Career Watch: Finding your balance

Career planning and networking

Q&A with Randall Craig, the president of Pinetree Advisors discusses some of the ideas in his book Personal Balance Sheet: A Practical Career Planning Guide.

Why do people have to make a special effort to plan their careers? What's wrong with just doing your job well?

You spend more time at work than doing anything else in life, so doesn't it make sense to spend just a bit of time planning your career? For example, how should you decide if a particular promotion, contract or project is best for you? How do you know when to leave your job and find another? And with such limited time, how do you know where -- and how much -- to invest in your professional development? The answers are the province of career planning. Yes, to do well, you need to do your job well today, but achieving your longer-term goals requires some longer-term thinking.

You note that much of what passes as networking is worthless. How can people extract real value from the exercise?

Many people believe that networking is about showing up at an event, making small talk and exchanging business cards. The more Web-minded might add having lots of "friends" on Facebook or LinkedIn. While these types of activities are important, they are not networking. Networking is all about broadening your contact base and then deepening your relationships. Networks -- and relationships -- are like bank accounts: Without making a deposit, you can't expect to make a withdrawal. Said another way: Unless you help others get what they want, you can't expect them to help you get what you want. This concept of "give to get" is central to the process of networking.

If we're all working hard on our careers, plus doing our jobs well, is there time for anything else?

I sure hope so! To succeed in our careers means not only doing well in our jobs, but making sure that our jobs support the lifestyle that we desire. Unfortunately, when people complain about balance, often the problem isn't too much work, but too little life. Solving this problem can be as simple as scheduling nonwork activities or as complex as seeking flexible work arrangements. But what "life" activities should be scheduled? Two clear facts: No one but you knows what your perfect balance should be, and no one but you can know which activities hold interest.

A useful model is the Personal Balance Sheet, which defines "balance" along the dimensions of community, family, intellectual, physical, spiritual, financial and career. The basic idea is that by choosing activities within each of these dimensions -- or not -- you are effectively setting your perfect balance. And if you're clever about it, some of your nonwork activities will pay off on the job as well.

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