Best Advice: Evaluate Your Career Every 18 Months

In my second year at Harvard Business School, I took a career management course because I had no idea what I was going to do upon graduation. At the start of the course, the professor gave me the best advice: that the most important asset I would ever manage would be my career and because of that, I should give it the proper time, attention and investment that it deserved. No other asset I would ever manage would ever come close to the net present value of my career.

His specific advice was to evaluate my career status about every 18 months. It’s 18 months because that’s about how long it takes for a person to master a job — and begin to look for new challenges. Either you find those challenges in the existing job or you have to and find new opportunities. Regardless, that regular evaluation keeps you honest about managing your career, rather than passively going along with the situation that you are currently in.

For years, I followed this advice — and it was what allowed me to stay at Forrester Research for almost 10 years, even though many of my business school classmates were chasing (and found) Dot Com glory. About every 18 months, I’d sit down and figure out the trajectory of my professional life for the next 18 months and if I should stay at my job or leave. I’d work with career coaches, take assessments, and frequently interview with other companies to see if the grass truly was greener. For almost 10 happy years, I kept coming back to realizing that being at Forrester met all of my career criteria — especially when it came to balancing work and life.

But at some point, I realized that I had changed and that while I loved being at Forrester, I wanted to take my career in a different direction. I was also facing the challenges of managing a growing family and needed greater control over my life. So I left, became an independent analyst, and shortly thereafter realized that I wanted to work again with other people. So I started Altimeter!

The biggest on-the-job impact this advice had was my decision to invest early in social media — each time I make an investment in social media, it pays back in spades. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy, and unfortunately, often takes a back seat to the daily demands of a job. Confession: I haven’t written a post in months and it was the realization that I hadn’t been making that regular contribution into my career that is drawing me back to writing.

So think about how much time you put into planning a trip, or researching how to save a few dollars on an upcoming purchase. The reality is that you probably spent more time managing your music playlists this month than on you spent managing your career over the last year!

If you’re ready to make an investment in your career, here are a few of my favorite resources.

  • CareerLeader.com – Developed at Harvard Business School, this is an assessment tool that looks at not only your interests, but also your motivations, values, and skills.
  • StrengthFinders – This book contains an access code to an online assessment tool that helps evaluate your strengths. It simply makes sense to focus on investing in areas of strengths — it’s what will find you the best opportunities.
  • Center for Creative Leadership – I attended a leadership development course in December (yes, even leadership authors need leadership development) and found it to be incredibly helpful.

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