Don’t let career myths define your reality

Career development
Phil Purver
By Phil Purver | 12th August 2020

Chief Executive of The Working Manager, Managing Director of iRIS Health Solutions Ltd.

Are you one of those people who are keen to move on in your career but feel now isn’t the right time? Perhaps you’re resigned to treading water for the time being, and count yourself lucky to have a job at all.

Even at the best of times, thinking about your career can feel like a step into the unknown. For many people, career management is a hidden skill that isn’t taught growing up. They have to figure it out by trial and error as they progress. Advice sought from senior mentors can be vague, and filled with clichés; ‘I was in the right place at the right time,’ or ‘I was just lucky’. Such clichés are neither helpful — especially in the COVID-19 Era when it can feel that nothing is ‘right’ or ‘lucky’ — or accurate. In fact, research* shows that while successful people may not have worked to a five-year plan, they have been proactive about creating their ‘luck’.

Myths masquerading as career advice can often accentuate feelings of helplessness. ‘You need to change organisations every 2 — 3 years to progress,’ is particularly unhelpful when the job market is static. But even when it’s buoyant, studies* show your first port of call for career progression should be your current organisation.

These platitudes suggest the ability to advance in your career lies elsewhere, beyond your control. However, I believe it resides a lot closer to home. I was reminded of this while listening to a webinar hosted by Matt Manners, CEO & Founder of Inspiring Workplaces. The webinar, led by Mel Small and Sarah Hobbs of CareerBurst, tore up the storybook on career progression.

What if the power to progress in your career came from within? Not just within your current organisation — which is often under-estimated fertile ground — but also within yourself. Research* conducted in over 2,000 interviews, across a wide range of industries found that when the interviewees were asked what made them successful, the findings suggested precisely that.

When participants were asked how they secured their last position, Sarah Hobbs, who led the research, was expecting the familiar adage of ‘networking’ to feature highly. However, while the study found that networking played a role for around 10% — 11% of people interviewed, a more significant percentage of people polled (32% in total,) believed they won their last job thanks to their reputation.

This finding is excellent news. Because while you might not have friends in powerful places, your reputation is within your grasp. How you apply yourself, your results and achievements, how you work with a team: these measurable indicators of your performance in your current role can also propel you forward when you want to move on.

Sarah shared some great tips on how to build your reputation and leverage it to make the most of career opportunities in the webinar. Sometimes, this is as simple as initiating a conversation with a manager, a mentor, or someone else in the business. Forget, awkward 'small talk' and cheesy networking; this is more about directing the conversation, focusing on what you want to achieve, sharing the right information, and posing expert questions and career tactics to ensure a productive discussion.

Employing these strategies can help with other common career myths — such as the claim that only 3 out of 5 positions are ever advertised. It stands to reason that if you have a strong reputation within your organisation and industry, you'll be first in line for relevant internal opportunities and external headhunting drives when they arise.

If you’re going through a transition in your career, or want to make changes, it’s worth getting in touch with TWM to find out how you can start exploring what you’re good at, what you love doing and what you want to achieve. TWM can provide access to the ‘Exploring Me’ digital tools within the CareerBurst platform, to help you build self-awareness around what energises you, motivates you and drains you: a great starting point if you want to be more of a career activist.

Because when you have self-awareness, clarity, a true understanding of where you want to go and concrete tools based on real research to help, career myths become fiction.

The recording of the CareerBurst webinar ‘Bursting Career Myths and Building Career Activists.’ is available here.


* In ongoing research, conducted over the last 10 years, Talent & Potential have been conducting in-depth interviews with successful individuals across a wide range of industries. The interviews, which number over 2000 to date, are aimed at unearthing the secrets to what successful people do to drive and accelerate their own careers.

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