Step 3 – Treat your career like a project

You know that project that never ends? The project that seems to go on forever?

  • Your own health and fitness – ongoing.
  • DIY around the house – ongoing.
  • Your garden or lawn – ongoing.
  • Your kids – ongoing.

Well, Parent Brains, your career is one of those too. Ongoing.

The market moves, our employer’s business changes, the economy tanks, we’re outperformed by kids out of school, all good reasons to get serious about our careers.

It’s why I created this vlog and blog, to help Parents continue to remain relevant, employable and effective. As such, our careers need attention over the long haul.

The best way to remain relevant, employable and productive is to treat our careers like a project.

Depending on your season of life, motivation or current situation you’ll need to spend more or less time on this project.

If we stand still too long our employment power drops, our skills stifle and we’ll be less effective in the workplace.

It shouldn’t be stressful for most of us though; a little learning here or there, some networking and a focus on finding the right job. For those anxiously looking for work, this project will consume their every waking moment.

That’s why I’ve got some tips for managing your career like a pro.

Tip 1 – A project is a forest, tasks are trees

When I mention to people that your career is like a project, many parents run to the hills and hide. We’re conditioned to believe projects require a huge amount of work, organisation, special tools and reports.

In the workplace many projects are so badly run that you’re likely asking “Why would I bring this carnage to my own life?”

They don’t have to be stressful or hard – it’s people who make them that way.

Imagine a tree. Any tree. Can you see it?

Maybe it’s your favourite tree at the park, outside your house or maybe the palm tree from last year’s holiday.

Now imagine that the tree, in all its colour and glory, is nothing more than a task. Something on your career plan that needs doing. A piece of work to complete. Something that must be done.

Now imagine that tree surrounded by other trees. Lots of trees. A group of trees is collectively known as a forest. Loads of trees all stood together make a forest. Imagine Robin Hood riding through that forest.

That forest is a project – it’s a group of tasks all together.

That’s all a project is.

A collection of tasks that relate to each other. Just like a forest is a collection of trees.

A forest wouldn’t exist without trees. A project wouldn’t exist without tasks.

We don’t manage forests, we manage each individual tree. Therefore, we don’t manage projects, we manage individual tasks.

A project is just a collective noun for a group of tasks.

No need for fancy software, a project manager, Gantt charts, reports or an army of organisers.

Just you and some tasks.

When we walk in a forest we see trees. When we work on a project we see tasks.

Ignore the enormity of the project, and spend your time working on tasks.

A project gets done by completing tasks, one task at a time, over and over again. That’s how things get done.

Not by trying to manage it or run reports.

One task. Done. Next task. Done.

We’ve covered how to paint a picture and how to build a strategy, now it’s time to list the tasks you need to do, prioritise them and do them.

So when you’re building your career, or looking for a new job, you need to complete tasks – and that group of tasks is called a project.

Managing tasks is what leads you to where we want to get to. Trying to manage projects will drive you nuts – they don’t exist.

But what should I put on the list I hear you say….?

Tip 2 – Split your project time between these three things

Knowing which tasks to write down and to focus your energy and attention on means you can use our time more carefully – and be more effective when you are working on it. And remember, energy and attention gets things done.

Depending on your season of life and current situation, you’ll need to spend more or less time on each of these three areas, but my recommendation is that you do indeed, spend time on each one.

Each focus area should have some tasks, and those tasks should be on your task list.

Focus Area 1 – Learning and Up-skilling

It’s rare to always have the skills, experience and knowledge to jump straight in to a new career, or the top job in your department or company.

Learning is an essential part of the Parent Brain philosophy.

Without learning you’ll rarely become the parent we want to be, whether that’s in work or life.

Learning doesn’t mean attending an education establishment, although there’s nothing wrong with that. Learning is simply about acquiring information and putting it into action.

I’ll do a special post on Information Acquisition and Task Acquisition soon.

