When it comes to the relationship between career success and career ownership, it really is all about you. "People don't have a clue about what's driving their successes and failures. They think it's their boss, their work environment, their company—whatever," says E.R. Haas, CEO of ThinkTQ, an organization offering publications and services aimed at helping people take ownership of their careers.
"You are the driver for your own happiness and career fulfillment," adds Sherrie Gong Taguchi, author of The Career Troubleshooter: Tips and Tools for Overcoming the 21 Most Common Challenges to Success. "Each of us owns our career for a lifetime."
Identify Strengths and Weaknesses
Deciding what skills you need in order to achieve career fulfillment is a good place to start. Compare your skills to the ones required in jobs you admire—then create a plan to fill in the gaps. Haas, who along with coauthor and business partner Kent Madson and others has created a book (The Power of TQ) and a Web site (www.thinktq.com), emphasizes that it is skills, not just talents, that help you achieve your goals. "A lot of people have talents, but they never turn them into skills," says Haas. The ThinkTQ Web site offers a free assessment to find out which areas of performance might be holding you back.
Maximize Training Opportunities
Take advantage of the career training your company provides to strengthen your knowledge in areas critical to your company's future. If your company doesn't offer training, start by evaluating the marketplace on your own. Talk to colleagues and friends and conduct informational interviews with people in other organizations. "Take a course at a local college or online, start a career action group [similar to a book club but focused on career development], or find a recruiter," says Taguchi. "A recruiter with expertise in your field can give you terrific insight into your marketability, who is hiring, where the growth opportunities are, and the ideal candidate profile."
Consider Action Learning Assignments
In addition to strategies like mentoring and cross-training, some companies encourage action learning or developmental assignments—jobs designed to accelerate career growth in return for the employee's gaining a new skill that brings value to the organization.
Taguchi offers the example of a manager at a technology firm who liked his job but wanted a change. He believed that he could strengthen his career with an overseas assignment, so he found one with his current employer. The new culture and work environment were stimulating, he kept his seniority with the company, and he continued using his skills and knowledge. His company benefited because a valued employee gained global business experience.
If a developmental assignment isn't available, create your own action-learning plan. "Find someone whom you admire who is in a job that you sense you would enjoy," says Taguchi. "Ask if, on your own time, you might be able to shadow them or assist with a project or activity to gain greater exposure to what they do."
Know When to Make a Change
Sometimes the best way to advance a career is to take time off for assessment and reflection. "From the thousands of CEOs, managers, and individual contributors whom I have advised, those who are thriving are the ones who have been able to live their purpose and passion in their career, drive their own paths, and have a career in context of their total life vision," says Taguchi. "The most challenging part about managing our careers is perhaps in the self-assessment—taking the time and doing the soul-searching."
If time off doesn't seem feasible, try working your passions into your time outside your job. Look for interesting volunteer activities or do something new—write a business book, for example, or take up a hobby that will enhance your skills. Either way, you'll gain insight and experience that will help you decide whether to pursue a change—large or small—in your career.
Patty Waddington is a staff writer with Profit: The Business of Technology.