If you’re like most of us, you watch your 401(k) account like a hawk, especially through the bumpy ride retirement accounts have taken over the past few years. The advice from financial advisors: implement a long term strategy and your diligence will pay off.

man at desk

Photo: (cc)2014 slgckgc via Flickr

Now here’s a question about an even bigger asset. How well have you managed your own career? Over the long term, workers earning the median US income of approximately $50,000 per year could earn more than a million dollars during their lifetimes. As important as the earnings, a career also brings a source of pride and identity. If you manage your career like your most important asset, not only will you maximize your financial return, but you’ll achieve greater lifetime satisfaction as well.

Toward that end, here are ten tips:

1. Establish your own goals for growth, risk tolerance, and security needs. You need to have a sense of what you want: how high do you want to climb? How hard to you want to push? What risks, like moving to a new city, are you willing to take?

2. Find your advisor. Seek expert guidance from a knowledgeable person who is interested in your success. Don’t just rely on your boss; ask a mentor, sponsor, rabbi, colleague or family member to share wisdom and experience.

3. Strengthen and diversify your portfolio. What skills do you have, and what do you need to create the future you want to create? For example, if you are a specialist, do you need general management skills and experience? If so, how can you get that experience? One analyst I know could not get promoted to manager because she had no management experience – everyone’s Career Catch 22. She took a leadership position in a volunteer organization in her community and gained excellent experience quickly.

4. Assess the current market. Find out what is available in the job market and what it is worth. What are the trends? Where is the growth? Mainstream publications often publish lists of “fastest growing jobs.”

5. Make career decisions based on facts, not emotions. Yes, trust your gut, but be sure your gut has been informed by the facts. Choose your next opportunity as carefully as you would choose a stock or mutual fund. Who is the manager? What is their track record? How do others evaluate their performance? For mutual funds, we have Morningstar. For work environments, we have word of mouth.

6. Ask for what you need. We can be experts in some things, but not in everything. If your career isn’t moving in the direction you want or at the pace you expect, get specific feedback and guidance from bosses and colleagues that will allow you make changes.

7. Show a fast ROI. When you do get the opportunity you want, balance the learning curve with the need to show an immediate lift in your new organization. Establish a reputation for effectiveness, and then learn more. At the end of each day ask yourself: “Did I add value today?” and “Did I enhance my own portfolio today?”

8. Monitor your progress and make course corrections as needed. Don’t wait for your annual review to take stock. A year is a long time. Too many opportunities to add value and build your network can be missed over that time.

9. Use all available tools inside and outside the organization to invest in your career and benchmark your progress. Check online postings, outside listings, articles on hot careers, classes to take, networks to join, etc.

10. OWN IT! We would never say to someone else: “Here’s my house. Figure out what to do with it and let me know.” Like homes, careers require ongoing maintenance, upgrading, and periodic investments of time and money so that they grow in value.
The bottom line: invest in yourself and manage your investment as you would your financial assets, using the help of trusted advisors. Your strategy will pay dividends.