The Four Elements of Career Management in Business

Successful career professionals manage four strategic elements in their career, I invite your comments to add to the discussion.

Like managing your own money, business, or family, careers need a strategic approach.   Many business folk get over focused in their current job, unable to see the areas of defencieny in the other areas of their career, and some over-focus on education and are unable to convince employers they have the experience.  The savvy business person has balance across at least four elements.

While I’m not a career coach, these observations are just mine from interacting with a broad set of executives, leaders, and up and comers.  I’ve found that they manage four elements:  1) Education (which doesn’t just mean college degrees) 2) Capability (obtaining applicable current market skills), 3) Network (growing a community that opts in to help you) 4) Experience (proof that you’ve done it before, and can do it again).  Also, these elements are geared towards the market I serve: Business.  It may not be applicable to specific skilled positions, medicine, military careers, and areas I don’t have viewpoints on.

First, an assumption:  Anyone who’s strategically investing in the four elements has already demonstrated career tablestakes of: seeking a market of opportunity, desire and personal motivation, ability to effectively communicate in person and online, and understand social dynamics of working with others.  If one doesn’t have those baseline skills it’s hard to glean benefits from the following four elements:

The Four Elements of Career Management in Business

Element Description What No One Tells You
1) Education This includes both formal training (degree/certs/classes) as well as self-training (reading, ongoing classes, books, reading blogs). Successful careers often start here.  Getting education to understand the broad concepts and overview of your industry is crucial.  However, don’t over-invest here without having experience.  While education is crucial, it’s a form of potential energy, and what you do with your education is more important than the paper itself. While a bachelor seems baseline in business now-a-days, education is often listed at the bottom of most resumes.
2) Capability These are the raw skills to complete your career jobs. These can include data, developing strategies, project management, software management, programming, or a wide range of knowledge working. Although most agree having both strategic and tactical skills are needed, it’s key to know the difference. Strategy are tasks typically done above the shoulders and tactics are done below. Core strategy skills on research, analysis, planning, communicating, management and measuring will each consist of several tactical skills to complete, use both in tandem.
3) Network These are the people in your career that you can rely on that will help you when you ask, or will voluntarily help you without asking. Like all relationships, your business network requires constant attention and grooming. Don’t be that person who just comes around when you need something, (self-preservation opportunities are painfully obvious) but be there to help others, and maintain an ongoing relationship. If you have this skill and none-others, you will be seen as only a social butterfly and may not get hired outside of social events.
4) Experience Solid careers may have a series of job positions that align around a common career theme (marketing, management, software, verticals, etc) and having a solid track record is key. For those getting started in their career this is a conundrum, as most entry level positions are seeking the experienced. Focus on volunteering, interning, and attending local events to get networked. In the end, this row becomes crucial as it’s the majority of one’s resume.  Depending on your industry, getting a wide variety of experiences from buyer vs vendor vs agency vs consulting may grow your vantage point.

Approach your Career Strategically, Investing in Each Element
Before investing in bolstering each of these four elements, develop a strategy and actionable approach, start with these three:

  1. Savvy careers manage all four elements in balance.  The goal is to have balance and obtain effectiveness in all four of the elements, as being deficient in one will hinder one’s career.  Don’t over-invest in one area and neglect another, it will decrease your over all value to the market, and opportunity to monetize and grow.  I’ve met many a MBA grad who lacks experience, and becomes frustrated with obtaining an entry level job after spending thousands of dollars on a degree.  In the 2001 recession, I saw individuals remove their MBA from resume, as it over qualified them for positions.
  2. The strategic will leverage one element to grow another.  Use one element to grow another, increasing your market value.  For example, using workshops or accredited training gets you new knowledge, but also applicable skills.  The savvy will network with classmates and teacher to build their network, increasing overall value.   Or find networking opportunities where you can host events and glean knowledge from attendees, increasing your education.   Or a trick that I deploy, actively share your knowledge that you gain in social tools (like this blog) so your network grows without ever leaving your desk.
  3. Action: make a self-pact to invest X hours outside of your day job.  Make a promise to yourself, your current employer, your future employer, and your family:  Devote a certain amount of time to investing in these elements outside of your day job.  For example, I make it a point to read and maybe blog for up to two hours each morning before I check email.  I call this “paying yourself first“, as soon as you open email, you’re paying someone else.  Or, attend events on a monthly basis related to your career, and be involved as a volunteer.  Make a pact, and invest in your own career.

This is just my point of view, I’d like to kick off a discussion on what you see are critical career elements to manage.  What do you see as critical elements?  What could you add?

19 Replies to “The Four Elements of Career Management in Business”

  1. Great post Jeremiah! The insight you shared here is valuable especially to those who are planning and mapping out their career path, and also to those who might want to change their course.

    Will surely share this with my teens (we were just talking about course they want to take in college, etc.)

  2. This is reassuring, I already do all of these! The only thing I would add is stepping back and periodically assessing exactly what type of work you love to do, so you can be sure the experience and education you are acquiring are aligned with that. Sometimes a job position will morph over the years and you may gradually find yourself doing work you don’t love – that’s when it’s time to re-assess and re-align.

  3. In my experience Networking is by far the most effective tool. Education/capabilities/experience is great, but unless people know about them (and about you), you’ll never achieve optimal career success. This is especially true with the emergence of social networks where it has become easier to start relationships. All candidate searches start with the conversation “Do you know anybody who can fill this role.” If you have created relationships with the right people when this question is asked you’ll achieve greater success than if you try to get your education/capabilities/experience noticed amongst a crowd of equally talented candidates.

  4. Jeremiah, this is a great overview of core areas that successful professionals should focus on to continue growing and learning throughout their careers. I think it’s easy for any business person to fall comfortably into only the one or two of these professional development areas that come easiest.

    Personally, your post is especially helpful to me right now as I’m planning out my next few years as a marketing & customer experience professional and how I can get the experience and “self-training education” to be a greater asset to businesses I work with. Thanks!

  5. Amy, thankyou! Often I write, but I don’t always hear back from folks if it’s being applied, this really makes the effort worth it. Please keep us updated in your continued career growth!

  6. Thanks Jeremiah! Your work is certainly worth the effort. Remember that for every one person that tells you how they are applying it there are probably 20 others heeding your wisdom who never say anything to you about it. I’d love to stay in touch. Thanks again!

  7. Great tips for career management. The last one, which requires you to invest in your career outside of your day job, really pays off in the long term and fosters self-development.

  8. Everything that has been proposed resonates with me. I also like Laura’s view of stepping back periodically to assess where you are right now and where you would like to go.

    I think most successful leaders are mentors too. Mentoring is such an important part of personal and professional growth. It is not just about what you are gaining but also what you are giving back, which can be very rewarding experience.

  9. This is a great thought that has actually inspired me today. to be completely honest after graduation I have been a little bit lost in what I want to do. I have taken jobs to pay the bills, but really I want to build a career in a direction that is a 180 from what I’m currently doing. Its hard to focus on experience, and portfolios and continued education, but this thought process is the most logical and helpful thing I have read in career management in a very long time.

    Thank you for the direction. sometimes little thing make a big difference in unexpected ways.

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