For now, appreciate that one form of learning is to study facts, information and data – this is information acquisition. This is typically done through reading blogs (like this one), books and other learning sources.

We’ve all worked with these people who have a vast amount of information in their head. They’ll tell you how to deal with your kids, lose weight, solve world poverty, become a professional tennis player yada yada yada – but they aren’t doing it themselves. They have acquired some information but they not done anything with it, other than spout it to you.

Well, that’s not what we do here at Parent Brain.

We don’t want you to be a walking encyclopaedia – we want you to be effective at work. And you cannot be effective at work with information alone. You must gain knowledge.

Knowledge is information in action. 

So without the second part, task acquisition, all you’ve done is memorise something.

Once you read information you must try to put that information in to action. That way you will become knowledgeable.

You will know what works for you, what does not, how you can improve on what you’ve learned and how you can mash lots of information together to create something unique.

As such, ensure that when you acquire some information, you try it and learn from it.

Information acquisition and task acquisition work in harmony for you to gain knowledge and wisdom. The same is true for our kids too!

It’s important to align your learning to your painted picture and strategy, and be sure you’re putting into practice that which you are studying.

Let’s say you wrote down you wanted to become a marketer. And you’ve found some good books on marketing. You’ve read them. You can recite them. You could even run through an ascending life cycle model with a prospective employer. Does the fact you “know” about marketing make you a marketer? Nope. This information must be put in to practice to acquire knowledge.

So you must focus on learning by reading books, attending webinars, watching educational YouTube videos, finding a mentor at work – and then put that information into action.

Focus Area 2 – Relationships

I know communicating with other people can be insanely hard for a lot of people, and yes, you guessed it – we’ll cover that in future posts, but building relationships is how you open doors. And relationships are built one person at a time through effective communication.

The more people you know, and have a good relationship with, the more doors will open and the more opportunities will come your way. Job roles that aren’t advertised to the public, will be advertised to you.

A key learning I uncovered through all these years deconstructing work, is that the world of work is all about relationships.

Networking and building relationships is how you get more done, its how you grow your career and its also where the most meaningful aspect of work comes from – working with people you have a good relationship with.

When I say networking, I’m not just talking about outside of work, I mean in work too. Building strong relationships with key influencers, leaders and managers is a great way to show them what you can do. You can help them solve problems and of course, then utilise your growing relationship to get better opportunities.

It’s a sad reality that we face that sometimes people get jobs just because of who they know, not what they know.

I worked in an organisation where the top exec roles were all filled with the CEO’s mates. And they were useless. That company went from great to average really quickly. The good people who had worked so hard to climb the ladder felt snubbed – they left, and the incompetent leaders undid years of hard work.

At Parent Brain, we acknowledge that relationships are how the world works, but we also encourage you to build the skills and behaviours to get the job done well.

Try to avoid any situation where you’re taking on a job you really cannot do, just because you’re friends with someone there. Sure, take on roles that will push you, where a percentage of the work is beyond your current abilities, but not something completely overwhelming.

Use relationships to open doors and grow your career, but have the right behaviours and skills to support this.

And of course, a relationships is never one way. Don’t take take take.

Give more than you take. Help people and expect nothing in return. Add value to people. Be kind, caring and supportive. Treat people like people. Be friendly. Don’t let people take advantage of you. Build your communication skills (a whole wealth of these posts are coming soon).

In other words, build a positive and supportive relationship.

With these good relationships and a strong network, you’ll have more chance of landing a new gig, finding a promotion and ultimately, working with people you like.

Focus Area 3 – Applying for jobs

Another area of attention should be around the actual job market. This means ensuring you have your CV ready, you are finding good jobs and you are understanding the recruitment process for your industry.

Ultimately, you actually want to be applying for roles.

Apply for anything that comes close to fitting your standards, even if it’s just for the interview experience.

The more you work with recruiters, send off applications, write cover letters, apply for jobs and perform interviews, the better you will get. You will learn more about the process, you will gather feedback about yourself, and of course, you may also land a good job.

