“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
I’ve been successfully coaching and advising professionals throughout my career in fortune 500 companies, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. I am glad about the development opportunities and information I have been able provide to clients and colleagues. However, I rarely have an opportunity to share the knowledge and coaching experiences with people of color, particularly African-American professionals. In an economic climate where businesses and organizations consistently express frustration at the perceived lack of “qualified” and leadership ready candidates of color, my aim in writing this series is to share practical and applicable insights that propel African American and other professionals of color forward in their careers.
Over the series, I’ll share information from several developmental areas from self-assessments, resumes, creating a job search strategy, networking, interviewing, references and job offer negotiation to managing change, emotional intelligence, leadership development and managing implicit bias in the workplace. Today, let’s look at basic strategies for African-American job seekers at any level.
Most career strategists will tell you that understanding your current company, knowing the culture, observing key leaders, networking, staying current in your field, researching the competition and doing your job well are important for success, especially for African Americans workers. The four strategies that follow are a great starting point for moving your career forward.
Whether you are searching for an internal or external opportunity, assessing your skills, and accomplishments is essential to discovering the right next career move. Self-evaluation helps you frame your worth at your current company and the value you will bring to the next organization. Self-assessment is key to your career advancement, as it helps you make informed career choices based upon your unique needs, expertise, interests, values and preferences. Working through the process will help you avoid choosing unsatisfying careers or jobs that are misaligned with your values. Self-examination is also a valuable discovery process for helping you to explore previously unconsidered careers. Another important benefit is the acknowledgment of areas for improvement requiring training, mentoring, and accountability that lead to a personal development plan for long-term career success.
Know Your Company
I’m amazed by professionals who haven’t taken the time to learn about their current company. If you expect to advance where you are or be employed somewhere else, you must learn about and understand the company. The adage, “Knowledge is power” is especially true in the workplace. To keep moving onward or upward, put in the time to understand your company, competitors, industry, current news and key leaders.Talk to your mangers, read industry news. Read the annual report. Stay current. As an African American (or anyone else), it is also critically important for you to have a good grasp of your company culture and how to navigate within it. You are going to be noticed at your company. So, be seen as engaged and knowledgeable.
Show How You Add Value
Your education and skill along with who you know will get you hired, but the value you add and the uniqueness you bring is what separates you from everyone else. Growing up black, you bring a perspective that others will not. Your work ethic, ability to press through difficulties, making a dollar out of 15 cents (financial management skill), honoring tradition and knowing the art of celebration are possible experiences that have shaped you and will inherently influence how you view challenges and opportunities in the workplace. Your insights will be valuable when your company seeks to expand into new markets — foreign or domestic — or when your leadership team seeks creative solutions to problems and improvements in organizational productivity. Your experience growing up in single parent home, being the first to go to and graduate from college, living each day immersed in hip-hop, rhythm and blues, jazz, classical or gospel music, being raised in the ‘hood creating new vocabulary and inventing fashion trends, excelling in school, being the “only one” at your school or work in the suburbs can be unique to your company culture.
Being raised in a home with six siblings and one bathroom teaches you time management, collaboration, conflict resolution and planning — valuable skills and perspective that you bring to the table. Don’t overlook where you came from and be aware of what happens in your space. Figure out how you live and how what you have experienced impacts your market and your company.
Invest in Yourself
Improve your capabilities. Whether hard copy or web-based, READ. Keep abreast of what is happening in your industry through books, blogs, articles and news. Take the time to write. Contributing to social media or printed trade journals are solid methods of showcasing your expertise and expanding your network. If your company sponsors continuing education, take advantage of it. Occasionally, request the company sponsor your attendance at an industry-related conference. You’ll learn a lot and enlarge your connections. Get involved in leadership forums and groups, serve on boards, get an advanced degree. Join networks or organizations that intentionally and successfully support and develop African American professionals in your area. Perform at the highest level and investigate how you may become part of your company’s “high-potential” programs.
Moving ahead in your current field or a new one requires focus and diligence. Rarely does it “just happen.” Purposeful and thoughtful actions and relationship building are essential to mobilizing your career.