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10 Tips for Creating the Perfect Career

Improving your interview technique helps you to nail a new job. But having a great career involves more than simply getting one new job after another – it requires a bit of forethought and planning. Here are ten top tips for creating a fulfilling and rewarding lifelong career – in the UK and beyond.

Knowing what you want in a job

Many people aren’t that happy in their jobs. Given that we often spend more time at work than we do at home, wouldn’t thinking about how we can be more fulfilled in our jobs make good sense? Only when you have an idea of where you want to go can you start to think about the steps necessary to get there.

So take a bit of time to think about what you would like to be doing in five or ten years’ time. Will you be happy doing more of the same or something entirely different? Do you want a promotion?

Take some time to think about how you’d like your career remembered when you’re gone. If you have any unrealised ambitions, what should you be doing differently in order to achieve them? What training or practical experience do you need to help you achieve your goals?

Identifying your strengths and weaknesses

Many people hold themselves back at work because they delude themselves about their true strengths and weaknesses. To some extent, that pretty much everybody allows themselves a few delusions. And often the reason people can’t get a new job is because interviewers can see some weakness in them that they refuse to see in themselves.

You need to understand your weaknesses before you can work on them. And the best way of identifying these weaknesses is to gather feedback from people who know you. Identify six people who know you in a work context and send them an e-mail asking for their help.

You may choose colleagues or ex-colleagues, clients or customers, suppliers, or even an ex-boss. Tell these people that you’d greatly value their candid opinions on your strengths and weaknesses in order to help you with your career development. Make it clear to them that you don’t simply want compliments and platitudes, but some insight into how you come across to others.

Simply ask these people three questions:

  • What are my strengths?

  • What are my weaknesses?

  • How can I improve on my weaknesses?

Think carefully about the right people to ask for help. Avoid choosing friends or family who don’t know how you behave at work. Also, friends and family may not feel comfortable giving you incisive feedback for fear of offending or upsetting you.

Working on your weaknesses

After you have feedback on your strengths and weaknesses, you need to take action! Don’t ignore the feedback you receive. Dismissing feedback and thinking that those people don’t understand the real you is easy. But remember that if the people who know you can see certain weaknesses in you, then employers may decide not to give you a job because they can see those weaknesses too.

Candidates are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they present themselves at interviews. Competition is increasingly tougher for the best jobs too, so take every opportunity to work on your weaknesses.

Ask people for help in tackling your weaknesses. Trusted colleagues, your manager or even friends may have some ideas for how to make you more effective at work. Do you perhaps need training in a particular skill? Or do you just need to behave in a different fashion – perhaps being more assertive, sympathetic or tactful? Ask the people that you trust – and then listen to them.

Networking widely to reach more people

A massive market of jobs is never advertised, but instead filled by word-of-mouth alone. And the only way to access those jobs is to make sure that people know about you, your skills and experience. If you only take on board one piece of advice for building a successful and rewarding career – network more widely.

Get out of your office more often. Go to conferences and exhibitions for people in your field. Look for opportunities to meet new people and let them know who you are and what you can do. You never know when someone may know someone who is looking to fill a vacancy with a person just like you.

When you do meet people, show a genuine interest in them rather than trying to sell yourself to them. Ask them about their jobs, what they enjoy and what frustrates them. Try to be a good listener – this wins you more friends than trying to be a good talker.

Meeting new people is easy. But the hard work comes in keeping in touch with them and making sure that they remember you when someone they know is looking for a job. Drop people an e-mail every few months to see how they are. Continue to demonstrate your genuine interest in them rather than simply talk about yourself; this keeps you at the forefront of their minds.

Asking to see offers in writing

Being offered a job is a great feeling. Hurrah and congratulations! But always ask to see an offer in writing. You can read through the document at your own pace and see exactly what the company is offering you. Apart from the salary itself, does the offer satisfy your needs in terms of benefits?

Think about perks such as:

  • Medical insurance, death-in-service benefit.

  • Bonuses contingent on individual, team or company performance.

  • Pension contributions.

  • Car or car allowance.

  • Use of a mobile phone and/or laptop computer.

Employers can and do occasionally retract offers due to unforeseen circumstances. So keep attending interviews and never close off other job options until you’ve signed an ironclad employment contract.

Evaluating the job thoroughly

Apart from the pay and benefits, other factors are also important in considering a job offer. How much do you really want this job? How does it fit in with your long-term career plans? Given that you may be spending many months or even years in the job, do you think you’ll enjoy it?

No employer is ever perfect for you. Always ask for at least a couple of days – more if the role is senior – to think about a job offer and consider whether the position is totally right for you.

Think through some of the following considerations in weighing up whether to accept a job:

  • Usage of skills: Will this job allow you to use your favourite skills most (or at least some) of the time? For example, if you enjoy face-to-face contact with customers, will you be able to do so or will you be mostly dealing with paperwork or spending time in meetings with colleagues?

