4 steps to take charge of your career in 2021

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In 2021, the Staff Council and Organizational Learning and Development are sponsoring a series of "Taking Charge of Your Career" forums to share best practices, industry research and personal stories of accomplishment with employees.

rep take charge career 2021 550pxThe first session, held Feb. 15, focused on career mapping and other steps that employees can take even in the midst of social distancing and remote-work measures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Panelists included Adam Roderick, associate director of the UAB Career Center; Oscar Hunter, manager of Temporary Services Employment in Recruitment Services; Kristin Chapleau, program manager in the School of Health Professions' Biomedical Sciences Program; and LaKisha Mack, associate dean for Finance and Administration in the School of Medicine.

Here is a summary of some of their tips and advice, along with resources you can take advantage of today:

1. Never stop networking — even now

Research shows that people who pursue networking opportunities are twice as likely to land an interview and 40% more likely to be hired than those who don't, Roderick said. He defined networking as "interacting with people to exchange information and cultivate relationships leading to employment opportunities." Networking "is something we cannot sleep on, even during a pandemic," he added.

In a pandemic, when most networking is online, one of the most important areas to focus on is your personal brand, Roderick said. "That is how you promote yourself: the expertise, experience and personality you want people to see in you." Or to put it another way: "Who you are, what you stand for and what makes you unique."

Your brand should answer these three questions, Roderick suggested:

1. What motivates and drives you?

2. What are the goals you want to accomplish?

3. What is your story?

rep tcoyc li learning headline 1000pxScreenshot depicting a dynamic LinkedIn headline from the course Rock Your LinkedIn Profile. UAB employees can watch this course and thousands of others through the university's partnership with LinkedIn Learning.

Action steps

LinkedIn is a wonderful way to share your story in a pandemic, Roderick said. "You want to maximize that platform. Make sure you have your profile picture and cover photo uploaded, have the about section filled out, add all your experiences and make sure your volunteering and engagement activities are captured."

A forum participant wondered if there was a single most-important piece of a successful LinkedIn profile. It’s important to include everything, Roderick replied. But if he were forced to choose, the headline (the section just under a user’s name where they describe their work) and the About section would get his vote. "That gives people a quick snapshot of who you are, your brand and what is important to you," he said.

Once your profile is complete, you need to stay engaged, Roderick said. Connect with your peers, colleagues and leaders in your field. "Like, share and give other people recommendations," he said. It is helpful to reach out to aspirational peers, he added. "Find someone in the industry or area of focus where you want to grow. Send them a message saying, I really admire what you are doing. Do you have some time to sit down and talk for a minute about how you got where you are?"

Jump in now: UAB employees have access to thousands of free courses through LinkedIn Learning — including this popular “Rock Your LinkedIn Profile” class.

2. Hone your transferrable skills

Especially if you are considering a career move that takes you in a new direction, it is important to focus on your transferrable skills, also known as portable skills, Hunter said. These include

  • decision-making
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • teamwork
  • leadership
  • empathy
  • professionalism

"Employers often look for these skills in an interview, and they can be transferred from one industry to another," Hunter said. "As you go through your career, it is a good practice to continually work on building these skills. Even if you are planning to stay in a job long-term, these skills will help you as you go through various career levels."

rep tcoyc li learning ap 750pxDetail of a course exercise from the LinkedIn Learning course on Effective Listening. UAB employees can take this short course and thousands of others through the university's partnership with LinkedIn Learning. See a list of communications courses on the Learning and Development website. 

Where should you focus first? Communication skills are some of the most highly sought, Hunter said. "They help to facilitate meetings, improve teamwork and so much more."

More to come

The next Taking Charge of Your Career session will be held this summer at a date/time to be announced in the upcoming weeks.

Jump in now: Organizational Learning and Development offers virtual classes on intentional communications, navigating difficult conversations and more communications topics. See the latest calendar of virtual course offerings at uab.edu/learndev. You can also watch instructional videos from LinkedIn Learning on topics such as effective listening, communication foundations and interpersonal communication at any time.

