“What's the biggest challenge in your career right now?”
I recently asked that question and many people responded with their challenges and questions.
So, last week, I addressed what to do when you have competing priorities, what to do when your skills and interests do not align with your job, how to manage a difficult team member, should you stay or leave when you can’t see where your role is going, and how to supplement your income.
Today, I'm answering these questions:
- How to network when you live in a small city
- Should you get an additional Master's degree?
- Should you stay or leave for more money and less risk?
- How to land a new role in a more senior position and in a different industry
- How to improve your executive presence, communication skills and ability to read a room
How to Network When You Live in a Small City
“How do I network when I live in a small city of less than 100,000 people where the networking opportunities aren't abundant and they're usually with the same people?”
This is a great question because we don't all live in a major city. I'd say the following.
You can network from anywhere
First, you asked, “Can I network anywhere?” The answer is, absolutely, yes. I know that you're doing some really great things already, like attending alumni events, and volunteering at two different organizations. Keep up the great work!
What I'd ask you to do is think about how you could amp that up. How can you leverage those situations, maybe look for different leads by asking, “who else could I talk to?” Get them to introduce you to other people. And see if you can discuss how they network from being in a small city, because they have the same problems as you.
Offer to represent your company at local events
The second thing is, you asked, “Can I ask my employer to represent the company at local community events, and could that be a way to connect?” The answer is, absolutely!
In fact, I would say don't ask but rather offer because it's really valuable for your company to connect locally. Go and put together an offer and say, “I have this idea for participating in this local event. I'd love to represent the company, and I think it could generate more leads for us” or something similar.
Make the business case and they'll probably even fund you to go do those things. It could even become something you get recognized for. And while you're looking at connecting the business with the local community, you might want to check out your local chamber of commerce. Often, they've got a lot of events going on that you can get involved in.
Attend events elsewhere
The third thing is, I would suggest that you see how you can go beyond the borders of your small city and see if you can attend some events elsewhere. Maybe there are conferences in your line of business. Maybe there are some training programs.
I remember back in the day, I saw this great women’s leadership program that was offered by Harvard Business School. I said to my boss, “I think this could be a really great thing for development.” He looked at it and said, “Great idea. Not only that, why don't we send these two other women as well.” So, the three of us went.
Look and see how you can get beyond your borders and get the company to sponsor you for that. You never know.
Form your own network
The fourth thing is, think about how you could form a network. I bet you're not the only person with this issue. Lots of people live in smaller cities and work in smaller cities, so maybe see if you can start a mastermind group, which I talk about in another blog post, which is a group of people who come together in a safe space to talk about an interest that they have in common or an issue that they're looking to address.
In this case, it could be something about networking when you're living in a small city or it could be about some aspect of the business. Maybe you're in marketing, so form a group of people that are interested in marketing in the sector you want to get into. Or, form a group around a particular interest.
Then, when you're going around in your local events, and conferences and trainings that you set up for yourself outside of your small city, see if you can start collecting some people that you'd really like to hang out with. You could meet virtually and learn from each other.
I hope that helps. I'd love to hear what you decide to do and how it turns out. Leave a comment and let me know.
Should You Get an Additional Master's Degree?
“Should I go back and get an additional Master's degree, or can I form a network of the right people to get where I want to get to instead?”
So, a little background. This is a question from an older individual who's currently about to finish a Master's in Health Innovation, and they're wanting to set up a non-profit or work for a non-profit somewhere internationally, and wondering if having that management mindset and understanding those nuances is going to help them be more successful in what they want to do.
This is a great question because so many of us are thinking about whether to retool, or get an additional degree after we've been working for a while.
Four reasons to get a Master’s degree
In my view, there are four reasons to go back and get a Master's degree.
First is the credential. Sometimes we need to have a credential. It's almost like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in order to get into that new role.
It can also be a great way to credentialize yourself so that you can make a smoother transition from where you are to where you want to get, especially if you're making a career change. And sometimes you even need that credential just to be considered.
Then the second consideration for getting a Master's is the connections. That's the network you're going to gain access to, which has a lot to do with the specific program, school or university where you get your Master's.
So, choose carefully, choose wisely. Because it's not just the people that you're going through the courses with but also the alumni of that organization.
Then the third thing to think about is the content because you go to a Master's to learn. Make sure that the content is something you want to learn.
And the other question is, can you easily replicate that content somewhere else? These days there's so much great free content on the Internet. But you’ve got to be really dedicated and put together the whole syllabus for yourself. Personally, I find this hard to do.
