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Build a successful career

Build a successful career

When parting ways, make sure you don't go to a place where the pay is higher but the work is less challenging.

T. V. Mohandas PaiTimes have changed. Now, whether you have been blessed with good education, or are self-confident, ideally both, there are choices to be made for your career. A generation ago, we had limited choices.

Economic necessity compelled a large number then to work immediately after their education. The current generation has a lesser compulsion and can choose careers in sports, culture,art, music, acting, writing, designing and other creative areas and make a good living.

An increasingly affluent society also allows one to choose an off-beat career as an adventure entrepreneur, motivational speaker, spiritual guru, politician and more. But the key is to have qualities of heart and mind which allow one to be innovative and think laterally, be self-confident and, most of all, have the chutzpah to market oneself.

How does one build a career? The basic quality one needs to have is a passion for excellence and the energy to achieve one’s dream. Focus, steadfastness, good cheer and an ability to network would enhance the odds in one’s favour.

Take a look at all the achievers around you. They have abundant self-confidence like a Laloo Yadav has, energy and passion like a N.R. Narayana Murthy, ability to think big like a Mukesh Ambani, optimism like a Shah Rukh Khan (besides good looks) and an ability to spot an opportunity and grow like a Sunil Bharti Mittal.

These are individual qualities which one has or needs to cultivate. If one has the foundation of good education and is sufficiently articulate then the world is at one’s feet. We can argue that most of these achievers are naturally gifted and would succeed in all circumstances. But what about the rest of us ordinary mortals who dream of the Great Indian Dream?

To build a sustainable career, the important ingredient is to have domain expertise. In any career one needs expertise and skill of a high order. Competition is bound to increase in a dynamic environment and in order to succeed we need to have that extra knowledge and expertise. We need to learn from our work and constantly upgrade our knowledge and skills. 

We must develop the power of lateral thinking and build the ability to solve problems using our skills and knowledge base. We need to understand the drivers behind the work we do and the intersection of the various constraints which we face so that we can deliver solutions.

We need to increase our personal productivity so that we can take on more responsibility. If our employers feel that we deliver greater value than others, we would naturally get promoted and take on bigger challenges.

All it takes
Personal productivity can be increased by organising our work such that we complete assignments in the shortest possible time, avoiding idle time at work and unproductive behaviour. This also helps maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life.

The use of technology certainly helps as does an innate sense of curiosity. Organisations recognise achievers and reward them more. Sticking to one’s job long enough to understand and execute the work, learning on the job to develop expertise, building the capability for greater work, getting the recognition for beinga highly productive achiever would help build our individual brand so that there is more recognition within and outside the place of work.

Interpersonal skills play a great role in career building.

We must develop the ability to hear people, communicate effectively, think clearly and maintain a pleasant demeanour.

 It is possible that we can achieve results by being aggressive, sometimes even being rude and pushy.

 But such behavour, while effective, also creates negative energy all around and pulls one back. Bad references are certainly unnecessary and avoidable.

Learning how to manage your boss is important. I do not mean currying favour, or being subservient, but understanding how the decision making process works, what motivates one’s supervisor and what they look for in us, is important. After all, being an achiever is both a perception and a fact—perception being almost as important as the fact.

At the same time we need to understand the importance of team work. A leader is only as good as the team and that means that we need to build successors, hire people beneath us who are better and more energetic and motivate them so that we succeed.

Unless we create leaders beneath us, when the time comes for our own promotions, the chances will dim if the organisation feels that there is nobody else to do the work. I think this is a critical area to work on as this not only ensures better overall performance but also improves our own performance.

It is important to understand that a career is a marathon and not a splash and dash—it demands judicious expectations management. A typical working career spans around four decades, which is a fairly long time.

In most flat organisations today there are between five and seven levels of vertical growth. Growth thus would also encompass lateral shifts and moving towards the core of the organisation. Functional knowledge coupled with a rounded understanding of the business is the recipe for a fasttrack professional growth.

Building a career also means knowing when to quit. The career we pick has to not only be challenging, but should also do justice to our ambition. It should offer a learning opportunity, use our talent to the fullest and keep us motivated. It should also allow personal growth. If we come to a dead end and do not foresee growth, increased responsibility and compensation, we must look at alternatives.

Most organisations recognise this aspect today and try to provide an enabling environment. If our ambitions are not aligned with that of the organisation, the resulting misfit creates frustration and unhappiness.

When we decide to part ways we must make sure that we do not go to a new place where the compensation may be higher but the position itself is less challenging. Because the work we do is crucial to building a great career.

Ultimately our skill-set, our ability to perform, deliver and to learn are the only assets which truly belong to us. I feel that we can build a sustainable career so long as we perform more than is demanded of us and are compensated slightly lesser that the market value we have. This requires that there is excess demand for our services. In a dynamic environment good careers are ours to build.

(The author is a Director of Human Resources, Infosys)