Career Stewardship: Five Ways to Invest in Your Career Right Now

By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners

I’m hearing from a lot of clients who are realizing that they need to give some attention to their career plans. What I’ve been telling them is that the best time to start is now. Even when sheltering in place, there’s lots you can do. In fact, you may find some of the necessary quiet time amidst the chaos to do this work right now.

Career stewardship — taking ownership of your career — is something that often gets deprioritized until something makes it more urgent. This is a moment to evaluate and invest in your career: to revisit what you want for yourself and lay the groundwork to help your career develop in the desired direction.

I want to share five ways anyone can invest in their career right now. You can follow these yourself or suggest them to work colleagues who are wondering what they should do next.  

Career stewardship is a mindset and a practice

Career stewardship is both a mindset and a practice and is important in any phase of your career—regardless of the economic outlook. It might mean working on your long-term development or starting to look for your next opportunity. Focusing on the things you can control, rather than hoping that someone else will do it for you, can make you feel more grounded and less anxious during uncertain times.

The recommendations below are not meant to be undertaken in a furious burst of effort over a week or two, but rather are meant to inspire a steady, continued focus over time. Seeds you plant today may sprout two months from now or two years from now. The point is to start planting them today.

Seeds you plant today may sprout two months from now or two years from now. Start planting them today. Share on X

Ask what’s important to you.

These are your core values—they are the key to feeling fulfilled in your everyday work. Examples of values are learning, collaboration, adventure, autonomy or recognition—each person’s list is different. Try to come up with a list of five to ten core values and then force rank them from most important to least important. 

If these are under-expressed in your work, how might you get more of a particular value? If you have a value of collaboration but don’t feel like you’re getting much of it, who can you invite into an existing project to make it more collaborative? Where might you be able to express this value outside of work? 

Download our values list here.

Tap into your vision of the future. 

Tapping into and articulating what you really want requires some quiet—both inner and outer quiet. Find time to be alone, whether it’s lying on your couch or going for a long walk (which those of us sheltering in place can still do). Turn off your phone, email and notifications. 

Ask yourself, “In five years, what do I really want in my life? What’s the work I want to be doing? Where do I want to be doing it and with whom?” 

Try not to get frustrated if answers don’t come easily. This is not an analytical process where, if you think harder, the answers will come to you. It’s more like day dreaming. It will probably start out a bit vague. You might journal what comes to mind and talk about it with a friend, partner or colleague to help you create more clarity. 

Tapping into your vision is not an analytical process where, if you think harder, the answer will come to you. Share on X

Download additional exercises to help you articulate your vision. 

Learn a new skill.

Given your vision of or aspirations for the future, what skills or competencies will be important? They may be related to your current field or be something completely different. 

It could be learning a technical skill, like using Salesforce or some other technology, learning mediation skills or a foreign language, or up-leveling your presentation skills. Or maybe you’re looking to make more of a mindset shift, such as learning to set boundaries and say ‘no’ to others so you can focus on more strategic work. 

If you are able to invest in taking a relevant course that can add to your resume—do it. If your budget is tight or nonexistent, read a related book, watch a how-to video online, ask someone to sit down with you to teach you or shadow someone.

Maintain and build your network.

One of the silver linings of this public health crisis is that many people are taking time to reach out and connect with others. To deepen your relationships, you need no agenda other than a desire to reconnect and see how others are doing. 

I just had a Zoom call with a group of college friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in 30 years! Organize a virtual happy hour with friends from across the globe. 

Think about who you might have lost touch with but would like to maintain closer contact. And remember—a big part of maintaining and building our network is also about being generous and helping others.

A big part of maintaining and building our network is also about being generous and helping others. Share on X

See my HBR article on How to Email Someone You Haven’t Talked to in Forever

Articulate and build your brand.

What are you known for now? Are you highly innovative? Collaborative? An expert in DEI, M&A or Saas? And how well are you able to articulate this?  

Everyone needs one or more core positioning statements. A positioning statement is the answer to any of a number of standard openers: “What do you do?” “What have you been up to?” “How are things going?” 

We always say something, but usually we haven’t thought much about what we are going to say. Answering this type of question in a way that is concise, compelling and inspires further conversation is key. The acid test to a good positioning statement is: does the other person know how to help you? Specific is usually better than general. 

Contrast “I’m exploring my next steps” with “I’ve been in digital marketing for the last 15 years. I’ve been thinking about writing about best practices in the tech sector and would love to talk with people who have written business books.”  

Additional resources

Career Stewardship is an everyday practice that can help set you up for long-term success. If you’re inspired to invest more in your career, you can also check out my colleague Michael Melcher’s prior post on 20 minutes a Day as well as our Career Handbook for Working Professionals




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