Ensure your task lists covers these three aspects in whatever percentage makes sense for you right now.

Tip 3 – Set realistic time frames

Learning, networking and applying for jobs all takes time.

The major frustration I see with many parents I help, is that they expect things to happen quicker than they do.

One thing to remember is that every time you pass a part of the recruitment process to the employer, you have little control.

Here’s an example:

  1. You see an advert and want to apply – in your control
  2. You need to create a bespoke CV (always use your master CV and modify it – always!) – in your control
  3. You send an application and await a response – out of your control
  4. You are invited to a phone interview – your behaviours and performance are in your control
  5. You are waiting to hear back from the phone interview – out of your control
  6. You are invited to a face to face interview – your behaviours and performance are in your control
  7. You are waiting to hear on the decision – out of your control

As you can see, some parts of this process are out of your control.

These parts that are outside of your control can sometimes take weeks and months for some organisations to action. Great companies have a very good recruitment process. Most companies don’t.

At every part where we bounce the ball back to the hiring manager or recruiter, we lose some control. We can call, we can badger, but we have no direct control.

So the best way to avoid frustration is to set realistic timescales and study the process of recruitment or promotion.

If you’re applying for lots of roles, like I covered in focus area 3 above, then you’ll have lots of data about how long an average process takes. Use that information to set expectations.

Sometimes you’ll find a job the following day, sometimes it can take 5 months.

The key aspect is not to worry too much about those part that are outside of your control, and to focus your energy and attention on everything else that is.

Keep badgering recruiters and hirers – they often need it, but don’t let the time delays and lack of communication from them worry you. Keep working on other focus areas and applying for more jobs.

Work that list, build your network, keep applying for jobs.

Tip 4 – Be prepared

The funny thing about career development is that “opportunity fortunes the prepared”.

The better prepared you are, the more opportunities seem to come your way. I don’t think that’s actually true, but I do think that those who are prepared “see” things as opportunities and they are ready to pounce.

As such it makes sense to prepare the following:

  1. A stock/standard CV – don’t send stock CVs unless you absolutely have to – but have it ready in digital format to be modified quickly.
  2. Interview outfit – I always suggest smart clothing for interviews – you get 1/10th of a second to make a good impression.
  3. Up-to-date calendar – so you can jump quickly on opportunities.
  4. Holiday days – so you can take them for interviews.
  5. A full tank of fuel, railcard, money for travel etc – so you can always be prepared (I once had to jump on an immediate opportunity and had to fill up with petrol on the way, and yep – got oil, petrol and grease all over me).
  6. Your business key results and why you’re ready for a promotion, so that when you get asked “why you?” – you can wow them with what you’ve achieved and why you’re ready for the next step.
  7. An up-to-date LinkedIn profile showing your best work and why you’re the best person for the job.

These are just a few examples – but you get the idea – be prepared.

Tip 5 – Stop – Reflect

Take time each week, or month, to stop and reflect. Are you seeing much success? Are you falling at the same hurdle each time?

This time to reflect should be spent looking at ways to get better, or finding different ways to enhance your career.

  • It could be that you get overlooked for promotion. Why? What do you need to improve upon?
  • It could be that you’re not getting past the phone interview stage. Why?

Take time to reflect and gather feedback from employers/interviewers/recruiters. You may find most won’t give you feedback but ask anyway.

Take time to study your own activities and actions.

  • Could you do something better?
  • Could you carve out more time to work on your career?
  • Are you applying for the right roles?
  • Is your CV good enough?
  • Are you building the right network?

This time to reflect means you don’t keep running the wrong race, or climbing the ladder that’s leaning against the wrong wall.

It’s time to reflect on whether you are giving the right things, the right level of energy and attention.

Find a quiet five minutes when the kids are in bed to look at what’s not working.

Only by studying what’s happening will you understand how to make it better.

Until next time

Rob..