Plan on It

In my 20 years in account management on the agency side and 15 years as an executive recruiter, I’ve been reminded almost daily how poorly people manage their careers. I am not just talking about junior people. In fact, the longer folks are in this business, the less they seem to know about how to promote themselves and manage their careers.

Some dismiss career development and self-promotion as office politics or a distraction from the client’s business. But let me tell you: If you don’t make it a priority to manage your career, to promote and merchandise your own accomplishments, it won’t get done. The person down the hall isn’t going to help. He or she is your competitor. You have to do it yourself.

You may have already learned that hard work—and expecting that work to speak for itself—will not get you where you want to go. As a former creative director used to tell me, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” That’s why you need to plan your career.

The good news is, your work in agency account service and marketing makes you uniquely qualified to solve this problem. Simply use the tools you already have. Do for yourself what you do for your clients daily. Develop a plan.

The first step is an in-depth situation analysis. Because you are the ultimate expert on yourself, it should be easy and lots of fun. Your plan doesn’t need to be a perfect document. There are no right and wrong answers. Just take an honest look at your career and your life. Ask yourself: “Which way is north?”

To get started, I recommend that you keep three legal pads—one on your desk, one in your car and one on your nightstand. Write things down whenever they come to you. Figure this input stage will take at least three to four weeks.

Your plan should include, but not be limited to, things like: What am I good/bad at? What do I like/dislike? What’s good about my current job? What would I change if I could? Do I make enough money? How do I feel about my co-workers? Is my career dependent on difficult people? Do I feel burned out, underappreciated, overmanaged or undermanaged? Is my job affecting my health? Am I good in front of groups? Do I really like advertising? Who am I doing this for? Where do I want to be?

It’s also a good idea to get outside help—ask a few friends for their input. Read a career guidance book.

At some point in the process, the light will come on. If you’ve taken your task seriously, your objectives and strategies will practically write themselves. It will become clear what you need to do.

As with all effective plans, you need to budget the most valuable commodity there is—time. If you do not allocate a specified amount of quality time on a daily basis, you will fail. Make a commitment of 30 minutes a day and hold to it. Do something, even if it’s just reading what you have already written down.

Advertising is a wonderful, rewarding business, filled with exciting and interesting people. But no matter how thrilling—if you don’t run your career, it will run you.

You know what to do. Now go out and do it.