Tag Archives: success

The Greatest Challenge of Any Career

In a recent discussion, I was asked to identify the most common career challenge a person would face ….but only using a single word.  Without hesitation, I replied in one simple word….”People.”  They are the single greatest source for your success and also the single greatest barrier to it.  Maximizing the utilization of this resource is challenging to say the least.  After all, this resource does have a mind of its own.  With regards to achieving success with people, you’re totally dependent upon the people that surround you.  Makes sense, right? If you’re a real go-getter and want to move closer to living out your dreams, read on.

Credentials don’t matter.  I know most academic institutions will tell you that your MBA or other advanced degree will take you far but that’s just crap.  Academia and Private Industry have been at odds for many years on what young professionals need to be successful at work.  Let’s look at two work situations: where you have less credentials and where you have more credentials.  Years ago I worked in a research company with over 400 PhDs.  I didn’t have a PhD but began working on it during that time.  Meetings with these guys were what I called “swimming lessons.”  They were tough shouting matches and the best logic won.  They didn’t care what your credentials were.  You just had to be able to make a sound argument.  If you couldn’t, you educated yourself before you jumped in an argument.  Honestly, I’ve always appreciated meetings with people who prepare for the discussion ahead of time.  More recently, I’ve worked for companies with much less credentials, mostly bachelor degreed professionals.  The atmosphere is totally different.  They didn’t support free thinking and you certainly wouldn’t argue with anyone in a meeting, especially a manager.  This workplace characteristic stifles creativity and forces you to figure out ways to get your ideas out in the open, potentially reducing your value to the organization and even your will to try to help out.  So no matter how you look at it, your credentials won’t mean much to people around you.  However, you are much better off around people who will allow you to grow your thinking and learn from interactions with others.  It’s contribution over credentials.  If the people around you aren’t giving you that opportunity, your success will be very limited.

Managers do matter.  The bad part is that you don’t get to pick your boss.  When you join an organization, you’re assigned one.  Most of us join an organization because we need a job.  So we don’t question the assignment.  It isn’t until we learn that our boss isn’t a good match for us that we realize our career mobility is doomed.  While it’s difficult to express the probability of getting a good one or a bad one, the greater challenge is doing something about it when you do get a bad match, as this is more likely the case.   It’s the most important case anyhow.  A bad match can drive you crazy.  The question is what do you do about it?  Do you find another position in the company?  Do you change companies? Do you do nothing and hope the situation improves?  This is the most influential member of your career in a company and it’s critical that you understand who they are and whether or not they will assist you in growing your career.  If not, you need to find an advocate somewhere else in the company or find another company.  I’ve seen too many highly credentialed professionals sit in positions that didn’t need advanced degrees for too long waiting for hope to deliver an answer to their situation.

Peers are great but don’t bank on them.  One of my favorite speakers, Les Brown, said that you’ll make within $6000 (or so) of the people you put in your circle.  Well, if you aren’t making what you want, then you’ve got the wrong people in your circles.  If you want to get promoted, your coworkers probably can’t give that to you.  Most professionals still cling to the idea that doing great work will gain you all of the accolades you seek.  This simply isn’t true.  Hard work is necessary but there is no one watching you and waiting to shower you with success.  Most everyone is hoarding it for themselves.  The rapid pace of change and a declining loyalty to employees puts everyone in the short term mindset; that is, grab everything I can now because there’s no telling when my company will change and let me go.

Before we look at some possible solutions, we should understand why most of the people in organizations won’t provide much help.  There have been several changes in the corporate world that have spawned a transformation of the workplace.

  • No organizational structure. It’s really hard to seek help on how to grow your career when the company fails to define the possibilities.
  • No training or development. Employees are becoming disengaged and restless when the organization shows no interest in developing its own people.  According to an IvyExec survey, the main reason professionals seek executive education is to calm the desire to expand one’s professional and personal breadth.
  • Too much change. Companies that fail to figure out how to grow will constantly make drastic changes to improve their performance (e.g. restructuring, reorganizing, M&A).
  • Poor leadership focus. Management focus only on the financial aspects of the business, mostly to ensure they keep their job.
  • New employee mindset. Younger generations are seeking fulfillment from their jobs and will jump from company to company to find a meaningful career.  They want more than a job.
  • Remote work. Many companies have instituted telecommuting, flextime and working remotely, which separates employees from other members of the company.

