Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Managing Your Career in Your 20's

Following close on the heels of my two previous posts titled Investing in Your Twenties & Buying Insurance in Your Twenties, today's post is all about managing your career in your 20's. Tomorrow's post will explore the pros and cons of buying a house while in your twenties.

In your twenties, your biggest asset is your career. Your career represents a large potential cash flow, that over decades you will be able to convert into hard cash. Like managing an investment portfolio, your career too must be managed and proper management will have a tremendous impact on the "cash value" of your career.

Below are a few principles for optimizing the"return on investment" that your career generates over the long term:

Focus on Your Next Job - the most important piece of advice I can offer is the following. Don't worry about your current job, worry about your next job. My reasoning is as follows: you already have your job, it's a done deal. Setting yourself up to get the next job is the trick. In your day to day work, always consider how the projects you take, the training you receive, the people you meet and so forth will impact your ability to get to the next step in your career. To the best of your ability, do only those things that will improve your chances for taking that next career step. Avoid like fire anything that is likely to damage your career.

Invest Prudently in Education - there are some professions that require a college degree. There are others where a degree is inferior to on the job experience. There are some career goals that are only attainable with advanced degrees, for other positions advanced degrees are useless. Everything else being equal, I always prefer to invest in education, but just like any other investment, always consider your ROI. What do you expect to get for your education?

My career goal is to eventually become a top marketing executive in a large publicly traded company. With that career goal in mind, getting an MBA made a lot of sense for me. Having those three letters on my resume is almost mandatory for this type of career objective.

Experiment - I subscribe to the notion that people generally excel at something that they love to do. I also believe that the opposite is true: if you excel at something you will tend to like it. With that in mind, don't be afraid to spend your twenties trying out a few types of jobs. Be sure you are finding the career path that is right for you. You may be spending decades in your career once you settle in, so be sure you are choosing well.

I followed my own advice. In my twenties I was in the military, I was a sales person, and I was a lawyer. I then decided to go to business school, after which I settled into my current career path of marketing (following a few other minor detours). It seems like a tortuous path to take, but it was completely worth it. In addition, my many past lives have given me a lot of interesting perspectives that most professionals in my field do not share. That is one of the unique values that I bring to the table.

Be Patient - experimentation is good, lack of patience is bad. A good friend of mine has been bouncing from one job to the next for the better part of a decade. He is simply impatient. Every time he has a boss that gets on his nerves, or a project that he doesn't like, he quits. With that kind of strategy your career cannot possibly go very far. My advice to you is: persevere. Keep your eye on the long term goal and ride out any short term turbulence. If you think that your current position is taking you to the next step in your career, hold out and keep focusing on your plan. In the case of my friend for example, had he waited just two months before quitting his most recent job because of a boss he disliked, the problem would have solved itself. The boss left of his own accord.

Have a Career Plan - Nothing good happens without a plan. OK, that's not strictly true. Some good things happen by chance, but bad things happen by chance as well. Your chances of getting where you want to go vastly improve if you take the time to articulate to yourself, perhaps even in writing, what your career objectives are. Don't make a federal case out of it, a simple statement will do. Once you have the ultimate goal in mind, work backwards. Where do you need to be just prior to achieving your goal? What is the step prior to that? What do you need to do to get you to each of those steps. If you don't know, find out. When you know what needs to be done, your chances of actually doing it improve dramatically.

Negotiate Your Salary Aggressively - OK. Here is where we are talking about cold hard cash. The better you negotiate the more prosperous you will be. For additional information about how to negotiate your compensation package, take a look at these two recent posts: What Is Your Market Value; and Negotiating a Job Offer.

1 comment:

plonkee said...

This is interesting because I am in my late twenties and somehow fell into a career that I enjoy.

I don't do well with planning and my career path has worked out because I've basically picked assignments that I think would be interesting and/or I'd be good at. I've got to the stage where people specially request me for work that I like.

I don't know, though if this is all just more luck than judgement.