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Practical Career Management Rules
Dr. Sumantra Sengupta
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
I recently attended a talk given by a partner from one of the leading recruiting firms on the topic-"career management and networking." A number of the nuggets of advice were extremely helpful but I came away from the session attempting to amalgamate the tips into one whole, which could be used to aggressively manage one's own career and not just be a part of the "herd". Here are some simple management rules that are practical and effective.

Technical brilliance is simply not enough
Technical brilliance is now considered table stakes as opposed to being a huge differentiator. Strong business acumen is essential for career progression. The ability to traverse broader business issues and couple them with technical acumen always makes for a dynamic combination in an associate.

Segment and build redundancies in your career
Everyone must have career options. In today's dynamic and often unpredictable business environment, the ability to flex one's career path and track is necessary. While managing one's career, every two years the career options should evolve. At any given time, have at least two well defined career paths / tracks that will provide similar risk and rewards.

Your resume is a great asset - nurture it!!
Post academia the resume is one of the greatest assets for a job seeker. So specific care and attention is important. Keep it updated with recent accomplishments. I find that many senior executives allow their resumes to become dated or stale. This can be dangerous in the business dynamics that exist today.

Create the support infrastructure
The support infrastructure is a key success element that is often overlooked by many professionals. This support system comprises of a group of individuals from various parts of the organization who will serve as a soundboard for ideas, act as mentors / coaches, as well as provide career guidance for progression within the organization.

All relationships are only several degrees apart
There is a somewhat new concept around peer-to-peer connections through networking Web sites such as www.linkedin.com. It measures the degrees of separation between any two individuals. I am a big believer in the fact that most relationships are never more than two or three degrees apart i.e. you know someone who knows someone who will eventually know the person that you are trying to establish a connection with. This type of relationship management allows for a much more disciplined approach to create and build an extended eco system of individuals who can act in a collaborative fashion. Never underestimate the power of the personal links that can be used very effectively for mutual benefit.

Outward facing network development is key
By nature, most tech professionals tend to be introverted. However, in a dynamic business environment, it is prudent to have a network outside the organization where one works. Such networks can be cultivated from within one's industry or area of expertise. Most functional areas or industry sub- groups have conferences that serve as an excellent venue to meet people.

Be a quick study of the Political Quotient of an organization
Every organization has varying degrees of politics that often calls for delicate balancing of various executive agendas. I call the amount of politicking that occurs in an organization--a Political Quotient. It is best to do a very quick study of the PQ of an organization so that one can steer clear of the conflict areas that exist especially in the early days of tenure.

Always adhere to the “time / learning” graph
A CEO once drew a chart for me that remain etched in my mind even after a decade. I call it the Time - Learning graph and have used it to decide if it is time to change assignments, jobs or even career path. The X-axis denotes the amount of time spent in your job and the Y-axis denotes the amount of personal learning that occurs during that time. A simple rule that I use takes a 12 - 24 month forward view of the job to determine if there are potential learning opportunities in the current position in the future. If the answer has a high probability of being affirmative, then stick around in the existing position, else try to find something that will hold your interest and will motivate you to continue to perform at your highest potential.

Loyalty is a two way street
Organizational loyalty is very important and has to be a two-way street i.e. the organization should demonstrate loyalty towards it's employees and in turn the employees must be extremely loyal to their organization. The days of lifetime employment are gone forever. So, in these times of constant restructurings, we must impose upon ourselves the discipline to understand what we can and must expect from our organization of choice.

Pace yourself
Most of us take assignments or jobs because we believe that we will be able to make a difference. Despite best efforts and desires to make rapid and positive impact in the organization, there is a certain amount of inherent latency that will always be built into the process. Some organizations can go through series of changes in rapid succession and still maintain focus on the external market; employees, shareholders etc and some tend to become extremely internally focused.

Only the paranoid survive
Former Chairman of Intel, Andy Grove, wrote a book titled "Only the Paranoid Survive". I firmly believe in using this as one of my personal golden rules of career management. We must not get complacent in our assignments, jobs, and organizations or begin to believe in the theory that one is irreplaceable. Everyone is replaceable in today's extended economy with the only difference being the degree of pain and discomfort.

Don't be the slowest runner in the bunch
A very close friend and colleague of mine once mentioned this as one of his personal goals. It struck me as one of the most logical pieces of advice I received from anyone. The essence of his comment was that as long you were not lagging the pack in your career management within the organizational constructs, there would always be someone behind you who will feel the disruption first. This will give you a little breathing room to adjust and perform course corrections as necessary.

Finally, there is no "one size fits all" solution that works in the complex problem of managing one's career. Despite best efforts, one has to maneuver through various twists and turns in professional life. It is important to remember that despite short-term setbacks that seem unnecessary or even unfair, one's professional career requires conditioning of a marathon runner and not that of a 100 yards sprinter.

Dr. Sengupta is the Managing Partner, at Shacht LLC. He can be reached at information@shacht.com
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