And then the fourth thing is confidence. Sometimes, having this additional degree just gives you confidence that, “Yes, I have gone through the whole process and I have come out the other end knowing more, being more credible, and feeling more confident”.
So, figure out how you fit into those four categories.
Two reasons not to get a Master’s degree
You also want to consider the other side. So, what are the reason's not to get a Master's? From my experience, there are two main ones.
The first is time. It just takes time. What else could you be doing with that time?
The second one is money. We're really talking about the opportunity cost of your time, and the opportunity cost of money.
And money is two things. There is the cold hard cash you're going to shell out for the program, plus the lost earnings from not working during that time, especially if you're going to school full-time. Then you've got to offset that, or weigh it up against, the future earnings that you think you might gain as a result of having gone through the program.
Do some experiments
Those are the considerations for the Master's, and in this specific case, I would wonder whether you could do some experiments. Experiments are small steps to explore and get information without committing completely. So, I wonder if you could do two things to experiment.
One is to think about whether or not this is the right time to get that Master's degree. Can you start off on the path of working with global health nonprofits without doing the degree, explore a little bit, and then make an informed decision? Essentially, that’s making it a timing thing where you do some experiments first, and then you can always go back and get the other Master's.
Then the second thing you can do is start talking to people who are in the field you want to get into. And that’s useful anyway. Ask them, or even observe, whether or not they've gotten this kind of masters. Is it needed? What do they recommend?
And maybe some of these people would even become part of the network that you might form of people who can help you with understanding these management nuances. Or they could direct you to others who could form a group around you.
I hope that helps. I'd love to hear what you decide to do and how things turn out.
Should You Stay or Leave for More Money and Less Risk?
“How should a seasoned professional decide whether to stay or to leave for more money and less risk?”
Well first let me say congratulations. You are experiencing some very high-class problems! And you're also hearing from somebody who left as a senior professional for less money and more risk. So, proceed with caution here.
But, all joking aside, I just want to say that there are five things that I would think about in your shoes. And this applies to all of us who are in an organization, in a role, doing something for some time.
Your aspirations and opportunities
The first thing is to think about how the two situations – the one you’re in versus the one you might go to – and assess how they fit with your aspirations.
Who do you really want to be when you grow up? What kind of opportunity set is there? Is there more headroom where you are right now?
In terms of the other situation, I don't know what less risk really means, but does less risk mean less opportunity in the future? So, think about your aspirations and your opportunities.
Alignment with your values
The second thing to think about is alignment. It's so important to find a place where you feel like your values are aligned with the organization's values, where there's a great cultural fit.
I always tell people you want to think about what kind of soil is your best soil if we were plants, or flowers, or trees. You want to make sure you're in that best soil because not all soil is created equal.
As an example, one of the people that worked on my team was going to resign to go to another bank for a bigger role, but ultimately decided to stay. When we asked him why, he said, “Well, my wife told me that I am a much better person when I'm working here with you all. So, I think I'm going to stay.” Lovely.
Continued learning and growing
The third consideration is, are you still learning and growing? Because if you're not learning and growing, then you're stagnating and you're going to fall behind and you're not going to be very happy. So, make sure you're still learning and growing.
The fourth aspect is enjoyment. How do you feel every day when you get up and go into work, or think about going into work? Life is short. We've got to make sure that we're enjoying the journey.
The 100-year-old test
Then the fifth thing is what I call the hundred-year-old test. When you're a hundred years old, looking back on your life, are you going to feel really happy with the decision that you just made? Again, a very personal kind of thing, but you want to live a life of no regrets.
Then, from a tactical standpoint, you might think about the decision-making filter. Once you've set up your criteria, you can set up a decision-making filter, which I talk about in another blog post.
So, I hope this helps. I can't wait to hear what you decide to do, and how it turns out. Leave a comment or let me know.
How to Land a New Role in a More Senior Position and in a Different Industry
“What should I do to land a new role, ideally in a more senior position and in a different industry? I have 14 years of international experience and recently parted ways with my employer because they just couldn't find a job in alignment with my seniority.”
First, I like how you're thinking. You want to improve on all fronts!
Second, more and more of us are going to experience this. So, the advice I'm about to give applies to all of us, whether you're in a job now and want to have more options, or looking for something new and trying to figure out how to accelerate that process.
There are three things you want to do.
First is you want to brand yourself as a thought leader and an expert. This means publishing, putting yourself out there. The easiest way to do this is to start publishing articles on LinkedIn.
You can even just start sharing articles and add a little bit of your views on things. Don't just share because then you're just passing the article along without demonstrating any expertise.
