You are not an island: how to build bridges to your ultimate career goal

Moving through your career can seem like a solitary exercise at times. Sometimes you become an island, losing sight of the fact that your role, the company, your whole industry is connected to everyone else’s. A successful executive career should be akin to a futuristic, matrix-like city with bridges running everywhere, in all directions.

If you don’t have those bridges, it’s going to be very difficult to get where you want to go. In turn, this can leave you feeling unsatisfied, unstimulated and unmotivated.

So, if your career is in danger of becoming an island, maybe it’s time to build some bridges to your end goal. Here are some ways to go about this.

To successfully move forward in your executive career, you must identify your gaps, and tap into industry trends – then make your next move.

1. Understand trends in the market

Since you and your role do not exist on an island, understanding the broader context in which you are operating is invaluable to helping you forecast for the future and predict where you need to upskill. That futuristic city is always evolving – you need to evolve, too.

Take steps to keep up to date with your market’s economic, social and technical environment, and use this to continually evaluate your role. For example, with technology like AI and automation continually improving, some jobs may come under threat, while others haven’t yet been created. Just think, 20 years ago, there was no such thing as a social media manager, and it’s only recently that these roles have existed at an executive level. Now they are in life sciences too. Those who stayed ahead of this trend were able to see trends not only within their industry but the broader move to digital tools across all businesses.

As well as this, remember learning agility is one of the (sometimes overlooked) traits of an extraordinary leader. Demonstrating your willingness to continually learn and stay up to date will show how valuable you are to your current and prospective employers. Sharing industry knowledge is also a good way to meaningfully engage with colleagues, suppliers, clients and peers – a must for maintaining your network and connections.

From there, you can take this one step further and start to build your reputation as a thought leader, adding your own opinion to the conversation, and in the process boosting your credibility and credentials within the industry.

To go about deepening your understanding of industry trends, there are a variety of approaches, and you should employ a mix of all of them. They include:

  • Look at what is happening in your industry in global markets. This can mean following key people who post informative content on LinkedIn, reading industry journals and also general business publications like Harvard Business Review. Many of these have email sign-ups which provide a quick, digestible catch-up each day. Identify and listen to podcasts while you’re driving or travelling and set aside time each month to catch up on webinars.
  • Keep your eye on similar roles to yours in your industry and others – it’s easy to subscribe to job alerts. Skills that are in demand for executives in other industries may be about to arrive in life sciences as well.
  • Consistently and constantly talk to your network, listening and asking questions to stay in touch with what is happening around you and ahead of trends.

2. Perform a gap analysis

A gap analysis is like testing the structure of your bridge, to make sure it is sturdy so that when you step on it will take you where you want to go.

The first stage of testing your bridge is looking at the foundations. Is every pillar solid? Start by asking yourself what your wants are, both in work and life. Use these to make clearly-defined career goals. Think well beyond your current role, and use the research you’ve done on industry trends and your knowledge to inform this process.

From there, it’s about making sure there are no gaps in the bridge that you can fall into while trying to cross.

Identifying any gaps – you can do this by yourself or get someone to help you – working out what you need to do to address them, and making a solid plan of learning to fix the gaps will give you a solid bridge to cross.

For example, we recently consulted with a client who came from a clinical background and had been trying to move into an executive role for some time. After clearly defining her goals, she undertook training in digital health to close a gap she’d identified. Shortly after, she obtained a global VP position.

Gaps might not necessarily be skills like digital health, but leadership skills such as self-awareness, empathy and communication – these ‘softer’ skills are essential for any executive and can be learnt and developed just like anything else.

If you need help, try some professional training in executive career guidance.

And while a gap analysis is important, also clearly define and reinforce your strengths, which will ensure you maintain your confidence throughout this process.

3. Look beyond the conventional

It is easy to become focused on a single bridge in front of you. Which means when that bridge seems blocked, it can feel like there is no way forward. Yet if you turn around, you will realise there are plenty of other bridges – to the side, behind you, possibly even a tunnel in the ground. Don’t worry that you didn’t see them before – many of those bridges didn’t exist in the past!

Conventional isn’t always the answer anymore. The world has changed and so have job opportunities.

For example, if there’s a shortage of opportunities in your section of the industry, then look to adjacent areas of healthcare – something like diagnostics, a fast-growing sector that might provide you with the experience you need. Or if you have always worked in a big multinational, question whether you might flourish in a start-up, a not-for-profit or the hospital sector.

Global markets are another big opportunity to tap. Moving countries can be a daunting but very worthwhile experience. Or with remote working, you may have more options than you think without having to leave where you are.

And that’s not all – directorships and other voluntary or advisory roles outside your current company are all excellent ways to build experience.

4. Don't jump for the sake of it

Sometimes, you are so stuck on your island that you can feel tempted to jump into the water without a bridge. In other words, you give up on your current role and take a new job.

In some cases, a deep dive into the cold water can be a great way to reinvigorate your passion and career. Just make sure that before you jump, you stop, think and decide whether it’s something that you really want – because it can be very hard to swim back.

Moving might be the right option for you, but it might simply be that you haven’t taken control of your career direction. Think deeply about your motivators for leaving and remember being fed up is not a strong enough reason within itself. You must understand whether your current organisation can support your growth. You might be better off developing skills where you are, at least in the short-to-medium term. Even if you decide that you want to leave your current company eventually, it might be beneficial to stay where you are while addressing your gaps, so you’re ready to hit the ground running when you do move on.

At all times, remember you are not an island. Next time you find yourself becoming dissatisfied, go through these steps again (and again and again) and make sure your bridges remain solid for now and for the future.

Hunton Executive can help you achieve your career goal.

Check out our executive scorecard here to get started on your gap analysis. Or contact us for a chat about the next stage in your career.


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