I have a small plant that lives on the desk in my office. Every once in a while I notice it’s looking a bit droopy, and think I should probably give it some water. If I’m really good, I also remember to give some water to the plants in the other room at the same time, since they are even more “out of sight, out of mind”. I depend on the plant looking sick for awhile, until I am alert enough to notice it, so I can give it what it needs before it’s too late and I have to go out and buy a new plant.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your career had the same sort of telltale signs? If you could see the leaves of your network drooping, and know it was time to call a colleague for lunch, or forward that article to a former co-worker? What if your HPLC column wilted, alerting you it was time to sign up for a class to enhance your skills in that particular analytical technique?
Unfortunately, the signs that your professional life needs some attention are much more subtle, but much more important. So what are some of those signs that you should be looking out for?
Probably most important is the health of your professional network. If you had a problem at work, needed advice on a synthesis, or just wanted to complain about your lazy co-workers, do you have a number of people you could trust to listen to you and provide solid advice? Have you been in touch with many of them recently recently, so you are sure they would not only take your call, but go out of their way to help you? What have you done to help them out lately? If you are thinking “Gosh, it’s been awhile” since you’ve talked to many of those people, now would be a good time to drop someone an email, give them a call, or even set up a time to meet for coffee or lunch and catch up. You don’t want to get a reputation as a person who only calls when they need something.
In addition to your professional network, when was the last time you looked critically at your personal data document (resume, CV, or other)? If it’s been awhile, take a careful look and see if it needs to be updated. Is your publication and presentation list current? (Easy to fix!) Do you have some recent accomplishments that need to be added? Should you re-word your skills to use more current terminology? Have you started some volunteer work or other professional activity that needs to be added?
If your resume is up to date, you’re not off the hook. Is the document up to date because you haven’t done anything noteworthy or learned anything new lately? Have you been doing the same thing for so long that you can’t see yourself doing anything else? If this is your situation, it’s time to figure out in which direction you want to grow, and how you can do that. Sign up for a class, attend a conference, volunteer to take on a new project at work – or find some other way to stretch your skills and learn something new. Then, of course, you’ll have to update your resume to include that information. (Yes, it’s a viscous cycle.)
Just like the plant on my desk, your professional network and documents need care and attention from time to time. You need to be aware of this and spend some time on them, before it’s too late to just add a little water, and you have to go out and try to purchase a new career.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.