Start Smart. Finish Strong. | Job-to-Career Strategies

Singin’ the “I Need a Job” blues? It starts like this: “Don’t know what I wanna do with my life…Got so many bills to pay.” It’s a sorrowful tune about the rock and the hard place. 

You want a job that launches your career but can’t find one—the rock.  You settle for a make-do job to cover debts and expenses—the hard place. Luckily, there is a cure for the blues! 

Jobs don’t make a career, but they can add up to one. 

A job is a means to an end. So before you start looking, you need to know what you’re really after. 

I recently spoke to a group of college seniors with questions about the job market. One of the students expressed confusion and frustration about the pull of trying to find a job that matched his major versus taking a $20-an-hour security job to start paying his tuition debts. 

I asked him, “What are you interested in?” 

He answered, “Bodybuilding.”  Bingo! 

The bodybuilding industry is huge. It’s made up of companies that: 

  • Produce body-building equipment, supplements, and attire
  • Build and design gyms
  • Market equipment, products, and services
  • Handle event planning and promotion
  • Offer personal trainers, DVD’s, and on-air programs
  • Produce print and on-line publications 

Each one of these companies has jobs to fill at all salary levels. If you really want to work in a certain industry, first get connected to it. 

I told this young man, “If you’re willing to work for $20 an hour, then look for $20-an-hour job at a company that’s connected to the bodybuilding industry.” 

Why? Because, at least, he’ll get in a door that gives him an insider’s look at the industry that he’s attracted too. Once he’s there, he’s in a position to stand out.

 Positioning is about building your body of work.

When you start any job, you don’t really know how the business works. So your objective is to do what it takes to accumulate knowledge, skills, experience, and insights that will make you a strong candidate for new opportunities when the time comes. 

So what should you do in that current job: 

  • Master the technical skills and processes to maximize your productivity.
  • Make strong, professional relationships with the colleagues, managers, suppliers, and vendors you meet. Stay in touch.
  • Learn about the competition and how the company is dealing with it.
  • Volunteer for special assignments; Offer to work on a project even if it isn’t within your existing job.
  • Participate on work teams to solve problems.
  • Ask people you work with about their career paths; Do information interviewing with them.
  • Keep alert to internal openings and job opportunities in other companies tied to your preferred industry. 

Be ready to move when the time comes.  

  • Keep your resume updated.
  • Maintain a professional social media presence.
  • Let people in your company and outside know that you are interested in other opportunities.
  • Think through the next steps you want to take and what you require to make a move. (Remember: Each job change is about adding to your skills, knowledge, experience, and network! It’s not all about money and title.) 

The key is to be prepared and ready to make those moves. That’s what it means to be business fit. 

You build a career by being strategic about the jobs you take.

Flailing is not a strategy. That’s what taking jobs for paychecks looks like. In order to take control of your career, you need to be under control about your choices. 

The sequencing of your jobs tells a story on your resume. A job history that demonstrates a commitment to learning about an industry from the ground up sets you apart. That’s how to trade that hard place for a warm seat that fits just right.

 What are some of the related businesses you discovered while working in an industry? What do you see emerging in today’s marketplace?