3. Continue your education

Kristin Chapleau started at UAB nearly 20 years ago, and the university's educational assistance program was a major part of the reason, she said. "My mentor told me about that," Chapleau said. "I wanted to get a graduate degree, and this was a way to work and get that education at the same time."

In addition to transcript-bearing academic courses, Chapleau has taken multiple classes with Learning and Development, including ones on leadership and on technical skills such as Excel.

Another source of continuing education for staff, often overlooked, is the Center for Teaching and Learning, Chapleau said. "It is geared toward faculty, but if you look on its website, there are many opportunities" to learn more about effective teaching that can assist staff in student-facing roles, such as advising, she said.

Blaze Class Spring 2021Programs such as Blaze Leadership Academy are a great way to connect with colleagues across campus, said presenter Kristin Chapleau. The Class of 2021 is shown above. A second Blaze Leadership Academy class will be selected this year. Learn more in this article. 

Volunteer on campus

One networking tip, Chapleau added, is to volunteer for committees. This sounds like a thankless task, but "every job I've gotten at the university since that first position I have gotten through networking, and many of those came from meeting people from across campus" on committees and through opportunities such as Blaze Leadership Academy, Chapleau said. "You get to know people in jobs that are different from yours, and they can give you advice. It's a great opportunity to get experience, learn and grow with others."

Network to dig into job duties

Sometimes duties and titles listed in job listings can be so generic as to be misleading, Chapleau said. "A program manager in grants and contracts has a completely different role than someone in student leadership or at the school level," she said. "If you are really interested, reach out to someone in that role and ask them to sit down and talk about the steps they took to reach their role," including their formal education. UAB offers nearly 200 degree and certificate programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, she pointed out. "What degrees should you pursue? Or would a certification in a certain area help? These are the questions that colleagues across campus can answer."

Jump in now: Ready to jump into a degree or certificate program? Get answers to the top 10 questions about UAB’s educational assistance program in this Reporter article. Or find available training in Learning and Development’s Learning Catalog at uab.edu/learndev.

4. Mapping your career

Career mapping involves planning the requirements you need to advance in every stage of your career trajectory, Mack explained. She has used the process in her own career over the past two decades and shared her own career journey during the forum. "Each step represents a job held, capabilities demonstrated and personal traits honed," she said. "Put it on paper and share it with your supervisor every six months. At my performance evaluations, I shared with my supervisor what my goals were."

rep tcoyc career Map templateDuring her presentation, the School of Medicine's LaKisha Mack shared how career mapping has helped guide her growth and development at UAB. Download this template and a list of career planning questions from the UAB Staff Council site here. 

Creating a career objective

The first step is to create a career objective. That is, "what impact do I want to have for the organization — where is my heart?" Mack said. She talked with friends, family, colleagues and anyone else who would listen, she said. "I knew I wanted to be an action-oriented leader... and foster partnerships across the organization," she said. And she knew this would require her to be "intentional about looking for growth opportunities."

Mack started as a business officer in the School of Health Professions in 2002. "I took on the motto, Look up and look around," she said. "It is good to have a career map, but make sure you stay in the present. It is important to deliver results wherever you are."

She engaged colleagues to teach her "what I didn't know I didn't know," reading constantly and asking questions, she said. "I took on projects that no one wanted to do... and I learned that I couldn't be afraid to fail. I learned that failure is ok and told myself to be patient."

Where is your heart?

The career path she mapped out allowed her to say no to certain opportunities, Mack explained. "Steps on the career path may not always be linear. It is OK to take steps to the side and at times I took a lateral move. Success comes from time and experience," she said. "It takes time to perfect craft — don't skip over it or rush it."

What if you are at a turning point but aren't sure what to do next, a forum participant asked. "I was in a similar place at one point," Mack said. "Ask yourself, what is your passion and your heart. Is your spirit unsettled? Begin talking to friends, family, colleagues and others who have a vested interest in helping you grow your career." But in the end, Mack said, "nobody else can do it other than you — so you need to figure out what wakes you up in the morning? Pursue that."

Jump in: Find an editable career map template from UAB here and answer these top career planning questions.