My thought-leading tours of the Middle East and Europe were postponed and then postponed again in 2020. To convince the organizers to host my events in person, I went on a shopping spree and bought all kinds of audio and video equipment. It was the last day before Singapore’s first pandemic-related lockdown in April 2021.
It wasn’t just me. Everyone needs to adapt to the changing environment brought on by COVID-19. Over the past 18 months, many of my students and coaching clients, from mid-career finance professionals to senior executives and countless others around the world, have had to rethink their career strategies.
With that in mind, here are seven actionable tips on how to take advantage of the present moment to advance your career.
1. stock up on social capital
“Your network is your net worth.”
I realized the veracity of this statement when a former colleague referred me to the role of managing director at UBS. I wouldn’t have gotten that referral if I hadn’t accumulated social capital.
So what is social capital? It is the goodwill and relationships that you have built up with people over the years. It’s like putting money in a bank: every time you help someone, you accumulate some social capital. Maybe you buy them lunch, give them a tip on job openings, or share some career advice. It’s a good idea to treat people with respect, even if they are in a junior position. Then the law of compounding applies. Your social capital grows as you advance the careers of the people you help today and move into more senior roles tomorrow.
Last year, several companies restructured and changed shape. This year, firms have embraced the new normal and are hiring again. As new jobs open up, you want your connections to think of you when they hear about the position you would be a good fit for. And you should do the same for them.
Remember: Today’s entry level analyst can become tomorrow’s CEO. When you spend time, money, ideas and effort on people, you will be rewarded in the long run.
2. Become an Online Networker
Big events aren’t coming back soon, so there will be fewer face-to-face opportunities to meet new people. Knowing how to communicate and build relationships without physically meeting the person is an essential skill.
Online networking is more important than ever. But be careful. If you are only thinking about extracting value from your network, you will fail. Think for a long time, think about how you can help the other person. And be sure to develop an interesting online profile that immediately demonstrates your integrity and authenticity.
A senior executive I know, Matt is a creative person with retail and consulting experience. He makes real connections through LinkedIn. When he saw that his LinkedIn connection Diana was leaving her role at Apple in Hong Kong for an opportunity in New York City, he reached out and congratulated her. Diana thanked him and mentioned that Apple was still looking for his replacement. Matt expressed his interest, landed an interview, and got the job!
None of this would have happened if Matt hadn’t started it all: “Hey Diana, good luck to you on your next adventure in New York!”
3. Build Your External Brand
Your employer’s perception of you is usually formed within the first few months of your tenure there. Unless you do something dramatic, your coworkers will have a hard time changing their perception of you.
One of my LinkedIn followers, Anna, works at a Big Four accounting firm in London. Here’s what he told me:
“Six months ago, I wanted to start a new career journey, but chasing opportunities and sending countless follow-up emails didn’t help. I changed my strategy and followed your advice to build my outlandish brand. I started a podcast and blog, then opportunities that were previously unattainable suddenly popped up. Not only this, I was also given a promotion opportunity because my team saw me from a different perspective.
So if you’re feeling stuck and wondering why you haven’t found a new opportunity, consider building your external brand and use it to change the perception of your colleagues and managers about yourself.
4. Develop a Side Interest
With many companies, UBS among them, allowing employees to have flexible and hybrid work arrangements, now is a great time to develop your hobbies.
Channel the time you save in commuting to and from the office writing that book you’ve always wanted to write, learning an instrument, or developing your thought leadership on social media.
Side interests will help you grow more creative, expand your network beyond your usual circle, and make you happier and more fulfilled. The happier you are, the more productive you will be and that will benefit your employer as well.
5. Request an internal transfer
Bank CEO career paths have two things in common: Most have been at the same firm for at least a decade and worked in a variety of roles. For example, Piyush Gupta, the current head of DBS, was with Citi for 27 years, while Citi CEO Jane Fraser has been with Citi for 17 years and McKinsey for 10 years.
If you have the opportunity to request an internal transfer, go for it. Don’t worry if it’s just a lateral move. You won’t be joining a new company, so you’ll already know the culture and have your own internal network to tap into. You can focus on learning new products and acquiring new skills as you continue to expand your network.
Many of today’s open roles never existed before and companies are having a hard time finding talent with direct experience to fill them. So the next best candidate could be an internal, and that could be you. In fact, each internal transfer can bring you one step closer to C-suite status.
6. become a zoom master
Whether you’re a C-suite executive delivering speeches at townhall or a junior analyst giving job interviews, you need to be able to lure your audience to the other side of the video conferencing screen. Digital meetings are here to stay, so upgrade your components and your presentation skills if you haven’t already.
No matter how good your public speech is, if your audience doesn’t hear you well or can’t see you well, you’ll be missed. All you need to manage your attendance on these digital calls. So make sure you are attractive and full of energy. Create a video bio or CV and watch it. What can you improve? How can you be more compelling? Be honest with yourself and focus on the areas where farming is needed the most.
7. Allocate some time to do nothing
Working from home can put an end to your commute, but it may not leave you enough downtime for yourself. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of keeping your mind neutral. A carefree state of mind can be a great catalyst for creativity. Set aside some time to think or walk. You can brainstorm who you want to meet next month, pick up new skills, or just enjoy nature and let your mind wander a little. You will be amazed at what new ideas you will come up with.
To be sure, you shouldn’t feel the need to implement all seven strategies. If you only take one or two and really focus on them over the coming months, you will put yourself on the road to career success in 2022.
In the meantime, I have to put on my blue jacket and turn on the lights in my home studio to get ready for a webinar. Good luck and hope to see you soon on Zoom!
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All posts are the views of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of the CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
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