Eric Sim, CFA, is the author of Small actions: lead your career to great success.
My thought leadership speaking tours in the Middle East and Europe were postponed and then postponed again to 2020. To convince organizers to hold their events online rather than in person, I went on a shopping spree and purchased all kinds of audio and video equipment. It was the last day before Singapore’s first pandemic-related lockdown in April 2021.
It wasn’t just me. Everyone had to adapt to the changing environment caused by COVID-19. Over the past two years, many of my students and coaching clients, from mid-career finance professionals to senior executives, and countless others around the world, have had to rethink their career strategies.
With that in mind, here are seven actionable tips on how to take advantage of the current moment to advance your career.
1. Stock up on social capital
“Your network is your net worth.”
I realized the truth of this statement when a former colleague offered me a job as a managing director at UBS. I would not have received this referral if I had not accumulated social capital.
So what is social capital? It’s the goodwill and the relationships you’ve built with people over the years. It works like depositing money in a bank: each time you help someone, you deposit social capital. Maybe you buy them lunch, tip them on a job posting, or share career advice. It’s a good idea to treat people with respect even if they’re in a low position. Then the law of compounding kicks in. Your social capital grows as the people you help today advance in their careers and move into higher positions tomorrow.
Last year, many companies restructured and downsized. This year, companies have embraced the new normal and are hiring again. As new jobs open up, you want your connections to think of you when they hear about a job you would be a good fit for. And you should do the same for them.
Remember: Today’s entry-level analyst can become tomorrow’s CEO. When you put time, money, thought and effort into people, you will be rewarded in the long run.
2. Be an online networker
Big events aren’t coming back anytime soon, so there will be fewer face-to-face opportunities to meet new people. Knowing how to reach out and build relationships without physically meeting in person is an essential skill.
Online networking is more important than ever. But be aware. If you only think about extracting value from your network, you will fail. Think long term, think about how you can help the other person. And be sure to develop an engaging online profile that immediately demonstrates your integrity and authenticity.
A senior executive I know, Matt, is a creative guy with a background in retail and consulting. He makes real connections through LinkedIn. When he saw her LinkedIn connection, Diana was leaving her job at Apple in Hong Kong for an opportunity in New York, he contacted her and congratulated her. Diana thanked him and mentioned that Apple was still looking for his replacement. Matt expressed interest, landed an interview, and got the job!
None of this would have happened if Matt hadn’t started it all off with, “Hey Diana, good luck with your next New York adventure!”
3. Build your external brand
Your employer’s impression of you is usually formed during the first few months of your tenure. Unless you do something dramatic, your colleagues will have a hard time changing their perception of you afterwards.
One of my LinkedIn followers, Anna, works at a Big Four accounting firm in London. Here is what she told me:
“Six months ago I wanted to pivot and start a new career, but looking for opportunities and sending countless follow-up emails didn’t help at all. I changed my strategy and took your advice to grow my external brand. I started a podcast and a blog, then suddenly previously unreachable opportunities presented themselves. On top of that, I was also offered a promotion opportunity because my team was looking at me in a different light. .
So if you’re feeling stuck and wondering why you haven’t found new opportunities, consider building your external brand and using it to change the impression your colleagues and managers have of you.
4. Develop a secondary interest
With many companies, including UBS, allowing employees to have flexible and hybrid work arrangements, now is a great time to expand your hobbies.
Channel the time you save on commuting to and from the office to write the book you’ve always wanted to write, learn an instrument, or develop your social media thought leadership.
Secondary interests will help you become more creative, expand your network beyond your usual circle, and make you happier and more fulfilled. The happier you are, the more productive you will be, and that also benefits your employer.
5. Request an internal transfer
The career paths of bank CEOs generally have two things in common: most have stayed with the same company for at least a decade and have held various positions. Piyush Gupta, the current director of DBS, was with Citi for 27 years, for example, while Citi CEO Jane Fraser has been with Citi for 17 years and McKinsey for 10 years.
If you have the option to request an internal transfer, go for it. Don’t worry if it’s just a sideways move. You won’t be joining a new company, so you’ll already know the culture and have your own internal network to tap into. You can focus on learning new products and acquiring new skills while continuing to expand your network.
Many of today’s vacancies didn’t exist before, and companies are struggling to find talent with direct experience to fill them. So the next best candidate may be an internal candidate, and that could be you. Indeed, each internal transfer can bring you closer to a C-suite position.
6. Be a zoom master
Whether you’re a senior executive giving a speech at the town hall or a junior analyst interviewing for a job, you need to be able to impress your audience from the other side of the video conferencing screen. Digital meetings are here to stay, so if you haven’t already, upgrade your components and presentation skills.
No matter how good your public speaking is, if your audience can’t hear you or see you well, you’re going to miss something. You need to manage your presence on these digital calls. So be sure to be engaging and full of energy. Create a video biography or resume and watch it. What can you improve? How can you be more convincing? Be honest with yourself and focus on areas that need cultivation the most.
7. Spend time doing nothing
Working from home may eliminate your commute, but it may not leave you enough down time for yourself. Don’t underestimate the value of neutralizing your brain. A carefree mindset can be a great catalyst for creativity. Schedule time to think or walk. You can think about who you want to meet next month, what new skills to learn, or just enjoy nature and let your mind wander a bit. You will be amazed at the new ideas you come up with.
To be sure, you shouldn’t feel the need to implement all seven strategies. If you take just one or two and really focus on them over the coming months, you’ll be on the path to career success in 2022.
In the meantime, I have to put on my blue jacket and turn on the lights in my home studio to get ready for a webinar. Good luck and see you soon on Zoom!
If you liked this article, don’t forget to subscribe to the Enterprising investor.
All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, and the opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: ©Getty Images / characterdesign
Professional Learning for CFA Institute Members
CFA Institute members are empowered to self-determine and report professional learning (PL) credits earned, including content on Enterprising investor. Members can easily register credits using their HGV tracker online.