These and other factors have drastically changed the work environment from one filled with strong personal relationships to one built on weak working relationships.  Employees are friendly at work but don’t really associate with each other outside of work.  We don’t take much of a personal interest in our coworkers anymore.  This is why simply allowing your environment to recognize your contributions to the business and reward them fails so miserably.  You must actively develop a team that can influence your career and promote your talents to those who can make a difference.

So, how do you find the right people?

Finding the right people is really about knowing who to look for.  Over the years, I’ve worked with some really brilliant people who are working at the top of some of the greatest organizations in existence today.  These professionals search for three key factors in the people that they put in their network.

Level of Success.  As I’ve said before, it doesn’t do you much good to connect with people who have the same or less success than you do.  You need to find people who have achieved what you want.  They can show you how they get there.  With that knowledge, you can chart your own course.

Reputation.  Reputation is everything.  Reputations were once only word-of-mouth opinions.  Today, they are everything you write, tweet, blog, publish and memorialize.  Once you find a highly successful person with a good reputation, get out a notebook and prepare to learn.

Expertise.  Most highly successful people know what they don’t know and how important that lack of knowledge is to their career.  These voids are filled by professionals who are experts in these areas.  Don’t waste time trying to learn everything.  Find experts who can provide the specific information you need.  That means you need to know what you need from these experts, which is where most professionals fall short.

Where do find them?

You probably won’t like this but many of the people you need in your network actually will meet you face to face.  I know the Internet tells you social media is the best place for everything.  Unfortunately, that’s not how real relationships are made.  That has to be done in person.  Networking events and professional associations are still the best scenes for building your network of successful people.  Yes, it takes work and time to find the right people.  Sometimes, it can take years but it is well worth it.  After all, your career will last a long time so don’t try to sell yourself short on the resources that will make your life a phenomenal success.

Thanks for reading such a long post.  Here’s to your success!

I’m More Than What I Do

I really hate the fact that everyone judges me by only what I do in my job.  It’s like I don’t have any other skills than the ones that are needed for it.  When I look at management, I see backgrounds and experiences that seem to be all over the place. Some have more credentials but most have less.  Yet, my experience is obviously too limited to consider me for any other opportunities (or so others think).  I’ve seen this happen inside my current company and even on the outside by recruiters and HR personnel.  Recruiters will say “well, this is all you’ve ever done.”  Well, I thought, doesn’t just about every manager that has taken such a role enter it with little to no experience?  I thought, how is the risk any different with me?  Isn’t management one of those positions that have very little requirements for entry (not like an engineer, doctor or lawyer)?  Someone had to take a chance on them.  Why not me?

Have you struggled to figure out why opportunities don’t come your way?  You have lots of skills and you put in enormous efforts to keep them current and even upgrade them.  Yet, all of this goes unnoticed.  Opportunities are not as abundant in the workplace as society would have us believe and most of these aren’t handed out fairly.  Despite that, we keep hope and devote energy to our dreams.  Too often the dream starts with a job in our chosen profession.  We slave away at it for years trying to prove to ourselves that we are really good at it. Once we are comfortable with our performance, we seek to impress others.  But if our efforts go unnoticed for too long, we lose motivation and begin questioning our perception of our own abilities. It affects us. Some lose motivation.  Yet, others are launched into their own personal reformation.

When I began, it was all about my dream.  I would have done anything to achieve the greatness I sought.  I just didn’t know how to go about achieving it.  So, I did what I heard others say.  That didn’t lead anywhere.  Why?  It wasn’t where I wanted to go.

Listen to your dream.  I wanted to be successful.  That was all the definition I had.  I understood the capital I was willing to invest in it.  I was going to learn all I could, work as long as it took and devote whatever energy was required.  I kept moving forward and accomplishing things.  Yet, it didn’t seem to produce the success I sought.  Perhaps I wasn’t defining the right direction for what I pursued.  Did I ever sit down to truly define what my big success looked like?  No.  I was simply using a trial and error method.  I’d have a little success.  Then, I would wait to see what happened.  If nothing happened, I would work hard, achieve something and try it all over again. The success didn’t come.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening.

I was driving through my career with a GPS on the dash but I didn’t have a destination plugged in.  I based my happiness on how the journey felt.  But at times I would pull over and realize I wasn’t happy where I was.  But where should I be?  I didn’t really define where I wanted to go or a path for getting there.  This is what many of us do.  No real plan.  No real direction.

