Who’s in your career corner? - Michelle Gibbings

Who's in your corner

Success rarely happens alone. This tried and tested statement came to the fore over the weekend, as I was baulking at doing something because I was worried about being judged. A former colleague stepped into a support role and helpfully challenged me – spelling out all the reasons why I should and to better back myself.

It was a great reminder of the role that the people around you play in your career decisions and outcomes. Often the people that care for you will see what you need before you can see it yourself.

It might be a family friend who helped you get your first job. A former work colleague who referred you to someone, which led to your new job. A boss who advocated and backed your promotion. It could be a comment from years ago that has helped to steer your career decisions.

When it comes to your career, contacts and relationships matter. Researchers refer to this as your ‘developmental network’. The people in this network take an active interest in your career and take action to help advance it. They can include family, friends, peers, colleagues and community contacts.

Marianne Ekonen from JAMK University of Applied Sciences and Pia Heilmann from the University of Eastern Finland examined the role that these networks play in a manager’s career. Their research found that your developmental network is integral to your career.

Similarly, Jihyun Chang and colleagues found that developmental networks matter. The research, which focused on females, found that it’s not just who is in the network, what matters is the level of intimacy and depth of the relationships, and so too the size of the network—also, having people in the network who had status and were well connected also increased career satisfaction.

While we all know that career success is never a solo venture, we often don’t pay enough attention to whom we need alongside us, supporting, encouraging and challenging our career steps.

I liken the developmental network to having your personal Career Advisory Board. Just as corporate boards provide advice and guidance, so will your Career Advisory Board. These people will provide advice, share insights, constructively challenge your thinking and actions, and provide connections and ideas.

Having a Career Advisory Board will help you to:

  1. Expand your perspective on what’s possible and practical concerning your career
  2. Connect with people you don’t currently know that will facilitate and accelerate your career
  3. Overcome challenges and remove roadblocks, particularly if you find yourself becoming complacent or looking for the easy way out
  4. Be inspired by hearing success and failure stories and seeing what’s achievable when you put your mind to it
  5. Remain focused on what matters when it comes to career and life success, and not be distracted by shiny new toys

When thinking about your board, there is a range of roles that can be filled. This can include:

  • Mentor – this is a person/s who has been where you want to go and can provide advice on what the next steps may look like
  • Sponsor – the people (or person) who advocates for you and will be in your corner cheering you on
  • Career coach – who will be a sounding board and provide moral support and encouragement when it gets tough or you encounter unforeseen challenges. They can help you navigate choices and work through your decision process
  • Advisor/s – who will offer advice on core aspects of your career and life and may include a financial advisor, technology specialist, marketing advisor, thought leader or expert in related fields
  • Industry contacts and friends – who will provide advice, ideas and contacts in your current or future career field

Who is on your Advisory Board will change over time as your and their needs and circumstances change. The people involved can be directly connected with your career or adjacent to it. They may be work-based relationships or socially focused.

Sometimes, the roles may be formal and other times, informal. For example, I’ve had people I see as sitting on my advisory board who don’t know they play this role in my life. They are people I turn to and whose advice I trust.

Your board doesn’t have monthly meetings, and there are no minutes or formal rules of engagement. It’s a concept intended to get you to think about who can help support and encourage your career choices. As you do this, you can think about the five C’s.

It can help to consider people who can:

  • Challenge – constructively challenge your ideas, thoughts and actions, so you are deliberately constructing the path forward and not always taking the path of least resistance
  • Contribute – helpfully share the lessons they have gleaned and the insights they have gathered throughout their career
  • Context – have a perspective and understanding of critical issues and ideas and are willing to put those forward, but not in a way that is dogmatic or will hamper you from you making your own choices
  • Cultivate – can expand your mind and beliefs on what is possible and the opportunities that exist for you
  • Connect – connect you with people in their network who can, in turn, broaden and strengthen your network

In all this remember, relationships are always a two-way street, so for the people on your advisory board always look for ways to support and help them too. Above all else, be appreciative.

As the American writer and statesman William Jennings Bryan said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved”.  So, when you think about who is in your career corner what do you need to do next?

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