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Career Advice

Take control of your career

Three strategies for success.

BY ADAM COBB | OCT 31 2012

As a new professor, one of the biggest challenges in moving from student mode to leader mode is getting a handle on personal performance and what your colleagues, department head, or the university leadership expect from you. Whether or not the institution has a formal performance review process or other talent management programs in place, it is up to you to take control of your performance and career development from day one. Taking a proactive role with your personal performance can help to ensure that you continue to grow and thrive professionally.

Strategy #1: Keep a Performance Journal

While you may not have the opportunity to have regular and sustained conversations about your personal performance, it is important that you take the time to track your performance on an ongoing basis. This is where performance journaling comes in. Keeping a record of your activities, accomplishments, successes and challenges as they happen helps you capture noteworthy details while they are fresh in your mind. Having all this information at hand will help you when you do have opportunities to discuss your performance and provide a broader, more objective view of past months and years.

As part of your journal, you should keep a list of accomplishments as they relate to your goals and overall departmental or institutional goals. Make sure you capture the “how” not just the “what” you accomplished but keep it brief and include contextual details. Identify any challenge that limited your abilities to succeed, as well as any support from others. Think about it from the perspective of your department head or supervisor and what information would be valuable for you to share with them.

Strategy #2: Set and Monitor Goals

Take time to set personal goals and don’t wait for someone to hand them to you. Take a proactive approach and draft goals based on your position, your department or even the institution’s overall mission and values. Ask yourself how you can support the work of your department or the organization with the work you do on a day-to-day basis. In drafting your goals, you may want to look for opportunities to stretch yourself, broaden your skills and knowledge, or take on more responsibility. In meeting with your department head you can share these goals and get their input to help refine or focus them.

Throughout the year, make sure you take the time to refer back to these objectives, and monitor your progress. On a monthly basis check in on your progress and update your performance journal accordingly.

Strategy #3: Seek out Ongoing Coaching and Development

In the early days of your new position, keep sight of the fact that this is only a first step of your journey as an academic. Taking control of your career requires you to seek out ongoing coaching and development.

First and foremost, you should be working with your supervisor or department head to set a regular time to meet and regroup. Express to them that you want to use this time to help you continue to grow in your role. Make the most of your time with them by focusing on receiving feedback and improving your performance. As you seek out coaching, don’t stop there. As you meet people within the organization, find other individuals that you have a strong rapport with and feel you can learn from. Informal mentoring by colleagues can provide you with great insights into how to navigate your department or the institution as you grow.

As an academic, you have a fairly clear mandate to execute research and publish, but this is only one part of your ongoing development. Identify areas where you need further development on a personal or professional basis. These may be things you find you struggle with, or simply need to be developed over time. For example, perhaps you need a framework for having difficult conversations with students or colleagues, or require more skills with a specific computer application.

Remember to think outside the box and look for opportunities to develop your skills, knowledge and experience based on your performance journaling, goal setting and coaching. No one is perfect and learning and development should be an ongoing process. Work with your supervisor to help ensure you receive the development opportunities you need, or even seek out these opportunities on your own. These activities can take a wide range of forms from ongoing courses, personal reading, or one-day workshops on a range of subjects including soft and hard skills required for your position.

Adam Cobb is regional manager, education, with Halogen Software. He focuses on helping higher education leaders and HR administrators optimize their employee evaluation approach and overall talent management practices. He is a frequent author and speaker on talent management trends and issues. He can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. Anath Tikkum / October 31, 2012 at 21:02

    Where are department heads supposed to take the time to do any of this? None of them have received any such training either?

    Is this another shift towards increasing the administrative overhead of universities to make sure more money goes to service as opposed to faculty (specifically full time faculty?)

    The money would be better spent on workload reduction for faculty so that they have more time to focus instead of HR consultants.

  2. Susan Carson, Ph.D. / November 16, 2012 at 11:01

    I do not think you can “control” your career. I do believe – and coach – to the point that you can only control you. You can determine who you really are – what are your strengths, your skills, your passions, your purpose. You can control how you react to your environment. Then the career follows. I did try to control my career – before I knew those things about myself, and that is most likely why it has taken me so long to get where I am today – in the place where I belong.