One blog I follow is the Evil HR Lady, written by Suzanne Lucas. Lucas recently posted a column with some simple strategies for being more aware of career opportunities that might be readily available.
Lucas talks about a recent study where researchers pinned dollar bills to low-hanging tree branches in pedestrian areas and observed whether people noticed and took the money. A surprisingly small number of them saw the money–and even that figure plummeted when the person was on a cell phone. Lucas asks, if we miss an opportunity as money literally dangling from a tree at eye level, what opportunities are we overlooking in our careers?
[Side note: The money tree study is in the tradition of change blindness research, which generally finds that when people focus on one aspect of a situation they can ignore incredibly obvious things going on right before their eyes. The most famous example is probably the task where people count basketball passes. Try it yourself here. But my favorite one has always been “the door study,” where a construction worker carrying a door stops to ask directions and then switches places with someone else. The person offering directions rarely notices the change-up. Awesome stuff if you appreciate study design and creative operationalization.]
ANYWAY. The tactics Lucas offers for being open to opportunities, essentially being mindful of opportunities that are readily available, are excellent. Several of them focus on having a positive mindset. She also talks about using LinkedIn and other social media to create an online presence that might catch the eye of a recruiter (or anyone involved in hiring). I’d like to offer three more:
- Talk to people. Making others aware of your goals helps them think of you when an opportunity that matches your interests arises. Want to publish on a particular topic? Interested in breaking into a new career area? Thinking about developing a new skill? These are the types of things to bring up in conversation. And think beyond just networking with new people at conferences and events–people who are already in your network are probably not fully aware of your goals, so these are things to bring up when you talk to them, too. I’m not talking about asking for a job or for help, but rather just mentioning the things that are on your mind. “I’m good! I’ve been thinking about moving into product management so I’ve been spending a lot of time reading about that.”
- Find your confidence. I agree with Lucas that mindset is critical in finding opportunities. A potential barrier is either believing that the opportunity is not realistic or worrying about “what-ifs.” I encourage people to combat this type of thinking. Two ideas that help me are “I will never know if this is realistic if I don’t try–even if I fail, I will have learned something” and “My worst-case scenario if I pursue this and it doesn’t pan out is being exactly where I am today.” Those specific thoughts might not work for you, so think about what exactly gets in your way and what rebuttals might give you courage and confidence.
- Say yes and think bigger. One way to stumble into opportunities that you really want is by accepting opportunities that may be less exciting, at least initially. For example, I’ve done some speaking engagements that don’t have direct benefit for my current job or immediate job prospects. However, through these talks, I’ve met fantastic people who may be instrumental in finding future opportunities. I’ve also benefitted, of course, from interacting with smart savvy people who I otherwise wouldn’t have met, and from questions and conversation that have evolved my thinking. Other types of opportunities you could say yes to include work trips, writing assignments, volunteer shifts, or coffee chats with people. All of these will build relationships and knowledge and may open the door for a future opportunity.
Will all of these tactics magically cause career opportunities to arrive in your inbox? Of course not. The idea is to put yourself in the best possible position for luck to happen, and then to be mindful enough to notice when it does. What are some of your strategies for being open to opportunity?