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Four Key Ways to Grow a Career

Over 300 women scientists, engineers, educators, and other professionals attended the second annual Inspiring Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Conference in October. Talent management consultant Mary Schaefer offered a speech called “GPS Your Career: Tools and Tips to Get You Where You Want to Go.”

by Weaving Influence
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“I started by thinking of how your career is similar to the Global Positioning System (GPS) devices we’re all familiar with. Here’s the key: Where we start from impacts our whole route and trajectory. I wanted to give some career advice on how to pay attention to the road, avoid the potholes, and most importantly, know when to reroute!” 

Schaefer offered four main ideas about how to grow a career:

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  1. Own your career.
  2. Make your value visible.
  3. Expand your influence.
  4. Don’t go it alone.

In order to “own your career,” Schaefer suggests regular check-ins with yourself, paying special attention to your values and goals. “It’s sometimes hard when your nose is always to the grindstone to know if you’re on the right path. You must take time on a regular basis to check in with yourself. You have to assess what is right for you – and no one else can answer that.”

Schaefer has special advice for making your relationship with your boss work for you. “Part of making your value visible is having a good relationship with your boss. So I gave the audience my most powerful sentence you can use with your boss near the start of any conversation that might be difficult. Here it is: ‘Please know I’m bringing this up because I want to do a good job.’ This sets a great tone to be heard.”

Employees can capitalize on the value of their own networks, particularly “loose” connections, in order to expand their influence. “I say ‘loose’ connections to mean leveraging your relationships with people you know – and the people they might know. The intention is NOT for you to get an assignment, or a job without earning it. Rather, it’s a recognition that people like to be helpful, and there is no reason to deny them this! In fact, you will probably have an opportunity to pay it forward someday.”

Finally, Schaefer suggests that the best career management advice always includes taking care of all of your own needs. “As much as we try to compartmentalize, the different parts of our life impact each other,” says Schaefer. And how to institute self-care routines or techniques? First, build or maintain an active network of friends, family members, and colleagues. Second, make taking care of your own needs a priority, not just in terms of people, but also all activities and areas of your life.

“By building up satisfaction in the areas of your life such as personal growth, physical activity, or fun, you create a cushion for yourself,” says Schaefer. “If things aren’t going so great at work, at least that is not your total focus in life, so you don’t have to over-focus on what’s not going great.”

“Let these four ideas guide you, but don’t be overwhelmed,” says Schaefer. “Start with the one thing that might help you most quickly. Do not pick the hardest thing. Pick the easiest thing. Give it a try and get a success under your belt.” 

As the principal of her own business, Artemis Path, Inc., Mary Schaefer is an expert in empowerment.  She coaches, trains and consults on talent development, change management, and workplace interactions. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies and local businesses. Mary has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, a Master's in Human Resources, and is certified as a Professional in Human Resources. 

Mary concluded her 20 year career at DuPont as an HR Manager. She applies her fierce idealism to create work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She publishes on this topic and more at maryschaefer(dot)com and other sites. Mary is on the coaching staff at Barton Career Advisors, an OutsideIn™ Company. She is also a co-author of the book, "The Character-Based Leader,” and recently spoke at the 2014 TEDx Wilmington Conference on “Putting the Human Back into Human Resources.”