In my years of coaching, I have worked with thousands of product professionals. Many reach out to me for career coaching — which honestly isn’t my specialty. That said, I do have some strong opinions to share.
Quit your company
I’m not suggesting you actually quit your job. However, I encourage you to reconsider your relationship to your company. Become a free agent. Actually, you are already a free agent. Your company can fire you at any time. And you have the ability to look elsewhere at any time.
You should always be open to new opportunities. Maybe there are companies with better cultures, better benefits, better money, and more interesting work.
Interview every year (even if you’re not looking)
Think of a job as a subscription or membership. Each year, decide if you’re getting (and giving) value. If not, put out feelers for something better or different.
I encouraged one friend to go for a job interview. She found she was incredibly undervalued at her current company and took the better job with a tremendous raise. Another friend had exactly the opposite experience: she interviewed for a job and found her existing employer had a much better culture, benefits, and compensation.
Go on at least one interview every year, even if you’re not looking. You might find a better spot — or you might realize you’ve got a pretty good deal at a pretty good company.
Network network network
Your personal network is the best source for job leads. Your friends and colleagues often learn about job openings long before they’re posted publicly. Teamwork is critical for many groups, so employers embrace bringing in people with proven skills who usually work together.
Every job I’ve ever gotten, except the first, came from my network of professional contacts.
Friends tell me they’ve had great luck with LinkedIn as a job-hunting tool. However, they don’t recommend submitting your resume to jobs via the service. Instead, look for a connection in your network and contact that person directly for a recommendation or a phone chat or an introduction.
Build and expand your network. If you’re not already doing so, get involved with local professional associations and meetups. These groups get together periodically to share the latest techniques, often with an outside speaker. Think of it as free education.
Unfortunately, many people only network when they’re hunting for a job. One colleague calls me periodically “just to check in” — that’s when I know he’s looking for a job.
There’s a job-hunting maxim: “Dig the well before you’re thirsty.” You want to be networking all the time, making connections, helping others — and then accessing that network when you are looking.
If you enjoy your work, and your mind and body still work, why retire?
Some folks prefer to work well into their later years and save up their personal days for extended vacations. Others say their lives are so full in retirement, they can’t imagine how they ever found time to go to work.
I tell people this: spend ten years becoming an expert in your field, spend 10 to 15 years hiring out your expertise to organizations that value it, and then spend the rest of your career mentoring those who want to learn your skill. Get a mentor, and then be a mentor.
What if you won the lottery? Would you retire? Or would you take an extended vacation and then be ready to start working again?
Always Be Learning
What have you learned lately? Do you have 20 years of experience — or merely one year of experience repeated 20 times?
Do you know how to build a website? If not, learn how. Set up a site for a local organization, your hobby, a personal experience, or a point of view that is uniquely yours.
My niece has started a blog about her challenges as a mom raising a child born with spinal bifida. (Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.) She learned how to set up a site and write compelling articles.
Have a career plan (or don’t)
Where do you want to be in five years? Ten years? Will your current employer get you there? What do you want on your resume that you don’t have today?
One friend wanted to move into a marketing role and asked to be mentored by our marketing director. She did a great job with the “watch one, do one” technique, and he was able to move into the next open marketing position on the team.
But not everyone has a career plan. Chuck Yeager enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces and moved up through the ranks to retire as a brigadier general. In his autobiography, he said he didn’t really have a career plan; he just volunteered for things that sounded interesting — such as being a test pilot. He became the first human to officially break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947.
Every day is a new adventure. Your goal is to look forward to beginning each day.