Make Your Career Move: Stay Flexible, Prepared, Involved


October 22,  2010
Nashville Business Journal

Finding a real career is about finding our way. Few of us begin a business career with a clear, long-term direction. Rather, most of us spend a few years learning and adjusting before settling on a general direction. And those plans are still subject to change.

In fact, remaining flexible may be a boon for your career. You may wind up in a position far different than you originally intended—and happier in it. As a good friend of the Scarlett Leadership Institute always says, “You will receive that big promotion way after you think you should have received it and when you least expect it.”

As we experiment, fine-tune our skill set and learn how to function and achieve within an organization, our knowledge and confidence grows and we mature in the professional world. Along the way we might also earn one or two low-level promotions. It is also likely that we screw up several times and get our nose properly bloodied. That’s how we learn.

But while we all need sufficient time to find our way in the professional world, there are a few tips that can help you do that a little quicker—and with fewer bloody noses.

Prepare: Being prepared in every possible way is one of the keys to building your career. Study all that you can; subscribe to trade journals; dig deeper on the Web; go to seminars; and learn from your colleagues. You can set yourself apart by becoming an expert in some aspect of your business. Work at becoming the “go-to person” on one topic. When you earn go-to status on a subject, you are automatically more valuable to your company and you gain the respect of others in the organization.

Get involved: Keep up with the developments in your organization: new products, special initiatives, process changes, expansion, etc. Change in an organization often creates opportunities, and you want to be ready to take advantage of those when they arise. Volunteer for special projects. You will learn new things, possibly meet key executives and will likely be recognized for your contribution. Seek out those special assignments—in many cases they lead to big career opportunities.

Network: Networking inside and outside your company is another important aspect of building your career. The better connected you are, the greater access you have to information, which can set you apart from the pack and help you gain recognition in your industry. Take every opportunity to associate with both peers and superiors in your organization. Attend professional events; make an effort to meet as many key people as you can; collect business cards and stay in touch; and don’t waste your lunch break eating at your desk—it’s a great time to network. 

Act the part: At the Scarlett Leadership Institute, we often use the phrase “leaders are always on stage,” which means that everything we do and say is being observed in some way by others. It is important to our long-term growth to maintain a professional approach in everything we do and with every person we meet. Stay cool and professional under all circumstances—it will pay off in the long run. Your personal appearance and conduct are also extremely important, so dress for the job you want, shake hands with confidence and always wear a smile.

Employers seek individuals with knowledge, energy, enthusiasm, ambition and a positive attitude. If you strive for these core values, your career may just fall in your lap.


Joe Scarlett, joe@joescarlett.com
Retired Chairman of Tractor Supply Company
Founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute

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