Then, one day I was driving down the road listening to the radio.  You know, all that career noise out there that tells us how to really create the success we want in our lives.  Most of these stories are told by people who are situated to benefit from our adoption of their advice.  Let’s consider the MBA degree.  So many of us chase this credential thinking it will launch a highly successful career.  Why?  Because academia tells us that it will put us on a meteoric rise to fame and fortune.  Who benefits if we engage on this advice?  Immediately, they do.  The risk is all yours.  You risk not only money but the most valuable resource you have, your time, with no guarantee of a return.

My point is that we listen to the noise that surrounds us to get an idea of what success is and how to obtain it.  We only end up unknowingly contributing to someone else’s.  Turn off the noise.  Listen to your own dreams and align your efforts with the things you really want.   How? Here’s a cool process from Dr. Judith Orloff.

Four Steps To Remember Your Dreams 

  • Keep a journal and pen by your bed.
  • Write a question on a piece of paper before you go to sleep. Formalize your request. Place it on a table beside your bed or under your pillow.
  • In the morning do not wake up too fast. Stay under the covers for at least a few minutes remembering your dream. Luxuriate in a peaceful feeling between sleep and waking, what scientists call the hypnagogic state. Those initial moments provide a doorway.
  • Open your eyes. Write down your dream immediately; otherwise it will evaporate. You may recall a face, object, color, or scenario, feel an emotion. It doesn’t matter if it makes perfect sense-or if you retrieve a single image or many. Record everything you remember.

When you’re finished, refocus on the question you asked the previous night. See how your dream applies. One, two, or more impressions about the who/what/where of your solution may have surfaced. Get in the habit of recording your dreams regularly. If your answer doesn’t come the first night, try again. More details will emerge, rounding out the picture. Then look to your daily life for evidence of what your dream tells you.

Sharing your dream.  Working in a corporate environment is really strange.  It’s often a building with a lot of people working on the same goal but secretly working on their own goals.   Career ambitions fit in the same category as salary.  It’s passé to talk about them.  Perhaps organizations are afraid that too many employees will develop desires for the corner office, for which most will certainly be disappointed and eventually grow frustrated. There’s only room for a few at the top so it seems crazy to allow so many people to create ideas that will never come to fruition.  So maybe it is a good practice that we don’t allow people to discuss such things at work, as it might help avoid the creation of unhealthy expectations.  Here’s the thing, we create expectations anyhow.

Theodore Hesburgh said “The very essence of leadership is [that] you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”   Most of us are afraid to share our vision, so we don’t blow a horn at all.  After years of sitting in a job that we’ve worked hard at and earned an advanced degree that no one seemed to notice, we still hold on to some  weird, unfounded sense of hope.  We sit and wait for an opportunity. In other words, we are part of someone else’s vision.

If you don’t share your dream with others, your success becomes a victim of circumstances that you don’t control.    Robert Fritz put it eloquently when he said “If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.”  You comprise your dream with what others are willing to give you.  Are you in company that hasn’t given you an opportunity in years?  Have they discussed anything with you?  It’s time to abandon such a passive approach and it all starts with sharing your dream for who you want to be.  Sure, disappointments will come. You won’t be successful in every company.  No one is.  But at least you will develop a strategy for finding the right environment for achieving your dreams.  Telling others about your dream helps you define what is possible or reasonable.  Letting others know what you want to achieve gives them the vision too.  Those who can help you will.  If no one helps you, you may be in the wrong place.  Then, you’re faced with a compromise:  do I stay or do I go?”  But that’s getting ahead of things.  The first thing is to engage in painting your dream throughout the organization and assessing it’s response.

Draw correlations to value.  Just like you, most young, energetic professionals looking to make a name for themselves heavily invest in new skills to create value.  I’ve been in many executive training courses, only to discover that the highest echelon doesn’t attend such training.  After one class, I asked the trainer why they constantly taught us about issues that executives face, when he could just discuss this with class members.  He responded that they didn’t attend these classes.  For many reasons, this doesn’t surprise and it does provide some logic as to why they don’t understand the value that certain skill sets offer to the company.  Let’s consider the MBA degree for a moment.  I look at it this way.  If your job didn’t need the MBA before, it probably doesn’t need it now.  Just possessing the MBA, or any advanced degree, doesn’t provide the company value, so you won’t be rewarded for it.  I know too many professionals that have a MBA in a job that doesn’t need one.  They only thing they have to show for their accomplishment was a $90,000 bill from the university.

