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The level of responsibility that goes hand in hand with an executive role can leave little time to think about personal career management. And when your greatest career advances have been thanks to your ability to improve performance, drive change, and develop your organization, it may feel like focusing on business results is managing your career. Besides, your current role may be such a great opportunity and challenge that the thought of “what’s next” may not even come to mind yet.

But the data tell us that it is wise to prepare for your next career move at all times. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average person born between 1957 and 1964 held 11.7 jobs on average between 18 and 48 years of age. With millennials job hopping just as frequently as their predecessors—combined with the exponential change happening in just about any industry you examine, this trend won’t be changing anytime soon.

executive_career_management_stepsBelow are four ways to intentionally and diligently manage your career. They are not tasks you can conveniently check off a list and be done with. Rather, your long-term career success hinges on your ability to execute this strategy perpetually in parallel to delivering top performance for your current employer. The good news is that these actions will help you whether you need an altogether new environment or you hope to achieve your career goals internally.

1) Nourish Your Network. You may not need an introduction, insider information, or an expert opinion right now. But who among your contacts can YOU introduce, provide meaningful resources to, or share your advice with today? Don’t lie dormant waiting for the tables to turn and only come to life when you need something from others. Seek ways to help people in your network achieve their goals. The best way to stay on track with networking is to set your own KPIs (weekly introductions, breakfast meetings, phone calls to former colleagues, update emails to contacts, etc.).

2) Build Your Executive Brand. Your brand attributes and unique value should be intentionally and consistently communicated to your network, and not only when you are actively engaged in a job search. Think about how a product is marketed: it’s not just about point-of-sale advertising. It’s about building brand continually in the minds of potential customers before they even set foot in the store. Your personal brand, expertise, and value proposition need to be broadcast regularly long before you are “selling” your core competencies and decision makers are actively “shopping” for them.

A good first step is to create a very polished LinkedIn profile—fully aligned with the values and objectives of your current company, of course—that your team members, clients, suppliers, and professional contacts can look to and that reinforces your brand. But don’t just create a great profile and then leave it to wither on the web. Keep it alive and keep people visiting by broadcasting your expertise through updates, shared articles, and insightful blog posts. Again, set goals for yourself—and stick with them.

3) Regularly Review Your Achievements. Take time every few months to record exactly what you’ve accomplished for your employer over the past few months. Include information on the challenges you faced, the specific actions you took, and what the quantifiable impact was. Keep this file somewhere safe that you’ll always have access to.

Your specific achievements, complete with information on solid, measureable results are the fuel you need to write a high-impact resume when the time comes, or to ace an internal promotion interview. As an executive resume writer, I work with many clients who tell me about incredible achievements, but they can’t remember precise figures and no longer have access to their files. The most powerful career stories are the ones backed up with quantifiable results. With that information handy, you’ll be ready to jump start a job search quickly OR be uber-prepared to discuss your fit for sudden opportunities within your current company.

4) Ask Yourself, “What’s Next?” Part of effective career management is constantly questioning what you and everyone else in your industry and discipline take for granted. While no one can predict the future with absolute certainty, you can decide to adopt a trailblazer’s mindset at all times and be skeptical of the stability of the ground under your feet.  

Whether your concern is your personal career or the success of your current organization, or—more likely—both, adopting this way of thinking won’t leave you blindsided if your business is suddenly disrupted. Anticipating tumultuous changes will help you to decide whether you want to flee a sinking ship long before the emergency alarms go off—as a timely career move—or go down into the bilge and start repairing the ship’s holes with your team before your competitors make the situation worse.  

If you don’t know where to start, surround yourself with those who might have a better inkling. Identify the brilliant pioneers in your line of work and learn as much as you can from them, whether it’s feasible to sit down for coffee with them or just follow their blogs. Identify the cutting-edge knowledge and skills needed to teeter on the cusp of innovation and put them at the top of your professional development to-do list.

Career management and performance in your job must be focused on in tandem if you want to carve out a successful career path and have greater control over where it leads you. Your commitment to taking small, repetitive actions again and again will help you to form the habit of career management—and thus prepare yourself for the challenges and changes of tomorrow.

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