A Free Agent Message To The Graduates
As we write these words we’re in Providence, Rhode Island, attending our son Jordan’s graduation from Brown University. As you can imagine, this is an exciting time. We’re proud of Jordan and what he has learned and accomplished over the past four years. And we’re excited and optimistic about our son and the other young adults who are graduating this spring. They are intelligent, curious, talented, and committed – just the kind of people we need to make the world a better place for all of us.
This is the season for graduations, and at high schools and colleges across the country countless speakers will remind us that “commencement” means to begin. In the spirit of “commencement” we’d like to offer a gift of career guidance to this year’s graduates – and to those seasoned professionals who also need to manage their careers in the 21st century.
The Three Myths Of Career Success
What are the “success messages” you heard when you were growing up? What did your parents, family members, and teachers tell you would make the difference in your career?
When we ask participants in our Free Agent workshops to share the success messages they heard, three messages emerge most often:
- Excel – be the best.
- Work hard.
- Be patient – good things come to those who wait.
We’ve come to refer to these messages as the three myths of career success. The truth is that each of these is necessary but not sufficient.
If you look at people you consider to be successful, they all excel they’re very good at what they do. But not everyone who excels becomes successful.
If you look at people you consider to be successful, they all work hard. But not everyone who works hard becomes successful.
If you look at people you consider to be successful, it took many of them a long time to get where they are. But not everyone who is patient becomes successful.
It turns out that these success messages do provide excellent guidance about how to succeed in your job. But they don’t provide much help in terms of how to succeed in your career.
With these myths in mind, what kind of career advice can you offer to the young graduates among your family, friends, or work team? We suggest that you help them become Free Agents.
Becoming A Free Agent
It’s been more than 10 years since Kerry co-authored Free Agents: People and Organizations Creating New Working Communities. But the Free Agent message is as powerful and relevant today as it was then. Here are a few keys you can pass on to the graduates.
No one cares more about your career than you do. So it’s up to you to drive your own career success. This means that you have to work “on” your career at the same time as you work “in” your job. Most people spend more time planning their annual vacations than working on their careers. Free Agents are committed to doing, at the very least, an annual career check-up.
Excel in your job. But don’t stop there. Organizations – understandably – put a lot of emphasis on encouraging employees to excel at their jobs. Just about every company we work with tells employees that the best thing they can do to promote their careers is to excel in their current positions. Excelling in your job is essential for career success, but your outstanding performance may not be enough to propel you to the next step. We’ve seen many instances where managers were perfectly happy to keep top performers in their current positions indefinitely. Remember – no one cares more about your career than you do!
Continue to build your portfolio of assets. Your ability to contribute now – and to make a move to your next position – depends on the capabilities you can bring to the job. We refer to these capabilities as your portfolio of professional assets: attitudes, skills, knowledge, experiences, relationships, education. Make sure you are growing your portfolio in a way that enables you to make a positive contribution now and positions you to make your next move. Proactively search out projects, special assignments, or community service opportunities that will enable you to develop the assets that make you increasingly valuable to your current – and future – employers.
Remember that there is more than one way to grow. In the past it seemed as though the only way to grow professionally was to get a promotion. There are actually four ways to grow. So as you think about your long-term career goals, recognize that there may be more than one next step that can help you achieve them:
- Up. You can move up to a position of greater responsibility. For example, you might go from being an individual contributor to becoming a manager.
- Down. You can “drill down” to become a specialist in a particular area or role. This doesn’t mean that you are moving down in the organization or taking a position of lesser responsibility.
- Across. You can cross-train to broaden your skill set. Or you can take the skills you’ve developed and apply them in a different part of the same department.
- Jump. You can apply your skills in a different way, in a different department, or in a different organization.
Build your network – both inside and outside of your organization. The people you know are the best sources of information about possible opportunities and the best sources of referrals and references for potential positions and employers. Now there are more ways than ever to keep in touch. Make sure that you do! And don’t be shy about keeping your network up to date about your accomplishments and your plans.
Commit yourself wholeheartedly to your job – and your career. It goes without saying that you should work hard to excel in your current position. At the same time, keep an eye on your own career goals. Test the market periodically to see what kinds of opportunities are available and to assess how well you’re developing your portfolio of assets. And continue networking all the time!
Free Agent Tips
- No one cares more about your career than you do.
- Excel in your job – but don’t stop there.
- Continue to build your portfolio of assets.
- Remember that there is more than one way to grow.
- Build your network – both inside and outside your organization.
- Commit yourself wholeheartedly to your job and your career.