Ideally, management needs skills that can make them money.  This can be growing revenue and profit or reducing cost of operations.  Can you articulate your new skills in light of their monetary benefits?  As with the MBA, if your management doesn’t have an advanced degree, they don’t know what you can do now or how it can help the company.  You have to help them understand the value.  They just see you as the same person who’s been in the same job for some time.  Once they say that, they don’t really look at you again, unless you give them a reason to.

How do you correlate your skills to value?  If your job doesn’t offer opportunities to demonstrate your new abilities, you have to create them.  Your skills must be demonstrated.  They must be put on display for others to see.  It’s the same situation as in professional sports.  You have to build your skills and then step out on the court or field and show them what you can do.  You must impress those who feel they are already at that level.  You can’t just talk about it.  They want tangible proof if they are to believe you possess extraordinary talents and skills.  If you step out on the court and show them you can play once, they’ll say you have potential.  If you continue to demonstrate your skills over and over, then you’ll belong at the next level.  Remember, just possessing new skills isn’t enough.  Potential value doesn’t help anyone.  Put your new skills into action and create value.

Take some time to see where you can create value.  Solving company problems is always a good place to start.  Talk with managers to determine what issues you can work on.  Companies have issues so there will be things for you to do.  Other ways to show your skills include learning, influencing, motivating, negotiating, trust building, team building, decision-making and developing others.  Just make sure that whatever you choose to engage in, your path stays aligned with your dreams.

Market and sell your skills.  I know what you might be thinking here.  I’ve demonstrated my abilities.  Isn’t that enough?  The answer is definitely NO.  It depends on your organization’s leadership.  As you move it, the challenges grow harder and harder.  I have a friend that plays professional basketball.  He’s 6’8” and a great shooter.  He’s played in international leagues for years and was recently invited to tryout with the LA Lakers.  You know he’s good now, right?  Anyhow, they offered him a spot with pay at the league minimum, which was lower than what he was earning already.  He didn’t take the offer. Why?  He realized that even though he has great talent, it wasn’t valued to the level he felt it should be.  Sound familiar?  This is what you’ll find in many companies.  But my friend has pursued his dreams differently.  He stepped up and tried out for the team.  He took his talents and spread them all out to be judged.  He understands that to reach his dream, he has to continuously put his skills on display in hopes of finding someone who values his talents as much as he does.  Have you done that yet?  Or do you sit back and rely on your credentials to communicate your value.  Consider the previous MBA example.  So many professionals earn the degree thinking that this is all they need to achieve their dreams of great success.  My friend is already one of the best in basketball but he still has to prove himself every time he steps on the court.

High performing professionals realize that the interview is never over. 

Interviews are never over.  Sure, you get passed the first round to gain employment in the company but that only gets you through the door.  To gain access to new doors of opportunity, you have to continue to market and sell your abilities.  Remember, the initial interview is only looking for a specific set of skills, not every skill you have.   Companies are only trying to meet an immediate need.   There always trying to meet an immediate need.  How can you help them?  You can’t just try to do your best in your job.  Otherwise, you will stay there.  You have to push yourself beyond what they are just asking you to do.  You don’t think they asked my friend to just score 18 points per game?  No. They want him to do whatever it takes to help the team win.  Sometimes that means he has to take the lead and sometimes he focuses on helping others be successful, no matter which team he is on.  Are you ready to do that?

Here are a few steps you can take to develop a continual focus on marketing and selling yourself.  Practice them and they’ll become a habit.

  1. Develop the attitude that you always have to be improving your game. Never settle for average performance.
  2. Look at each situation as an opportunity to demonstrate any of your abilities, not just the ones your job calls for on a daily basis.
  3. Always perform at your best, no matter how simple the task. You are judged on everything you do.  Remember, executives worry about how they dress, speak, etc.  Everything matters.
  4. Seek new audiences. Don’t just focus on supporting your team.  Engage other managers in other departments to seek problems to solve.

