Sunday, August 08, 2010

Build Your Career

In the olden days, you got into a company, joined at some nondescript junior level and from then on, you path in the company was set out in stone. You joined as an officer, became senior officer and then after some years you moved in as an assistant manager and then so on and so forth until you got bored of the company or vice versa or you retired or your company folded up. That was the traditional way of building a career. Start in accounts, die in accounts. Start in marketing, die in marketing.

Not any longer. The new way of building a career is entrepreneurial. It is all about you owning your career, deciding what you want to do and picking up the opportunities that appear along the way. This may appear to be different from the way you thought it out to be. Even when companies offer a career to you in their shining advertisements or powerful powerpoints, they really offer you a job. A career is never handed over, you are typically handed down a job - the rest as they say, is upto you. Once you get the job, you figure out the way to handle it as a career. Those who succeed make it, the others move on.

So, how does one build a career. It is as simple as taking on the opportunities that show up - very similar to what an entrepreneur does. Sunil Mittal of Airtel was into hawking generators once upon a time. He spotted an opportunity in telecommunications and then there was no looking back. The founders of Infosys were working at Patni computers and figured that they could start their own company in the IT outsourcing space. These are the big examples we know. But many a successful career can be built with such an entrepreneurial outlook within the firm itself. For instance, a new business unit could need exploration and there may not be anybody with that exact skillset to run it. Who will raise their hand to be counted?

In many a firm that you will be part of there will be opportunities - seen and unseen, stated and unstated, risky and risk free. There will usually be takers for all the seen, stated and risk free. There will be very few takers for what is either unstated or unseen. Sometimes you
create those unseen and unstated opportunities yourself and take it up. This is even more tricky. Here, you would have to create a business proposals and swim upstream, against the current and then having jumped through all these hoops, do the hard work of proving everybody else wrong once again.

At other times, there could be champions for these roles at every firm - the mavens who drive the culture of an organization. They will be the people who see numerous opportunities go untapped, numerous chances being missed and apart from them, nobody will see it. Sooner or later, they will assign this "cloud" of a job description to somebody. Many a time, it will not succeed, but there will be many a times when it will succeed. And if you can make rain out of the cloud, you are the rainmaker...

Sometimes these opportunities may start off as feasibility studies or skunk projects or a proof of concept that requires quick execution skills. And from there, sometimes, it morhps into a real possibility - now given that this happens - it can grow bigger than your "current" day job. And at that point, many of us chicken out. So, a finance person undertaking a marketing project suddenly finds it to be bigger than what he can chew - and then there are two options.

You can either make this new description your current job description or give off the new work to someone else. I have seen entire units being created this way and the newbie who started off on this being installed in a good position or in a influential position of this new venture.

Companies appreciate people who stand up to be counted - at moments of crisis or at times when they want to try out something that they know has a risk of failure. There are many broken pieces in companies which beg to be turned around. And usually nobody wants to touch them. And that's another way to build your career. Try it out, give it your best shot - if they turn around great, if they don't after putting in an agreed quantum of work, they did not deserve to be there anyway. At any rate, you have saved precious time and money to your firm and that is usually appreciated.

Look at your career from an entrepreneurial perspective. Dont limit yourself by your education or your experience. Or, like Tarzan, use those two as the first roots to swing from and then keep swinging away in your career. The whole idea is to not get blinkered in ones quest for a career. Many a finance person remained stuck in finance (substitute finance with a vision of your choice) when he could have done very well in a field of his own interest. If you enjoy what you do, give that a chance in your career.

Look at your career as your business. See it as a mix of opportunities that come your way and the ones you pick up. And once you pick something up, don't look back on what you left, but focus instead on what you have on your hands...I can promise you a far exciting journey this way.

(An edited version of this was published in Advancedge in Aug 10)

1 comment:

Naren Murali said...

"Start in accounts, die in accounts. Start in marketing, die in marketing."


Nobody is going to take an accounting person into marketing & vice-versa. (Of course, they can appoint head of accounting as head of marketing, but happens only at that level!)