Don't leave anything to chance

Maximise your potential by planning ahead and having a strategy, says Alice Weightman, founder of Hanson Search.

Sometimes we underestimate the importance of ­setting aside time to plan our career because the day-to-day catches up with us. Yet our career is life-changing and it has a major impact on our ­happiness as individuals.

We give most of our day to our jobs but this should not feel like a sacrifice when there is so much to gain from them. So how do we maximise our career potential and ­fundamentally our own return on investment?

Thinking ahead of the curve is a challenge but 12 years as a search consultant, meeting more than 2,000 people to discuss their careers, has taught me that there are a few simple things we can all do that really make a difference in the long term.

Be passionate

Passion beats almost anything else in a work environment. Most skills can be learned but your attitude is hard to change. Being positive, confident and above all ­showing you are hungry to learn will immediately put you ahead. Find out what excites you, try new things and meet ­inspiring people. Finding what you love and working hard at it will make you go that extra mile and this stands out.

Personal impact

First impressions are formed in the first seven to 17 seconds of meeting someone and research finds that more than half (55 per cent) of the person’s opinion is based on physical appearance. It sounds shallow but the effort and care you take to think about what to wear can make or break a meeting.

As we become more comfortable in our jobs, it’s easy to forget about our body language and what this says about us but non-verbal communication can be just as important. You need to make people believe you are a credible candidate for the role you want, not ­necessarily the role you’re in.

Get out there

Network. Having a positive internal and ­external network is essential. Get out there, talk to people and ­develop your own brand. Ensure you spend time connecting with and maintaining your network. Offer advice and help – people are more likely to offer support when it’s a two-way process. Having a mentor to help with those difficult questions in life is invaluable – find someone you ­respect and trust and build a ­relationship with them.

Find solutions

Our careers and lives constantly throw ­challenges at us. Those of us ­planning to have a family face difficult decisions when it comes to advancing a successful career. Being realistic with both yourself and your employer is important – try to be open about what you want from your maternity or ­paternity leave but also try to come up with solutions together about how to make it work.

Returning to work after ­having a child can be daunting so think about smaller ways you can still be involved – keep an eye on social media and chat to colleagues to keep updated. If you’re looking for even greater autonomy, freelancing could be an option.

Back yourself

Remember that we are all masters of our own careers. This may sound daunting but really it’s empowering – you are the driver of your career with the power to take it where you want. However, this requires action and, quite simply, if you don’t back yourself nobody else will.

Above all, don’t be fearful of what’s ahead of you – be curious, use your intuition and relish challenging situations. Put yourself forward for internal promotions and take on new responsibilities. Tiny tweaks really can lead to big changes in the future.

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