By the way, this means that you're going to want to have more connections rather than fewer because more people would then be reading your work. Soon you'll start to get followers. And don’t worry if you’re starting at zero – that's where we all start. It’s great to start with zero because then you can only go up.
You can also start speaking. There are lots of conferences where they want experts. You can speak at local chamber of commerce or the equivalent. You could also get quoted by the press. Again, if you don't have a job right now, it’s a huge advantage because you're not restricted by what your company's policies are on what you can say and who you can say it to.
Leverage your connections
The second thing to do is to leverage your connections. That means having a lot of conversations. When you're having those conversations, do two things.
One is you want to convey the value you bring, the results you've achieved, how you've helped the people you've helped, and what kinds of people you want to help. Then the other thing is you want to ask and receive. What you want to ask for is “who else should I be talking to?”
You always want to be expanding your network of connections because that's how you find the truly great opportunities that you are uniquely qualified to take on.
Create your own role
Then the third thing is to create a role for yourself while you're looking. What I mean by that is you go and find a project. Maybe it's for your prior employer, maybe it's for a former client (of course, it has to be one that's not in conflict with your former employer and any legal agreements that you've signed).
Or maybe it's some new kind of organization or a non-profit, but find yourself a project to do that's related to your field where you can continue to build expertise.
You could also consult. There are some firms who collect a group of people who are demonstrated experts and connect them with people who need that expertise. There's one called GLG (Gerson Lehrman Group), which is a consulting firm, not the hedge fund. You even get paid while you're doing that. Isn't that great? There might be other consulting firms that have this kind of model where you don't have to go and be an employee, but they put together SWAT teams to help solve problems.
You could also be a mentor in the new sector that you want to get into. Let's say you're a marketing expert in the consumer products sector and you want to get into finance or FinTech. Well, then you can start just being a mentor to people in that new sector on the topic where you are an expert.
You could also be an interim marketing director for a smaller company maybe, or maybe it's a bigger company. There are recruiters who specialise in hiring interim directors and interim managers.
Finally, recognize that your ideal role might require some interim steps, so don't be afraid to take those opportunities. Whatever you do, keep going. I'm rooting for you!
I hope this helps. I can't wait to hear what you decide to do and how it turns out.
How to Improve Your Executive Presence, Communication Skills and Ability to Read a Room
“What have you found to be effective in improving your executive presence, communication skills, and ability to read a room? These EQ and soft skills are hard to improve and increasingly critical to be successful and promoted where I am.”
Well, first, this is such a great point. These are exactly the kinds of skills that are going to differentiate you, especially as you move up in your career. Here are five things you can do.
Become a student
First is, you want to become a student, both informally and formally. What I mean by informally is to just start noticing. Start observing others as well as yourself. What works well, what doesn't work so well.
Then formally, go get some training. There's a lot of great training. Your organization's probably offering some, and if they don't, then you can sign up for something like Toastmasters. I think they're international, and it's not very expensive to join.
Once you've gotten the training, you might want to continue and get some coaching, which can help you reinforce what you’ve learned and get into the nuances.
The second thing you can do is practice. You can do lots of different experiments as you practice.
For example, practice the way you show up when you walk into a room. Practice the way that you make points in a meeting. Practise sizing up the situation when you walk into a room – what are the things that you notice about how the politics of the situation, and how does the room feel?
Then the third thing is, once you practice, you want to get feedback. The best kind of feedback is real-time feedback. Maybe you can find somebody who's safe for you to talk to, somebody who's a friend or your mentor.
Maybe you're in the same meeting with them and can say, “I'm working on my executive presence. Can you share with me afterwards how I came across?” The more specific you can be, the better. For example, “I’m trying to speak more in meetings, and I’m trying to make my points more powerfully. Can you let me know how I'm doing and just pay attention to those things?”
Incorporate and refine
Once you've gotten the feedback, you want to incorporate that feedback and keep refining. That way, you're always creating this learning loop so that you can keep improving. That helps you gain confidence in what really works for you. You develop your own style, because you don't want to sound like anybody else. Frankly, that doesn't work very well.
Then the fifth thing is, you want to start becoming what I think of as other-conscious as opposed to self-conscious.
Instead of thinking about, “How should I behave and act,” maybe spend some time thinking about, “What does the other person need and expect from me,” and then, “What version of myself do I want to bring to the forefront in this particular situation to really make an impact and give that person what they're wanting and expecting from me?”
Those are five things you can do. I hope they help you. I'd love to hear how you decide to move forward and what happens next, so leave me a comment and let me know.