  • Advancement opportunities: Does this job fit into your long-term career plans? Are you looking to accept this offer because you think you will enjoy the position? Or are you looking to use this job as a stepping-stone for a future job – within or outside of the company?

  • Your boss: Can you meet your boss first? Or have you already met him or her? To what extent do you think you will get on with them and agree with their style of management?

  • The people: What are the rest of the team like? Are they the kind of people that you can work with? Can you imagine socialising with them?

  • The journey: How long will you have to spend commuting to the company’s offices? Is it an easy commute or a complicated journey? Would you have to relocate or would you be able to negotiate working from home occasionally to offset a long journey?

  • Work environment: How much do you like the actual workspace and building in which you’ll be working? And to what extent do you like the local area around the building or the town the organisation is based in?

Considering culture carefully

Being chosen over other candidates and offered a new job is thrilling. But remember that employers rarely tell candidates exactly what working for their company is like – or at least not voluntarily. Interviewers and recruitment brochures are there to sell a job to prospective candidates.

In deciding whether to accept a new job offer, you should weigh up the culture of the organisation – the unspoken rules that govern how people really behave at work.

Talking to people who already work there is the best way to evaluate the organisation’s culture. After you’re offered the job, ask the interviewers whether you can meet – or at least have a telephone conversation with – some of the current members of the team. What do they enjoy about working for the company? What frustrates them? What is it really like to work for that company on a daily basis?

People are usually guarded in talking to potential new colleagues, but with a little (polite) probing, you may find out some interesting information.

Make sure that you can satisfy yourself on cultural issues and questions. Consider the following questions:

  • How do managers treat employees?

  • To what extent does the company seem to communicate in an open and fair manner?

  • Does the atmosphere seem sociable and friendly?

  • Do you like the company’s dress code?

  • How much autonomy do employees seem to be given to do their work?

At the end of the day, can you satisfy yourself that you’ll be happy trying to fit into the unspoken rules of how to behave in this new company?

If you have any niggling doubts about whether a job is right for you, ask for more time to think about it. Never allow an employer to pressure you into accepting a position simply because they need someone to start quickly.

If you continue to have serious reservations about the suitability of an organisation, be willing to consider walking away from it. Turning down a job offer is far better than accepting it and quitting a few months down the line.

Negotiating a good deal for yourself

Your best chance to negotiate a better deal for yourself is when the interviewers offer you the job. They have eliminated the other candidates and decided that you are the only person that they want. If you’re unsatisfied with the salary or benefits, or perhaps the conditions of the job, you have nothing to lose by asking to have them tweaked to your satisfaction.

Don’t think only about asking for more pay or benefits. You may also want to consider options such as:

  • The hours that you work. For example, would you want to start earlier and finish earlier (or later)?

  • The nature of your job. Perhaps you would like to alter your job description to add or remove certain duties, or change the manager you work for.

  • The opportunities for training. You may want your employer to give you time off or financial sponsorship for a training course or qualification.

Whenever you want to ask for more, always try to justify what you’re asking for. Don’t just say what you want, but explain why it benefits both you and the employer. Emphasise what you bring to the company and what you intend to achieve for your employer.

When negotiating, bear in mind that a difference exists between what you want and what you need:

  • Wants: What do you ideally want to get out of the negotiation? Have a wish list of benefits that you’d like from an employer before agreeing to work for them. But bear in mind that you are unlikely to get everything that you ask for.

  • Needs: What are your minimum needs? For example, you may want a £35,000 salary, but be prepared to accept £32,000 because it would meet your needs. Understanding your wants versus your needs helps you to bear in mind your absolute bottom line and what compromises you are willing to accept when negotiating for more.

Asking and demanding are worlds apart. Asking for more in a positive and professional way may get you what you want. Demanding more only gets an employer’s back up.

Investing in your future

Most people are full of enthusiasm on joining a new organisation. But that enthusiasm can fade after a few years or even months. And then those people end up putting themselves on autopilot – going through the motions, but not thinking about what they can do to push themselves and develop in their careers.

Cruising is fine until you look for a new job. Interviewers want to know about your achievements. Will you have anything worthwhile to talk about?

Make sure that you build up your CV by participating in big projects, volunteering to join committees, chasing promotions or at least moving departments every couple of years. Always think about storing up achievements to put on to your CV and talk about in future interviews.

Your employer may say that they have your best interests at heart – but in reality the needs of the organisation always come above yours. If you don’t look after your own career, no one else will!

Looking for opportunities to grow

Employers don’t like to give big pay rises to long-standing employees. And getting more responsibility can be difficult if an organisation is happy to leave you where you are. Often, the only way to get more money or responsibility is to change employers. So always keep an eye on the jobs sections of newspapers and relevant websites.

Keep in touch with head-hunters and recruitment consultants. Even if you’re not currently thinking about changing jobs, update your CV and send it to them at least once a year so that you’re on file for possible future opportunities.

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