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Achieve your career goals with these 3 career hacks

A strategic development plan will help cement your professional brand.

There are certain career hacks you can use to help develop a strategic plan to be more effective in your work. (Photo: iStock)
There are certain career hacks you can use to help develop a strategic plan to be more effective in your work. (Photo: iStock)

"Where do you see yourself in five years?" 

It's such a cliché job interview question that it rarely gets asked anymore. But the question and its objective still provide value well beyond the job interview. Work is such a huge part of our lives, a potential source of great stress and greater satisfaction. We're all so busy that putting in 40 hours can feel like a light week, and we're so distracted by putting out fires every day that we don't take a step back and look at the big picture. We don't stop to ask ourselves, "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

But we should.

Set yourself up for career success by taking a strategic approach to setting career goals. Being strategic involves establishing goals and setting out a specific plan to achieve them. If you don't know what your endpoint is, you're not going to get there. Creating a plan to bring those goals within reach isn't rocket science — a personal journal, for example, is a great way to hold yourself accountable and to look back and evaluate your progress. But that doesn't mean it's easy, either.  

Fortunately, there are certain career hacks you can use to help develop a strategic plan to be more effective in your efforts.  Where's a good place to start in answering the "where do you want to be" question? Working backwards. Think of your career ambitions and set specific actions you can take to achieve them today, next month and over the next year. There's always one little step or goal you want to accomplish today. Maybe it's just a clear inbox or being more organized at work. Over the next few weeks, you can chip away at bigger projects, which should, in theory, lead to significant career development over the course of the year. These hacks, which are appropriate whether you're focused on short- or long-term ways to better position your career, fall into three general categories.

No. 1: Personal hacks


While it's common for people to focus on professional growth, personal growth often gets put on the back burner. It shouldn't. Your emotional intelligence, personality and experience often combine to make the difference in setting yourself apart — or inadvertently holding yourself back. So give yourself a personal performance appraisal. Look at your current situation. What do you bring to the table? Where are your strengths? It's human nature to emphasize the things you don't know, so it's important to not sell yourself short. Work to get a clear picture of what your strengths are and work to build and leverage those strengths in your job.

It's also important to focus on your values, the beliefs that make up who you are. Find where your personal values align with your organization's and work to expand your role in those areas. But don't limit this to your current position or organization; look at the entire risk management and insurance industry. Where would your personal values fit well and have the biggest impact? Pursue opportunities today, next month and later this year that put you in a better position to realize those values on the job.

Syncing your knowledge, skills, experience and values with the work you do every day isn't just a fast route to a better position; it also means greater personal satisfaction in the work you do.

No. 2: Knowledge hacks


Knowledge hacks really come down to professional development. Always be on the lookout for ways to improve your standing in the industry. Corporate training opportunities — like industry conferences; webinars; and industry associations, such as the CPCU Society — are one way. Designations, like the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®), Associate in General Insurance (AINS®) or the Associate in Risk Management (ARM™), and formal education, like postgraduate certificates in leadership, are others.

Another must is staying current in your segment of the industry. That boils down to one best practice: always fill your well of knowledge. Grab a stack of articles for your commute, bookmark a bunch of industry news sites or blogs, attend industry webinars, do whatever it takes to be up on the issues related to your job.

One particularly effective knowledge hack is to become an expert in something. Be the go-to person at your organization for captives, emerging issues or even some particular software your organization uses. It's a great way to show and increase your personal value in an organization. Position yourself so that when someone has a problem, they think, "I know exactly who can help me with this."

No. 3: Professional hacks


The best professional hacks center on continually expanding their personal network and mentoring. Networking is hard work, in large part because the work never stops, and there's a lot of competition. In a survey conducted by The Institutes, more than 40 percent of insurance professionals said that networking was the number one way they planned to advance their careers.

Always be on the lookout to maintain and cultivate your professional network. It pays off: When an opportunity comes up, you can use the network you've built to better position yourself to pursue it. When a problem comes up, you can use your network to solve it.

Another useful professional hack is mentoring. If you're at an early stage in your career, find a more seasoned colleague and buy them a cup of coffee a few times a month. Pick their brain and ask how they got to where they are today and what they would have done differently. Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, start mentoring a younger insurance professional. It's a great way to gain personal satisfaction and pass on crucial institutional knowledge.

But knowledge doesn't have to flow only one way in the mentoring process. Reverse mentoring is a growing trend we'll hear more about as, for the first time in American history, four generations share the workplace. This is especially true as ever-changing technology continues to drive our business more and more.  Younger employees who are newer to the workplace may have well-developed technology skills or be more comfortable working in team settings.  Older, more experienced workers may be stronger in customer relations or decision-making skills. This presents opportunities for cross sharing of ideas and talents.  

Grow your personal brand


Your strategic development plan, strengths and weaknesses, and career hacks all add up to your personal brand. The image you project on the job and in the industry at large. It takes self-awareness and honest evaluation to get an accurate picture of how that brand is perceived. The most important thing is to check that perception with others. Seek regular feedback from co-workers and other professionals. You may think that your personal brand is spot-on when, in fact, you're not viewed by co-workers and higher-ups the way you think you are.

Just as a company uses a brand to sell a product, you use your personal brand to sell yourself. And you are selling yourself all the time. Once you've established a clear brand, use it to your advantage. Get your presence and knowledge out there via social media. Then, take your brand and distill it into a one-minute advertisement for yourself. It should be a two- or three-sentence statement that outlines who you are, what you do and how you add value.  You will then always be prepared to answer when opportunity knocks.

Achieve your career goals today with The Institutes’ designations, certifications and online courses. 

Ann Myhr, CPCU, ARM, AIM, ASLI, AU, is senior director of Knowledge Resources at The Institutes. She can be reached by sending email to myhr@TheInstitutes.org.

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