Life is waiting.  What are you waiting for?  Living your dream all starts with knowing what it is.  Without a clear definition of what you want to achieve, your career will simply be a meandering across time collecting experiences and credentials that don’t really get you where you want to go.  Push the limits of your environment to see if it aligns with your dream.  Remember, your dream won’t be realized in every environment you’re in.  You have to find the right place with the right people who value what you offer.  If you’re not there, keep on chasing your dream.  In the words of one of my favorite speakers, Les Brown, “If you take responsibility for yourself, you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.”  Don’t allow the world to define who you are.  Let your dreams define you and your actions the proof.

Maintaining Motivation in 2015

HOW CAN YOU STAY MOTIVATED IN THE FACE OF SO MUCH CHANGE AND CHALLENGE?

Most individuals don’t reach the success they desire for many reasons.  Some never really create goals or a path to achieving them.  Some procrastinate, while others can’t overcome the fear of the unknown.  Still some succumb to distraction and deviate their actions before completing their tasks. These forces push us off track so that we never achieve our goals, which may lead to underachievement, stagnant career mobility,  decreased job satisfaction and more.   Here are a few steps that will help you maintain your motivation in the new year and begin developing a process for achieving your goals.

Know your barriers.  When it comes to your goals, why don’t you achieve them?  You must first understand why you don’t reach them to develop a process for maintaining momentum. My biggest challenge is that I see too many opportunities to create new products or services. I’m approached by people all the time to create something new.  I only have so much energy to devote to my activities and if I spread myself too thin, all activities will suffer.  Luckily, I’m aware of this challenge and force myself to focus on the most important activities at the time.  I write all ideas and opportunities so I don’t lose them or if my plans change and I free up some time which I can devote to something new.  So what are your barriers?  Is it courage, knowledge, skills, or network?

Create workarounds.  Once you understand your barriers, you’ll need to develop a process for getting around them.  Here are a few workarounds for some common barriers.

  • Courage – Every successful person battles this. No one knows all the answers to problems you’ll face but having the courage to push through each issue is the key to reaching success.  You know people who have done some great things.  Contact them and ask for support.  They’ll happily share their story with you.  Surround yourself with people who don’t let your barrier get in the way of their success.  They’ll show you how to deal with it.
  • Network – This is cited as the most challenging barrier for most people I work with. It is also the easiest to overcome.  You just need a simple process for contacting influential people every day.  It will require discipline, creativity and persistence.  The goal here is to find people who can influence your path and continue to contact them until they respond.  You may run into their gatekeepers first but keep pushing to get to your desired audience.
  • Knowledge – This is very common too. People often say they don’t know what to do.  Well, I can assure you that doing nothing won’t get you there either.  Too often I run into issues I know nothing about.  It’s not really a barrier.  It’s an opportunity to learn something new.  Finding resources for learning are everywhere.  You can search online, libraries, subject matter experts, friends, or colleagues.

I talk about motivation a lot.  Why?  According to the research of Dr. Anders Ericsson, motivation is the most significant predictor of success. In simple terms, Dr. Ericsson found that experts in many walks of life, whether sport, music, chess, dance, or business, had put in the most hours at their craft.  You might be aware of the concept he coined; that is, the rule of 10,000 hours.  This is really important for those who remain in their field for a large portion of their career.  In such cases, ability becomes less important and motivation grows to be the most important factors.  It enables you to able to pursue change in the face of obstacles, boredom, fatigue, stress, and the desire to do other things.

However, for today’s young professionals, change seems to be the flavor of the day.  Most of these professionals don’t experience 35 years in the same company or even the same field.  There are two forces that are influencing the fluidity of today’s careers: the company and the individual.  Both entities feel the internal and external forces for change and respond to them.  With so much change occurring, professionals must have sufficient motivation to be able to grow sufficient positive motivation and minimize the negative motivation in their quest for their own success.  Both types of motivation can be a barrier, such as too little positive internal motivation and too much external negative motivation.   Look at the matrix below and create your own matrix to help you remember the factors that maintain your proper level of motivation.

motivation matrix

The external factors are outside of your direct influence but do affect your performance.  High performers value respect and if it isn’t present in their environment, they will be heavily de-motivated.  Similarly, if organizations are led by arrogant or micromanaging leaders, it will bestow feelings of insecurity upon its best performers and will result in lower performance.    It’s critical that you understand that there are many factors that impact your motivation, not just one or two things.  We are always looking for the ideal environment.  In a sense, we overlook the good things that are present and seek out the things that are absent.  For example, you might work in a company that provides great perquisites like travel, employee events, etc. but don’t provide bonuses, pay raises or promotions.  Eventually, the things that are missing will drive growth in dissatisfaction.  You must take time to analyze your environment to understand what you don’t have and then find ways to provide them.

