You’re just coming off that promotion you’d been angling for, and feeling great about the bump in pay, added responsibilities, bigger team, and the chance to make a deeper impact. You’re still settling into the new position, so the last thing on your mind is your next role after that. But maybe it should be.
The point isn’t to encourage paranoid, presumptuous, or premature action–it’s just to make it clear that there are risks to not planning at least one step ahead, no matter what–as I’ve learned firsthand. A few years back, I was a rising star in a public company that was grooming me to succeed our chief people officer. I moved cross-country for a promotion that put me on the leadership career path I was excited about. My future at company was bright, so I focused single-mindedly on rising up the ranks there. That was my mistake.
Two weeks into my new job, my company was acquired. After a year of regulatory review, I was eventually asked to move onto the internal communications team of the newly merged company–not exactly my dream job. The path I’d laid out for myself was derailed in an instant. I left a week later, picking up the pieces of what had felt like such a sure thing so recently.
The reality is that there’s only so much you as an employee can control when it comes to your career path. Mergers, layoffs, consolidations, downsizing, pivots, reorganizations–the average worker is at the mercy of all these contingencies, many of them hard to foresee. The best way to protect yourself is to plan ahead for the position you’d like to reach next, even if you have no intention to go after it yet. Here’s how.
Cultivate your network — and the skill of networking
You’re probably tired of reading about the importance of building your network. Don’t be, because it’s actually the most important skill you can develop, particularly at the outset of your career. And it is a skill.
We tend to think of “networking” as an activity–something you do in order to build connections, with that pool of names and contact information being the real thing of value. But a knack for developing relationships is more lasting and powerful still; your contacts will change jobs, get fired, retire, and move industries, and your own career needs and goals will shift, too. So while the relative worth of a given set of connections will always vary, your ability to build and maintain connections won’t. And you have no way of knowing when a certain contact you’ve made will swing a door wide open for you right when you need it.
Some people are natural networkers, effortlessly working any room and instantly finding the right topic of conversation. Most people aren’t. Some would rather have a root canal than attend a networking event. But if you’re in the latter camp, you can still flex your networking muscle while you aren’t job-searching, so it’s ready to do some heavy-lifting when you least expect to need it.
Try this: Put a 15-minute weekly block of time in your schedule. Maybe it’s every Tuesday right after lunch, or the last 15 minutes of your day each Friday, when you can’t really focus on your work tasks any longer but still have some time to spare. Use this period to research people in your field, look up past colleagues, alumni, thought leaders, and others in your industry or at companies that interest you. Connect with them on LinkedIn (just be sure you personalize the message–here are a few tips if you’re not sure how), drop an email, or even just follow them on Twitter until you’re ready to reach out. Make a little progress on this shortlist every week, and watch your network grow.
Twitter is handy because it lets you create a private list of your network. Unlike LinkedIn, you don’t need these networking prospects to accept your invitation to add them. Once you’re connected via LinkedIn or Twitter, like, retweet, and comment on their posts to get on their radar.
Show your work
Blogging is a great way to elevate your visibility and share your point of view–and it feels nothing like job-searching. LinkedIn lets you embed blog posts and articles directly onto your profile through its publisher feature, in addition to the ones you can share in your feed. Medium is another straightforward, well-known resource that lets you pick up blogging pretty much immediately. Whatever tool you use, sharing your perspective on your field and work is a great way to get on the radar and open your prospects long before you actually need them.
Try this: Don’t worry if you aren’t the world’s most eloquent writer or fear that your point of view isn’t very unique. That’s okay. Focus on sharing how you do what you do. “Working out loud” and sharing your work is an easy way to get the attention of people who might be in a position to hire you one day. Consider writing about tools you use, organizational methods you’ve learned, how you structure your day, productivity hacks, and so on. It might feel mundane to you, but you’ll be surprised how sharing your experience might help others and elevate your profile. (And if you’re self-conscious about your writing style or grammar, tools like Grammarly and Hemingway can help tighten your writing.)
Do some digital housekeeping
Most people don’t update their LinkedIn profile until they’re looking for a job. But recruiters and managers are using LinkedIn constantly to look for new hires. So since you’ll be using LinkedIn to build your network anyway, you’ll want to give them–prospective contacts and hiring managers alike–an up-to-date view of your experience. Sometimes even just waiting to see which recruiters reach out about which opportunities can give you a feel for how you’re viewed in your industry. That’s useful intel for planning ahead even if you aren’t ready to consider a move.
Digital housekeeping isn’t just about LinkedIn, though, it’s about knowing what will show up when someone Googles your name. Check your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social networks you might use–or even the ones you used to use (since it might not occur to you that a recruiter will stumble on that 2012 Tumblr account you loaded up with cat memes).
Try this: Schedule a one-hour appointment with yourself every one to three months to polish up your LinkedIn profile. Maybe you won’t even need half that much time to bring it up to speed–in which case, great! This can also help you track key accomplishments and projects you’ve been involved with that might be hard to remember if only only update your LinkedIn once a year. Plus, these milestones may come in handy during your performance review or while negotiating that promotion.
If you approach preparing for a new job as something that’s part of your regular routine, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your career on the track you want. You’ll never have absolute control over your company’s future, but all it takes are a few good habits like these to keep you in the best possible position in case you find you’re not longer in your employer’s plans.