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Manage Your Career Like a Mercenary

Manage Your Career Like a Mercenary

There was a time when the key to career advancement was simply being great at your job, working harder than others, and waiting for the right opportunities to pop up. And while it is still important to do a great job and work hard, it just isn’t enough to ensure career advancement. Not if you want you to achieve “high trajectory” career progress and above average income.

In today’s world there are fewer advancement opportunities and more qualified people competing for every great job. Bonus dollars are limited so you have to “compete” with your peers to ensure that you maximize bonus income potential. Even survival is a competition – who gets laid off and who stays – is often determined by much more than just who is doing the best job.

This is probably not the way your human resources department wants you to think about your career, but you are going to have to adopt more of a mercenary mindset if you expect to achieve above average results.

Here are a two tips to help you adopt a more proactive mercenary mindset toward you own career.

#1 – Choose your projects carefully. When you have an opportunity to participate in or lead a project, think carefully before taking on the assignment. Is the project likely to succeed? Is it critically important to the business? If it succeeds, how much credit will you get? If is fails, how much blame will fall on your shoulders? Can you trust the others on the team, are they likely to help you “win” or will they be a drag on the project?

For all the high-minded talk in the C-suite about wanting to “encourage failure” and foster a culture of innovation, the brutal reality is that failed projects, even if they were acknowledged as risky and innovative, rarely boost the careers of the project leaders and contributors.

An associate of mine knew he was likely to be assigned to an upcoming project which he felt would be a waste of time and a likely failure. But the project required specific technical expertise that only he and a few others within the organization had. So in the weeks leading up to the new project being launched, he made certain that he was kept incredibly busy working on other important projects. He made it abundantly clear, without saying so, that he had no capacity to take on a new project and he was so deeply embedded in his current assignments that it would be very difficult to shift them to someone else. Once the new project launched with others on the team, he was able to relax and modify his workload to be a bit more reasonable. S0 he never said “no” to the project but he nevertheless made sure that it was assigned to someone else. And yes, the project was ultimately a resource-wasting, team demoralizing failure.

So he felt good about dodging the bullet – and he felt no guilt about whoever ended up taking the bullet for him. That’s the mercenary mindset.

#2 – Choose your work “friends” carefully. Its nice to be able to relax and socialize at work. To have people who you feel comfortable with, who make you laugh, who support you and “have your back.” But the harsh reality is that who you hang out with at work has an impact on how everyone else perceives you, and you should at least contemplate the impact of these associations. Yes, its just like high school. Are you hanging out with the “in” crowd, the “fast track” clique, or are you spending your free time with the worker drones whom everyone assumes are going nowhere?

This can be hard to accept – but the workplace is not your family, and these people are not your real friends. If you were laid off tomorrow, how many of these people would you still be hanging out with six months later? The reality is that these people are friendly work acquaintances, not friends. And you should think carefully about who you choose to be associated with. Make reasonable efforts to “friend up” in the organization by developing warmer connections with people a step or two above you in the corporate hierarchy.

Again, this is part of the mercenary mindset, and you may not like everything about it – but this is what it takes to achieve better-than-average career progression in our current business environment.

This can be a tough mental adjustment for many people, so I would be interested in YOUR thoughts, tips and ideas for adopting a mercenary mindset toward one’s career.