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Posted on Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Guiding your career through lessons from entrepreneurs

By Dianne Marsh

The number of events held in southeast Michigan during the recent Global Entrepreneurship Week impressed me. I’m even more impressed with the results of the entrepreneurial spirit in our region. Between Michigan Emerging and the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, many businesses were represented, from large to small, from students to serial entrepreneurs.

If you aren’t the sort of person who wants to start a business, what can you learn from the entrepreneurs in our midst? Taking some of these ideas and practicing them within an established organization can both improve that organization and help build your career. Understanding the importance of guiding your own career is critical to your future, and intrapreneurship, or practicing entrepreneurship within a company, is a great way to start.

Your career is the business that you’re leading, and you are the CEO. Take responsibility for guiding your career in the same way that company leaders guide their businesses. Consider your career goals; reflect on them as “business objectives.” Many businesses will never execute the fifth year of a five year plan, but it’s meaningful to think ahead about where you want to go so that you can chart a course to get there. Yes, you will adapt it along the way, but set the goals or you risk having your direction set inadvertently by someone else.

Think about your current job in the context of your career. Does this job move you ahead in your career goals, or does it provide you with the funding that you will ultimately need to satisfy those goals? If it doesn’t, consider what other opportunities may exist that lead you in that direction.

Consider each job that you have as a “contract”, one of many that you will have throughout your career. Do away with the notion of previous generations, who expected to stay with a single job for their entire careers. If you work for a big company, you will likely find that they want you to move to different parts of the company as well, to learn different aspects of the business. If your company doesn’t practice this, do it on your own. Learning more about the overall strategy of your company will help you to understand its goals and how they might align with your own.

Understand the business case of recommendations that you make. Learn to speak about the business value of making a change or improvement in the way that the company, or department, does business. Figure out ways to improve how you do your job, and you will stand out in your company. Make your boss look good as you do so, and you will earn loyalty and respect which will likely pay off well into the future.

Invest in yourself. You’re treating your career as your business; you need to invest in the research and development that will continue to make your career prosper. Like any business, ignore advancements at your own peril. You may realize short term gains by putting off this investment, but remember that you’re in this for the long term.

Be your own advocate. As an employee, you may not be adept at tooting your own horn. Practice. Do you dread status reports? Start thinking about your status reports as a way to promote what you’ve done in the reporting period. Whenever possible, provide actual metrics, such as “improved performance by 25%”. Recognize the value in having all of this data if your company requires you to complete annual performance review forms!

Do these ideas sound reasonable to you? Can you accomplish them within your current organization? If this seems overwhelming, stay tuned. In future articles, we’ll provide more detail about how to do these things, and how to continue to drive your career in the direction that you choose.