic investments of time and money so they will grow in value.
The bottom line: invest in yourself and manage your career as you would your financial assets, using the help of trusted advisors. Your strategy will pay dividends.
Lisa Parker is an executive coach and author of the recent book Managing the Moment: A Leader’s Guide to Building Executive Presence One Interaction at a Time.