Making Progress

According to Wikipedia, career management is the combination of structured planning and the active management choice of one’s own professional career. The outcome of successful career management should include personal fulfilment, work/life balance, goal achievement and financial security.

So, it would seem logical that something which would provide fulfilment, a sense of achievement and financial security would have priority in our lives. The reality is, it is rare – we are more likely to hire a financial advisor, a therapist or a personal trainer, than we are to create strong relationships with people who can guide our career.

When asked, many research and insight professionals say they fell into their career – often on the way to marketing or advertising – and it is most often a happy accident they go on to forge strong careers in research. This is less evident in people who are at the 10-year level in their career because during this time, research has gained a higher profile and better promotion as a career.

There are moments in your career when it may stall, head in another direction or fail completely. These can be addressed with forward planning and some strategic thinking about: what you want to achieve; who you want to be; where you want to be in the future; what skills you need to achieve that; and who do you need to connect with to achieve these goals?

Your employer has a role to play here and a good employer will have a strategy for development. Large companies will have a learning and development department but smaller firms can still contribute by having a learning culture. Many organisations will provide a mentor scheme that allows for impactful and beneficial training ‘on the job’ – however, it is helpful if this is supplemented by external training when appropriate. 

We asked some people what their experience of ‘career management’ was and the opinion widely varied.

One said: “I’m not sure my career was managed – I do remember not having an appraisal for five years at one point.” The appraisal and review systems are great for looking at that bigger picture. Another respondent added the “formal training and MRS Certificate were a useful grounding”.

Encouraging staff to manage careers proactively will ensure greater engagement and likely lead to higher retention. If you do lose people, their experience will have been positive and they will continue to be your brand ambassador – employee engagement continuing beyond employment.

Pam Armstrong, managing director at Opinion Leader, feels “you have to take responsibility and ownership of your career and work out what your broad goals are and what – and who – you need to achieve them”.

Finding a mentor helps and that can be someone within or outside the business you work in (see the article, ‘Advice from above’ on MRS’s mentoring scheme in July 2017 Impact). 

The concept of a ‘job for life’ has, to all intents and purposes, had its time – people now both need, and want, more flexibility in their careers. In fact, more than 10 years in a company can be seen as a handicap – an indication of a lack of progress – so assume that you will need to move.

The decision to move can be prompted by a call from a recruiter, an advert, a bad day at the office. But rather than making a knee-jerk move, it is in these moments when you need to reflect on the bigger picture. 

Nick Bonney, managing director of ABA Research, who has recently moved
from client-side research, says: “Don’t rush at the first opportunity – be clear about what you want from your career and evaluate all your options, including your current role.”

Abi Moorcock, associate director at The Irrational Agency, points to the working environment being a key factor in career choices. “I’m a big believer in personal authenticity at work,” she says. The right environment goes a long way to finding success – that can be size of agency, sector, methodology, and so on. 

Armstrong adds: “After many years working in a large agency I was keen to work in a smaller one and experience a different environment.” And Bonney also says, for him, once the learning and development stops it is usually time to think about the next move.

For all these market researchers, there was something specific to be achieved in a move – a goal set and then attained. This lends itself well to successful career management.

Careers can change direction after something as simple as a chance meeting. For me, a conversation with a recruiter made me think this could be fun (it is!). It’s important to be open. Of the people we spoke to, the sentiment is the same – grab opportunities with both hands and, as Armstrong says, “be mindful that sometimes the left-field opportunity might be right even if it’s unexpected”. So make a plan but don’t be afraid to deviate.

Moorcock found that a previous line manager gave her the confidence to go in her own direction to achieve real satisfaction; for Armstrong it was a move to senior management and a promotion to the management board. Both of these represent learning and development that can be directly formative for your future career.

Bonney – who has moved from agency to client and then back again – found that in one role “being the only research person in a team of planners and lawyers meant that I had to change completely how I framed/presented things”.
That experience had an impact on the way he has worked ever since. 

So what advice can we offer those who are thinking about managing their career? “Don’t formulate fixed plans at the start; try not to get caught in a specific role; acquire a broad skill base; and keep an open mind,” says Armstrong. This tallies with what we see every day – being open-minded will, without doubt, open more doors.

These days of technology and machine learning, Bonney’s advice is particularly pertinent: “Focus on honing skills that will be harder to automate i.e. storytelling, commercial acumen and strategic awareness.” 

 -Sinead Hasson
Published by: Impact 11/01/2018