My thought leadership speaking tours to the Middle East and Europe were postponed and then postponed again in 2020. To convince the organizers to host their events online instead of in person, I went on a shopping spree and bought all kinds of audio and video equipment. That was on the last day before Singapore’s first pandemic-related lockdown in April 2021.
It wasn’t just me. Everyone needed to adapt to the changing environment brought about by COVID-19. In the last 18 months, many of my students and coaching clients, from mid-career finance professionals to senior executives, and countless others across the world, have had to rethink their career strategies.
With that in mind, here are seven actionable tips on how to take advantage of the current moment to advance your career.
1. Stock Up on Social Capital
“Your network is your net worth.”
I realized the truth of this statement when a former colleague referred me for a managing director role at UBS. I would not have received that referral if I hadn’t accumulated social capital.
So what is social capital? It’s the goodwill and relationships you have built up with people over the years. It works like putting money in a bank: Every time you help someone, you deposit some social capital. Maybe you buy them lunch, give them a tip on a job opening, or share some career advice. It is a good idea to treat people with respect even if they’re in a junior position. Then the law of compounding kicks in. Your social capital grows as the people you help today advance their careers and step into more senior roles tomorrow.
Last year, many companies restructured and resized. This year, firms have accepted the new normal and are hiring again. As new jobs open up, you want your connections to think of you when they hear of a position you’d be a good fit for. And you should do the same for them.
Remember: The entry level analyst of today may become the CEO of tomorrow. When you spend time, money, thought, and effort on people, you will be rewarded over the long run.
2. Be an Online Networker
Big events aren’t coming back anytime soon, so there will be fewer face-to-actual-face opportunities to meet new people. Knowing how to reach out and build relationships without physically meeting in person is an essential skill.
Networking online is more important than ever. But be mindful. If all you’re thinking about is extracting value from your network, you will fail. Think long term, be deliberate about how you can help the other person. And be sure to develop an interesting online profile that immediately demonstrates your integrity and authenticity.
A senior executive I know, Matt, is a creative guy with retail and consulting experience. He builds genuine connections through LinkedIn. When he saw his LinkedIn connection Diana was leaving her role at Apple in Hong Kong for an opportunity in New York City, he reached out and congratulated her. Diana thanked him and mentioned Apple was still looking for her replacement. Matt expressed his interest, landed an interview, and got the job!
None of that would have happened had Matt not started it all off with: “Hey Diana, wishing you well in your next adventure in New York!”
3. Build Your External Brand
Your employer’s impression of you is usually formed within the first few months of your tenure there. Unless you do something dramatic, your colleagues will have a hard time changing their perception of you after that.
One of my LinkedIn followers, Anna, work at a Big Four accounting firm in London. Here’s what she told me:
“Six months ago, I wanted to pivot and embark on a new career journey but chasing opportunities and sending countless follow up emails didn’t help at all. I changed my strategy and followed your advice to build up my external brand. I started a podcast and blog, then opportunities that were previously unattainable suddenly presented themselves. Not only that, I was also offered a promotion opportunity as my team looked at me in a different light.”
So if you are feeling stuck and wondering why you haven’t found any new opportunities, consider building your external brand and use that to change your colleagues’ and managers’ impression of you.
4. Develop a Side Interest
With many companies, UBS among them, allowing employees to have flexible and hybrid work arrangements, now is a great time to develop your hobbies.
Channel the time you save on commuting to and from the office to writing the book you always wanted to write, learning an instrument, or developing your thought leadership on social media.
Side interests will help you grow more creative, expand your network beyond your usual circle, and make you happier and more fulfilled. The happier you are, the more productive you will be, and that benefits your employer too.
5. Request an Internal Transfer
The career paths of bank CEOs tend to have two things in common: Most have stayed with the same firm for at least a decade and have served in various roles. Piyush Gupta, the current head of DBS, was with Citi for 27 years, for example, while Citi CEO Jane Fraser has been with Citi for 17 years and McKinsey for 10.
If you have a chance to request an internal transfer, go for it. Don’t worry if it’s only a lateral move. You won’t be joining a new company, so you’ll already know the culture and have your own internal network to tap into. You can focus on learning new products and picking up new skills while continuing to expand your network.
Many of today’s open roles never existed before and companies are having a hard time finding talent with direct experience to fill them. So the next best candidate may be an internal one, and that could be you. Indeed, each internal transfer may bring you a step closer to a C-suite position.
6. Be a Zoom Master
Whether you are a C-suite executive giving a townhall speech or a junior analyst interviewing for a job, you must be able to wow your audience on the other side of the video conferencing screen. Digital meetings are here to stay, so if you haven’t already, upgrade your components and your presentation skills.
No matter how great your public speaking, if your audience can’t hear you or see you well, you will miss out. You need to manage your presence on these digital calls. So make sure you’re engaging and full of energy. Create a video bio or CV and watch it. What can you improve? How can you be more compelling? Be honest with yourself and focus on the areas most in need of cultivation.
7. Allocate Some Time to Doing Nothing
Working from home may eliminate your commute, but it may not leave you enough downtime for yourself. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of putting your brain in neutral. A carefree state of mind can be a great catalyst for creativity. Set aside some time for thinking or walking. You can brainstorm who you want to meet next month, what new skills to pick up, or simply enjoy nature and let your mind wander a little. You will be amazed what fresh ideas you’ll come up with.
To be sure, you shouldn’t feel the need to implement all seven strategies. If you just take one or two and really focus on them over the months ahead, you will put yourself on the path for career success in 2022.
In the meantime, I have to put on my blue jacket and turn on the lights in my home studio to get ready for a webinar. Good luck and hope to see you on Zoom soon!
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
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Rejected by Princeton for its PhD program, Eric Sim, CFA, waited 16 years before finally getting his adjunct associate professorship. While waiting, he worked in banking and served as a managing director at UBS Investment Bank. He is the founder of Institute of Life whose mission is to train professionals to be successful at work and in life. He writes about career and life skills for his 2 million followers on LinkedIn. You can check out his other failure in his visual CV.