Decide On a Career First, Then Get a Job


With a US unemployment rate hovering at 9% and millions of other American workers under-employed, the question many people are asking is “Where can I get a job?” The answer is “Decide on a career first, then get a job.” Although a slow economy will limit the number of overall opportunities available, people who are clear about what they really want for a career will ultimately have an advantage over people who are just looking for a job. Here are six good career-building tips that explain why focusing on career first makes sense:

Start with a vision: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” so says the old adage. Almost every human endeavor starts with a vision, and a career is no different. Whether you are a recent graduate looking for your first job or a displaced older worker, you must first decide on a career path. What type of work? What industry? What is your passion? These are the kinds of questions that you must answer first before you can begin a focused job search. Just “looking for a job” is not good enough. You must decide on your career field first, and only then can you begin to set the goals that will lead you to a job.

Set some short-term and long-term goals: Goals are the discreet milestones, the objectives that you plan to achieve. The best goals are specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and time-bounded (SMART). When you have decided on a career path, you can more easily set goals to advance your career and find a job. Knowing your career field first, you can assess your skills and decide if you need to have short-term goals around education. If you already have the skills, then you can set goals around finding target companies. You can also set long-term goals around career advancement for the next five to ten years.

Be a life-long learner, an expert: Even if you have the immediate skills required to get a job, you still must be a life-long learner. Almost every career field is constantly changing. New technologies are coming online and old ones are constantly being upgraded. Every day, there are more new markets, new products, and new customers who need new solutions to their problems. If you don’t stay current in your chosen career field, you will be less attractive to employers. On the other hand, if you are viewed as an “expert” on the latest trends, then you will be sought out for your expertise.

Build your brand: Your reputation is your personal brand, and it is just as important as your technical skills. The technical skills may get you hired, but your brand will keep you there and get you promoted. What kind of team player are you? Do you deliver on commitments? Do you get things done? Are you innovative? Do you always do the right thing? The answers to these types of questions define your personal reputation in the workplace, your brand. Building a positive brand will help you build a successful long-term career; however, it takes time to build a brand because it is defined by many interactions with lots of people over a long period of time.

Build your database: Every successful business has a database of customers and potential customers (prospects). If you think about managing your career in the same way as managing a business, then you need a personal database. The good news is that this has never been easier to do this. There are internet based tools like LinkedIn which make keeping track of your professional contacts easy. Track your current and former colleagues, peers in your industry, former classmates, and others who can help you with your career. Paraphrasing noted author Harvey McKay: “The time to dig your well is before you get thirsty.” So, build your network over time so that you can tap into it when you need it. Also be sure to connect with these people periodically so that you build relationships and not just have a list of people. It is the number of people with whom you have a relationship and not the number of people on your list that will be most important to your career.

Find a mentor. Everyone can use some special help in getting ahead, especially if you are in the early stages of your career. Find someone who has “been there and done that.” They have experience, and if they are willing to share it with you, then you can avoid some basic career mistakes. A mentor can be your coach, and a mentor who is in a senior position at your company, can also help you get promoted by using their influence. How do you find a mentor? Get to know people who have experience, arrange a meeting, and then ask them for their help. Most senior people are genuinely willing to help others in the same career field and they will often be open to your request. Ask, and you may be pleasantly be surprised.

So, if you are unemployed or under-employed, then begin your job search by thinking about your career field first. Once you decide on what you want to do, then finding career opportunities will become an easier task. Thus, the best advice for career success is “Decide on a career first, then get a job!”