Last month, I did something that caught some people by surprise: I left my job as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, the most successful women’s magazine in the world.
That’s a lot to give up—including free access to the fabulous Cosmo beauty closet. But a year and a half ago, as I looked down the road, I saw that I was approaching a key turning point in my career. If I wanted to try something bold and different, I had to grab the chance sooner rather than later. In other words, it was time for me to do some serious career management. In January, I told my boss I would be leaving towards the end of the year to focus on being an author, speaker and entrepreneur.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in doing our job that we lose sight of our overall career. But you need to be a relentless architect of your career. You have to manage your career—and your success—as well as you manage your job.
You may have thought that by doing your job really well, you were also taking care of your career—and to some degree that’s the case. But in many ways, they call for different skills and tasks.
Here are some key strategies to make sure you’re managing your career brilliantly:
1. Demonstrate your upward mobility.
Try to imagine how your boss might describe you to someone. If the description is less than fabulous, consider why and then kick your butt quickly into gear.
Start going to meetings with big, bold ideas, give your full attention to projects, volunteer for new assignments or stuff your boss is too busy for—and then knock it out of the park. Get a new haircut and a couple of great outfits to signal that you have your mojo back.
And don’t be afraid to verbalize your intentions to your boss. I got a note from a staffer after she received a promotion, and she ended it with the phrase, “Someday I want to be you.” It was the first time I realized how fiercely ambitious she was—and I liked that.
2. Be ready.
If you don’t have the right skills (public speaking, social media, whatever) for the next big job in your sights, get them.
Also, check out online the jobs you think you want. What are the full descriptions and necessary requirements? How can you position yourself to be a better candidate for those jobs?
3. Get out there—in person.
When you’re starting out, you network out of necessity to find a job. But further along in your career, it’s easy to let networking fall off because of time constraints. You need to keep it going at full throttle.
Ahead of any event, research key people who might be there. Approach them with specific talking points. (For instance, start with “Your article in X trade publication was terrific” and then ask a question about it.) Join conversations by first listening to what’s being talked about and then being inquisitive. Later, send new contacts links to info relating to what you discussed.
4. Volunteer to be on panels at events.
This is a great way to show people how much you know. (But be super-prepared and get media trained.)
5. Think “sponsor,” not just “mentor.”
A mentor gives you advice. A sponsor opens doors.
A mentor can also be a sponsor, but the bottom line is that you need to cultivate relationships with people who will make key introductions for you and not just dispense wisdom. (Studies, by the way, have shown that men are more likely to have sponsors than women.)
And you can’t wait for a sponsor to drop into your life. You need to cultivate these relationships. And you then have to be gutsy enough to ask for help—such as requesting an email introduction to a potential boss.
6. Take on one thing a week that nurtures your success.
For instance, attend a speech by someone in your industry or write a blog about your field. Go on YouTube to hear a motivational speech by someone wickedly successful, like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. And use this kind of time, too, to develop your “Big Mouth list” (all the people you email with important professional news about yourself).
7. Do the math—and then be strategic.
In many fields, there are points when you need to reach a certain level of achievement, or it’s not gonna happen. As a senior editor in my early 30s, I did the math and began to see that in the magazine field, if you didn’t make it to an editor-in-chief job by your late 30s or early 40s, the chances got really slim. That helped me start focusing on how much time I had and laying the foundation for it to happen.
8. Tap into your envy.
Let’s pretend for a second: A colleague just got offered a great job somewhere else. How irritated are you, really?
If you’re still thriving at your job, you probably will not be bothered by the person’s departure. But if you find yourself hating the person, it’s a warning. Allow your envy to point you to the fact that you’re overdue for a change.
9. Go for it.
When the right job comes up, you must ferociously go after it—even if it’s in your company. Tell them why you want it and what you will do for them.
I know of an executive magazine editor who heard about an editor-in-chief job when the company was in the final round of interviews. She called the contact person and was told that the company president was leaving that day for an overseas trip and wouldn’t be able to squeeze in an interview with her. The editor said she would be willing to accompany the president in the limo to the airport and maker her pitch on the drive. She did—and she got the job. Now that’s going for it.
Kate White is a world-renowned bestselling author, career expert, motivational speaker and consultant to Hearst magazines. Longtime Editor-in-Chief of Cosmo, her newest book, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know, is on sale now.