The chart below shows you the ways I deal with motivation issues.  I use internal sources to fight thoughts of inadequacy, inferiority and so on by establishing goals and creating tangible proof that I’ve achieved them (e.g. books, articles, developing college classes).  Such tangibles provide me sufficient validation that I’m achieving my success. Then, feedback from my external sources keeps me focused on the quality and value of these tangibles.  It’s a simple “checks and balances” system for me.

motivation matrix 2

If you fail to assess these factors, your motivation will fluctuate and be driven by your environment or you can take steps to assess what you need and put these resources in place to ensure you’re always highly motivated to reach your goals.

The only question now is “who will you be?”

5 Steps to Achieving Maximum Benefit from Your MBA

Earning the MBA, at any point in your life, requires a substantial commitment in time. As a young student fresh from college, time is a considerably more abundant resource; however, as a seasoned professional with numerous responsibilities, such as those accompanying a full-time job, family, or both, you must focus on an efficient utilization of many resources to achieve the maximum effectiveness in your professional and academic development. Too often we become so involved in just completing the tasks necessary to earn the degree that we fail to truly prepare ourselves for life with the degree.

The MBA, as we are told, is designed to have a huge impact on our lives. To reap these rewards, we stress ourselves out for two years trying to balance the school work, family commitments and job responsibilities. Once it’s all over, our expectations are that the accolades will pour in all by themselves. If we’re looking to change jobs, we update our LinkedIn profile so recruiters can find us. If we want to move up in our current company, we simply wait for management to hear the news of our graduation before coming to our desk to offer us a new opportunity to support them or maybe even join their ranks. This is the MBA dream, but unfortunately, it’s very far from the truth. The reality is that success is surrounded by an enormous layer of competitiveness. The MBA can tear into this layer and bring you closer to your dreams but it can’t do that by itself. Earning an MBA is a great feat but it is no guarantee of any level of success that is simply derived from its possession. Achieving success requires a strategy and some real planning. The following steps will help you do just that.

  1. Determine your goals before you begin your program. Write it down.

Writing your goals down triggers a response in the brain called “reticular activating system” that can create a sense of awareness of opportunities that can help you get closer to your goals. The unconscious mind will continue to focus on the direction you set in your written goals even when you aren’t consciously thinking about it. The reticular activating system will filter out those things that aren’t important. It will keep you in tune with events around you that may help you achieve your goals and will keep pushing you until the image that you have in your head of what your real success looks like is equivalent to what is physically present in your surroundings. Have you ever had an epiphany or have a salvo go off in your head? That’s your brain telling you that the situation you are currently in holds an opportunity that will help you get closer to a goal. Writing your goals down even has benefits when you aren’t even conscious. As an engineering student, I would often awaken during the night with the solution to class assignments. But how could that be if I was asleep? It’s because your subconscious does the real brain work. Here’s how you can tap into that.

Determine what you want from your MBA and write it down. Try to be very specific in defining these goals. Keep them challenging but achievable. Perhaps you want a raise, promotion or job change. List what they are, how long it may take to get there, what resources you need, who can help provide those resources, etc. Put specific dates for completion of these goals. Then, create a plan on how you will go about achieving each goal. Review these every day so that your mind stays focused on what you need to do. Celebrate completion of tasks and especially major goals. Mark them off the list when done. Each little success provides additional motivation as they cause the brain to release chemicals that make you happier, healthier and more driven to reach your goals. If you don’t have detailed plans for your career with your MBA, you should realize that it most likely won’t do anything for you.

