Managing Your Career

by Barbara Buffton

Getting there

Have you ever noticed that when you feel negative (for example, when you’re in a bad mood, unhappy, frustrated or angry), it is hard to be resourceful and creative? Our negative emotions appear to shut down that part of our minds that could actually help us find what we want.

So, if you want to change things for the better career-wise, it pays first of all to get into the right mood.

How do you do this?

One way is to pretend you’ve already achieved what you want. Project yourself, as it were, into the future you want. Then, from that resourceful place, you can think more creatively and positively about what needs to happen. Follow the steps below to do this.

Start with the end in mind

Before you start working through these steps, make sure that you won’t be interrupted or disturbed. Find somewhere you can be comfortable and quiet, so that you can really get your imagination going as you create the film, novel or scenario of your future. Do the exercise in pictures, feelings or self talk or, preferably, all of these – whatever seems natural for you and makes it most real – and enjoy yourself. This can be a very powerful exercise and could have a profound effect on your future, so give yourself time and space in which to do it.

Step 1

Imagine you already are where you want to be, doing the work you want to do, in the ideal position and location. For example, if you want to get a promotion, imagine you have now achieved this – you are working in the department/division you wanted at the hierarchical level to which you aspired.

Step 2

Feeling really good, look back at the path you took – how did you get here?

Step 3

What did you do to get it? For instance, maybe you got noticed by those who have influence in such matters, maybe you got the necessary skills and training, or maybe you consistently over-achieved?

You now have some clues about getting that promotion. How can you get noticed? What skills do you need? What training is on offer? How quickly can you meet your targets?

You can use this technique for any of your goals. It’s an excellent way of ensuring you’re at your most resourceful when you are at the planning stage of goal-setting.

Key answers

Check the answers you gave to the questions in the What do you want? exercise. Think about exactly what it would take, now or in the future, to feel that you were in control of your career. Write it down – this is your career goal(s). Knowing what you want is the first step to getting it.

What other information do you need?


It definitely helps to know what you want rather than what you don’t want! So be positive.

Your career goal(s)

Set short- and long-term career and personal goals – ones that will meet your immediate needs and lead to long-term career satisfaction.

Use the following process for each and any of your career goals.

Step 1

Break it down into manageable chunks. For example, a goal of ‘getting a new job in a similar field’ could be broken down into many individual tasks. One would be to find out what opportunities there are; another might be to learn new skills.


Research has shown that writing things down means we are more likely to do something. If we just keep it in our head, that’s where it tends to stay...

Step 2

Each of these chunks could then be further broken down (for example, read appropriate journals, contact agencies and take a computer course). Write down all that you want to do.

Step 3

Give each goal a deadline. Write these deadlines into your diary.


Several years ago, I worked with a man who came to a very clear picture of what he wanted in his life: He wanted to own a sports team.

Once that became clear, he worked out, step by step, what it would take to reach that goal: ‘To own a sports team, I have to amass great wealth. To do that, I have to be an entrepreneur. To do that, I have to learn about running a business-and it needs to be in an industry where there’s a great deal of upside potential.’ As he worked out the logic, it not only made a lot of sense, it also helped guide his decisions.

You’re in charge

Some people find it useful to think of themselves as a company of which they’re the Managing Director or CEO. If you were your own CEO, what would you advise yourself to do? How would you go about getting to where you want to go? You might want to go to What are your options? to get clear about what’s available and feasible for you.

Be proactive

Managing your career is about being proactive, not just sitting back and hoping things will work out OK. For instance, if you want that promotion or simply want a change of scene, then you’re going to have to do something to get it.

  • Volunteer to take on new challenges – a change is as good as a rest and you add value to the organisation at the same time. Stay ahead of the game.
  • Participate in working groups – do more and also get noticed.
  • Ask for a mentor or a coach – find someone to learn from and to bounce ideas off. See more on this in the Mentoring topic.
  • Expand your skill set – not only will you learn new skills, you might recharge your batteries at the same time.
  • Network – success is contagious, so hang out with people you admire.
  • Start influencing those who matter. Who should be on your ‘radar screen’? How can you ensure you’re on someone else’s radar? (See Political Intelligence.)
  • Provide more value in all you do.
  • Talk to your line manager – enlist his or her help.


Despite all of the above, it is not unusual to find obstacles in our way to the perfect career. However, it is not usually the obstacles in themselves that stop us getting to where we want to go, it’s being defeated by them. So do yourself a favour by first identifying what could stop you from getting to where you want to go career-wise – for example, health, age or lack of skills or determination.

Key action

Don’t just accept one solution – could there be another way to achieve the same aim? It might just be a case for thinking a little differently.

Then get creative and start thinking of solutions. Who else can help? Do you know anyone who has overcome similar obstacles? Talk to them. If the obstacle refuses to be knocked down, is there another way to get there? Would another time be more appropriate? Can you wait till the time is right?


  • What would happen if you made some changes, moved from one job to another or stayed where you are?
  • What would happen if you didn’t?
  • How much are you willing to give up to get what you want?

These are serious questions and worth considering, because they could provide you with the motivation you need to take responsibility and manage your own career.

Also, beware of burning bridges. It’s far better to keep your options open.

Next step

Setting goals is only the beginning. Staying motivated to achieve them is the key to success.

Key action

The bigger the change, the harder it can be to make that change – changing career is harder than changing organisations, for example. Is there a different way to get what you want?