When you talk to someone about making career changes, you typically get one of two responses: avoidance or excitement. I don’t think anyone is on the fence when it comes to making changes that effect their primary income source, but I find it fascinating that there are those people who see great opportunities in work changes while others see it as completely terrifying.
Believe it or not, I’m not a big risk-taker myself; but somewhere along the way, I developed some notions about work that make me more comfortable than the average person with changing jobs (or even careers). These notions all evolved during the 7+ years I spent consulting.
I realize that not everyone wants to spend time working as a consultant. Even when working for a large firm, there is a lot of uncertainty: new projects, bosses (clients) and working environments every few months; travel to less-than-exotic locales; long hours and sometimes very high expectations. It can be stressful, but it also teaches some important lessons about being a strong player, building relationships and being ready for anything.
Here are 7 lessons I learned in consulting that can make you a stronger player at your current job AND ready for whatever job is coming next:
- Always keep your resume updated. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone what I did on a project 5 years ago. Whether you do it in print or you do it on LinkedIn, there is no better time to capture information about what you do than when you are doing it — and in today’s market, you just don’t know when you will need it.
- Focus on accomplishments, not “responsibilities.” Both on your resume and in discussions: don’t tell me you were responsible for doing something — if you did it, say you did it; and be clear about the results of what you did. Saved time? Saved money? Increased productivity? Make it clear that you make things happen and you know your value.
- An interview is just a business meeting. If you think about an interview as your personal make-or-break (or worse, a statement on your value as a person), you’re going to psych yourself out. An interview is where one person has a need, and another person has talents that might fill that need — spend the meeting understanding what the need is and how you fill it. If you can fill the need, great! If you can’t, it’s still an opportunity to make a connection that can help you later.
- Run toward smoke. Problems are either opportunities to shine or opportunities to head off bigger problems before they come around to bite you in the butt. Either way, if there is a problem, you need to get on that right away. It’s the key to being a proactive player.
- Difficult conversations are difficult for everyone. Too many people avoid conflict because they are afraid of a big confrontation with everyone getting angry and meetings spiraling out of control. The truth is that difficult conversations can go just fine when you approach the other person with respect and dignity. Compassionate first steps set the tone and help you preserve the relationship.
- Employment is a two-way partnership. It works well as long as you and the company are both getting something from the arrangement. There are no emotional ties — if the company feels you are no longer serving their needs, they will let you go. You should feel comfortable doing the same should the position no longer offer you what you need.
- The world is very, very small. The person who is your direct report today could be your client tomorrow. There is no advantage to burning bridges over departures or professional differences. Tomorrow is a new opportunity to work together on something completely different — be ready for that!
Adopting a few of these basic consulting lessons can shift the way that you think about your work and can make a huge difference in your ability to tolerate a sudden change — it might even inspire you to plan your next big leap.
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