  1. Seek guidance from other MBAs.

Take the time to get to know other MBAs. You should be engaging MBAs long before you begin your MBA program. Working MBA professionals can help you identify trends in industry. Top tier universities provide data to show you how their graduates are placed in industry but most don’t give you a clear picture of how successful you can be with their MBA. Most MBA graduates want to get a management position or change careers entirely. Therefore, the best way to understand the challenges that are specific to your Alma Mater is to consult with the alumni. If the university doesn’t have an alumni group, find graduates by using social media, such as LinkedIn. Then, tell them your story and ask for advice. MBA professionals can also help you understand the finer details in utilizing your MBA to create the success you expect. The most important information they can share will actually help you establish the proper expectations. The MBA isn’t capable of giving you that meteoric rise to the top of your company because many other factors come into play when you get to those first levels of the senior management ranks (e.g. Director, VP) that have nothing to do with your credentials.   Working MBAs can tell you what factors are important in their industry or specific company. Getting the most out of these new connections requires a thorough understanding of what you want from your degree. Once you complete the first action listed above, writing your goals down, you’ll know exactly what questions to ask from those MBAs who have gone before you. One last note, to get the best information, choose graduates who are just a few years ahead of you as their lessons are still fresh in their mind. Consulting an MBA graduate from over 20 years ago will be helpful but it isn’t likely to be advice you will use immediately.

  1. Share your thoughts and ideas.

As you go through your MBA and transition into a long working career, you’ll develop a broad network of knowledge professionals. The most important thing you can ever do to improve your career is to become active in this network. Before you begin your program, talk with MBA professionals to find out what issues managers are facing. Then, when you begin, share these ideas with professors and develop your own opportunity to find solutions for these problems. Investigate opportunities to perform research in these areas, which helps you develop expertise and recognition for such knowledge. Research quite often affords opportunities to publish the results of your efforts in professional journals, conferences, the university magazine, white papers and more. If research isn’t available, work with your professors to find specific companies that have issues they have communicated to the university and that you can address. If that fails, reach out to professional organizations (even student versions) to see where you can build new knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s important to note that while the MBA teaches you to solve business problems, this doesn’t add value to what you have to offer. The real value you offer comes from actually solving problems. Collaborating with professors, alumni groups, and student and professional organizations are great avenues for collecting ideas on what you can do to build your value. Today’s level of competition requires graduates to have already demonstrated their value before graduation. If you wait until you graduate to begin this development or base your value on the idea that you have the skills to solve problems, you’ll find yourself struggling to compete.

  1. Create opportunities to increase your knowledge in areas in your plan.

As previously mentioned, building your value is done by providing tangible proof of your skills. It’s also possible to build value by demonstrating your knowledge base.   Companies have problems and they want help resolving them. Reading articles from industry journals and other periodicals are a good way to boost your understanding of the problems that are currently plaguing businesses. Joining professional organizations is another great strategy. Most local branches of professional organizations provide access to industry professionals through conferences, presentations and meetings. A good approach is to join one of these organizations and seek an active role. This will put you closer to those already working in the field that can provide you a much better understanding of the field than articles can. Use these interactions to not only gather as much information as possible, but setup opportunities to help specific companies solve some of their problems. Companies like to hire to fill a specific need so find out what some are and fill them. Don’t forget to find ways to document your achievements so that you have stories to tell and documentation to prove it (e.g. published articles).

  1. Update your goals and progress often.

As you go through your goals, make notes on areas that are a natural strength or a weakness for you. This information, along with other pertinent information from professors and business professionals, should help you steer your career in the right direction. If your performance isn’t the best in your chosen area of focus, it becomes critical that you collaborate with other professionals in that field to determine if you need to improve your abilities in that area or you may be just fine with what you already know. This is even more critical if you plan to use your MBA in a different field than you are currently working in. You should develop a list of skills and experiences required to excel in your new field and then work on checking each one off until you have tangible proof that you have what it takes (all before graduating). Companies don’t want to hire professionals that are looking to make a transition, as this is a little risky. But, if you can provide sufficient evidence that you already have been demonstrating the skills, knowledge and abilities required for some time, then you can show you aren’t making a transition and you are a seasoned professional.

The MBA degree is just a credential. You’ll soon realize this once you’ve been in business for a year or two. It doesn’t really make you stand out. Why? It moves you into a group of professionals who already have a graduate degree. How do you stand out from them? As you move up in organizations the competition grows evermore fierce. Those who avoid the steps identified above and lean on the fact that they just have an MBA will experience stagnation and a loss of career mobility. No one is watching out for your career but you. If you put no effort into it, you’ll get nothing out of it. If you have an MBA or are working on it, you’ve obviously got a little fire in you. Use this fire to plan and implement your next steps after graduation. Create a habit of setting goals and reaching them. This will establish a history of tangible successes which will make you happy. After all, when it comes to your career, this is the person you should focus on.

