How to Better Position Yourself to Reach Your Career Goals

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More than a job title

When I ask people about their career goals, they tell me “I want to be a Vice President of Academic Affairs” or “I want to be a college President” and stop at that. A job title is part of someone’s career goals, but it’s not the whole picture. It only gives us an indication of the duties and responsibilities someone will have, and of course, the status and pride attached to being at that level on the organizational chart. But the reality is, where you are on the chart does not guarantee you will be happy with your situation.

When you define your career goals, please ask yourself what you want, beyond a job title. What do you want to be responsible for? How do you want to serve? What don’t you want to experience? What kind of organizational culture do you need to thrive? What kind of support do you want to receive from your supervisor (or the Board)?

Start with self-awareness

How well do you know yourself? If you recently updated your resume and applied for a job, you may be clear on your qualifications and expertise, and how competitive your application is for certain types of positions. It’s a good start but that’s only the first step. To differentiate yourself from other candidates, you need to know what makes you stand out. How would you describe your leadership style? How do you approach teambuilding, motivation, conflict resolution, or project management? What are your core values and their implications on your work? How do you make people feel valued and how do you foster trust, employee engagement, and loyalty? You need to know what you bring to the table.

The second critical element is to know what you want to experience and how you want to feel. It’s common for higher ed. leaders to be wary of accepting positions that may be too stressful and overwhelming. While it’s true that certain jobs at specific institutions may be far more challenging than others, you should not make broad assumptions based on job titles alone. The way you are going to feel at your next job depends far more on how you interpret what happens around you and how much you trust yourself to handle difficulties, than the job title. Your quality of life depends on the emotions you feel, and these emotions are determined by your beliefs, thoughts, and focus.

Top thinking your fate is in other people’s hands. You are not powerless. In fact, you are the most powerful person in your life.

Prepare for your next job now

You might think of gaps in your resume to fill. Perhaps there are specific responsibilities or accomplishments you don’t yet have and need to get before you move up the ladder, but that’s not enough. Now is the time to work on yourself and become more courageous, more resilient, and more balanced. Identify what is uncomfortable and instead of avoiding it, learn to handle it with confidence.

To give you a few examples: if you are often overwhelmed, it’s time to learn how to change your habitual thoughts and perspectives so that you feel more in control. If you struggle with time management, learn new systems to accomplish more in less time so that you’re better prepared for a higher level of responsibility. If you haven’t had the chance to develop skills in the area of advocacy and on-campus politics, look for opportunities to start now.

Pay attention to your thoughts and observe how you speak to yourself.

  • Are you kind and supportive or overly critical?

  • Do you tend to focus on success or on what might go wrong?

  • Do you worry about what you fear and what might happen if you fail?

  • Are you concerned about other people’s opinions and gaining their approval?

  • Can you forgive yourself if you make a mistake?

No matter where you go, you’ll take yourself with you

Higher ed. leaders tend to worry too much about making “the right decision” and accepting “the right job”. While I wholeheartedly agree that where you go matters tremendously, I want to highlight the fact that changing your environment will not change what happens within yourself. To experience something different, you need to deliberately choose to grow. You can’t protect yourself from discomfort. The key is to evolve into someone who doesn’t need so much protection.

If you tend to feel inadequate, if you doubt yourself, if you are self-critical, if you lack healthy boundaries and give too much, if you’re not assertive enough, if you fear rejection, if you crave validation, etc. you’ll experience the same things no matter where you go.

So please, when you reflect on your career goals, also ask yourself how you want to evolve, who you want to become, and how you want to feel.

Redefine your career goals

You are going to spend at least 40 hours a week working, and these hours should give you purpose, meaning, and opportunities for self-expression and service to others. Right now, start creating a vision of what you want at your next job. It’s ok to start with basics such as job title, type of institution, and other external factors, but please add the answers to the following questions.

  • How do you want to feel when you are at work?

  • How do you want to spend most of your work hours?

  • What do you want to think of yourself in that new role?

In order to create these changes, start journaling on the following questions:

  • What do you want to stop doing?

  • What old habits do you need to lose?

  • What new habits do you need to develop?

  • How will you speak to yourself to give yourself support and strength?

  • How will you stop self-criticism and self-doubt?

Is it possible to get your dream job without doing personal development work? Yes, of course. But people who skip that step often tell me they feel like imposters. They doubt themselves and often feel inadequate. They suffer from high levels of stress and anxiety. They may look successful from a distance, but trust me, they do not feel successful and do not feel that they reached their career goals. Don’t let that happen to you.

If this seems intimidating, don’t worry, you don’t have to do it alone. Click here to schedule a time to chat with me and I’ll show you how we can team up to get you ready for your next position and make your career goals a reality.

About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.

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