10 points for young professionals to consider in career planning

This is transcript of my talk on April 18 to the Executive MBA students of IIM Indore (Class of 2016) on 10 points to consider in planning their career.

Let me start by congratulating the students here on getting accepted for this prestigious Executive-MBA programme. IIM Indore is clearly one of the top tier b-schools of the country. It therefore provides a platform for all of you for a great career.

All of you are experienced professionals from a range of industries (IT, banking, oil & gas, among others). The reason you have joined this programme is to kick start your career and take it to the next level. That is why you are investing one year, inspite of the opportunity cost. It clearly a big decision you have taken.

A few of you may feel that your career is already made by getting into this MBA programme & you can afford to “coast” through the year , having fun. That may well be true but you would have lost a once in career opportunity to re-invent yourself for the future.

Remember degrees are just a starting point. Learning and education is lifelong and your own responsibility. Tom Peters says he is self-taught though he has degrees in engineering from Cornell and MBA from Stanford. We tend to give degrees more importance than we should. Its continuous learning that matters.

Having a degree from a top-tier college like IIM-Indore does not automatically mean you will have a successful career compared to others that do not. A career is not sprint it is a marathon.

Let me share with you a few things you should keep in mind as a professional to prepare for this marathon and in the process create lifetime value for the decision you have taken.

First, leverage the time at the institute well to learn new functions/competencies and skills. If your existing strength is in sales & marketing, take this as opportunity to master finance and/or HR/organisational behaviour and vice versa as well. Your learning will be not just from your professors but but from your batch mates (peer to peer) as you participate in group projects as well as organisational roles in the institute. Take full advantage of these opportunities.

Second, create time from your busy schedule to think and plan for your future career beyond the MBA. The programme will help you understand issues from a big picture perspective; use the time to obtain an understanding of disruptive trends that are likely to impact the world over the next 3–5 years, implications these will have on your career and the competencies you need to build to be successful.

Third, in choosing your career going forward there will be pressure to follow the money or past capabilities. However, chose a “dream” company that gives you an opportunity for continuous learning, is known to invest in developing its people, is a likely winner in a growth industry or helps you master and ride on a disruptive trend. Also, do not discount the possibility of working for yourself. India is today the 3rd largest and fastest growing start-up eco-system in the world. You could leverage your time at the institute to explore and evaluate ideas for a start-up venture.

Fourth, once you have joined your “dream” company, work hard and persevere, never compromising on the quality of your work, while you hone your technical capability. Results will happen. Passion, determination (hunger to succeed) and learning mindset in an individual are critical factors to succeed.

Fifth, in your career continue to broaden your competency areas and continuously make them relevant for the future. Specialization is good but new competencies in adjacent areas can help enhance fungibility and help you move into new roles.

Sixth, embrace change and continue to understand new trends in the markets place rather than face the effects of these later. Do not say no to opportunities just because you do not have all the competencies required to succeed in the new role. Building new competencies is an intrinsic requirement of today’s world.

Seventh, build soft skills (e.g. Communication, interpersonal, negotiation, collaboration, etc.) and develop your professional network within and outside your organization, etc.). This is as important as having the strong technical capability.

Eighth, consciously build your personal brand in the physical and digital world. Your digital footprint influences not just how future employers may view you but also people ( including leadership) in your current organisation. Increasingly it also influences how your customers, business partners and other in your eco-system view you. Focus on enhancing your Klout score, which is a measure of digital influence.

Ninth, do not ever compromise on business ethics. It takes years for a professional to build a reputation and it can take one incident to destroy it all.

Tenth, initially work itself will be purpose enough ; but over a long career you will need to look for a higher purpose or what the Japanese call ikigai (“a reason for being” ) in your job or company to keep going; we all want to be part of a group or company which allows us to make a difference on a wider scale to the society and community at large; something that you can not do in your individual capacity. Find your purpose to enjoy what you do.

All the best for your marathon and keep learning.

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