Success: An Unborn Dream

The past few decades have ushered in new challenges for younger (and even older) generations in creating success in their lives. Now, we can point to a sluggish economy for providing fewer opportunities; that is, less promotions, pay raises and job openings from companies who are tightening their belts. Perhaps we can blame the rising cost of tuition as a way to limit the success to only those who can afford it. Maybe you can blame companies for eliminating training, canceling their management development programs and even foregoing their tuition reimbursement programs. Well, we can’t forget the reduction in the number of startups, as those represent a decrease in opportunities as well. What about people working longer rather than retiring? On and on we can go.  Are there real challenges for creating success today? Of course there are and there always have been.  But these aren’t the barriers that are really slowing us down. The ones that have the most impact on our career mobility are self-generated.

Clarity. Most of us want more success. Yet, when it comes to defining it, we struggle to put even a simple description to it. Now, this still doesn’t deter us from working hard to gain recognition and reward. In fact, we will overlook the fact that we don’t really have a destination we are seeking for many years. Naturally, a lack of a definition of what we want to achieve and maybe even when we want to achieve it forces us into a journey where our only reward for our effort becomes stress and disappointment when we don’t get something in return for our efforts. How long does it take for you to get frustrated? It really depends on your tolerance level. I’ve seen many MBA graduates sit in their same jobs for many years after graduation waiting on their rewards. If you can’t define what you want, it’s almost impossible to identify the tasks you need to take to get it. It’s also quite challenging to identify what others can do to help you.  “See” what I’m saying?

Passion. You’ve surely heard all the advice about following a career path you have a passion for. If you follow your passion, success will follow. That advice has always irritated me.   But, that’s because for many years I hadn’t been following my passion. Within 3 to 6 months of working in a new job, the novelty would be gone. At this point, I’d begin looking to create a little excitement in my work, maybe it was a new project or traveling to a new place. I had to have something to break the monotony. In just three years or less, I’d be stressed to the point where I had to make a change. It wasn’t my passion. While I didn’t clearly define my destination to my consciousness, my subconscious was looking out for certain accolades in my environment and when I didn’t get them, my satisfaction decreased to the point where something had to give. What’s your passion? What signs do you see when you aren’t living out your dreams?

Boundaries. So many of us build boundaries around ourselves but still hold expectations that assume our possibilities are without bounds. I understand my boundaries. I’m not a single kid who can go anywhere and do anything.  I’m married with three children. My kids are entering high school now and I want them to have a stable surrounding. I wouldn’t entertain a job in another state. So, I’ve limited my own opportunities. We all do this to ourselves to some degree. Some limit themselves geographically. Some do it by job title or salary (minimum salary, of course). You might also limit yourself by remaining in the same industry. The problem with these limitations is that we tend to forget they exist and that we’ve chosen them.  Then, the only time we make a change is when our happiness is lost and we must change something to find it again.

Determination. Malcolm Gladwell proposed the law of 10,000 hours in his book, Outliers, which basically suggests that it will take you ten years of intentional effort to hone your craft. In the 1970’s, where people held “long” jobs, ten years would have been enough time to make a considerable impression on your company. However, today, job tenure is about 4.4 years. In other words, by the time you craft your skills, you’ll have gone through two companies and will be on your third. Granted, organizations are transforming themselves at alarming rates and are forcing such change, it will take you longer to build your expertise. As Henry Farber, an economist at Princeton, says “For some reason I don’t understand, employers seem to value having long-term employees less than they used to.” Such changes will increase insecurity, volatility and risk. Staying true to your cause will be challenging, as the changes you have little influence on will act to redirect you when you least desire it. But that’s business today.  It requires more determination than ever.

Our dreams of success are influenced heavily by our surroundings. From the commercials we watch on TV to the Internet to our neighbors, our dream is constantly bleeding through the lines and off the canvas. Fortunately, reality steps in and gives us a gentle nudge and reminder of where we really are. Our success isn’t simply a victim of circumstances, unless you want it to be. It can be planned. It can be changed. It can be improved. You simply have to develop your dream by giving your mind an image of your desired life, making changes when the happiness of work is gone and no desirable future is in view, and setting goals that are in sync with your own established limitations. Lastly, if you really want to achieve your dreams, you will. You’ll give it everything you have. You’ll find all the answers. You’ll get all the help you need. You won’t give up until your dream materializes. That is, if you really want it. Otherwise, you’ll be forever stuck in your own unborn dream.