GovLoop is halfway through its current mentorship program, which means mentors and mentees are starting to dig into really tough questions about career options, hurdles, and success factors.
Most of our mentor-mentee partnerships have already discussed career paths, including what tactical steps they need to take along that path. Now mentees are starting to ask, “How do I succeed in that professional journey and truly set myself apart from my peers?”
That’s a much tougher question than asking what job to accept next, because many key differentiators are more qualitative and less tangible. Thankfully, Alex Tremble, author of The GPS Guide to Success and a Program Analyst for the National Park Service, offered a thought exercise to help us think through how we want to define ourselves on a personal and professional level.
Picture this: You’re leaving your job after serving there for about 10 years. At your going-away party, your colleagues take turns saying what they’ll remember most about you. What do you think they will say about you? Write down the top three descriptors you think your coworkers will use.
Now, ask yourself what you want them to say about you. Write that down, too.
Compare your lists. Are they same? If they are, you are doing great. Go get yourself a mentee and show ‘em how it’s done!
But chances are, your two lists diverge. For instance, at our event yesterday one woman said she thought her peers would call her hardworking. While that’s not a bad attribute, she said really wants to be known as the person who got the job done. Others in the room had similar disparities between their two lists.
Tremble said to use those disparities between current perceptions and your ideal characteristics to guide your career efforts, particularly to determine what skills you devote time to improving. If you want to be the person who gets the job done but you think others only perceive you as a hardworking, find opportunities to enhance your execution skills and ultimately turn your work into tangible results.
As you seek actionable ways to bridge the gap between perception and reality, Tremble also encouraged attendees to leverage their mentor-mentee relationships. Since you’re ultimately trying to change the way people think about you professionally, asking another person (not just yourself) what actions you can take to engender new perceptions is key.
Mentors can offer an outside perspective and leverage their experiences with other coworkers and cohorts to inform your next steps. And even if they don’t have an immediate right answer, they can connect you with others in their network who are known for the characteristics you wish to exude.
Ultimately, Tremble encouraged the mentees and mentors at our event to change their desires into action items. “You have to be intentional,” he said. “You don’t just want to wait for something to happen.”
It’s much easier to be intentional in your efforts if you have a goal to guide and motivate your activities. So instead of considering what intangible things you can do to set yourself apart today, think about how you want to be defined ten years into the future. Then, make a list of concrete things you can do to make progress towards that vision.
Want more help creating an action-packed career plan for yourself? Already have an awesome career and want to help others dive into government like you did? If you’re interested in getting involved as a mentee or mentor in our 2016 cohort, email the Mentors Program Coordinator, Caitlin Markham at email@example.com.