We live in a world of instant gratification. If we want that new pair of shoes, we go online and buy it in a few clicks. If we want to know how a new Netflix show ends, we binge watch the whole season. If we’re hungry, we order food through a mobile delivery service. It’s only natural that we want our career success to come about just as fast. When we want a promotion, we want it now. When we want a new job, we want it now. To achieve those desired results, we tend to play the short game vs. the long game, taking the shortcut and putting off anything that feels difficult. We prefer taking actions that feel both easier and quicker.
But there’s a problem with this. While playing the short game immediately gives us that dopamine hit, over time, those shortcuts we make in our career can leave us feeling discouraged, unfulfilled, and stuck.
Take you as a job seeker as an example. Say you’ve made the decision that you want a new job. Instead of taking a step back to understand what you really want in your next job, cultivating relationships at the company you want to work at, and tailoring your resume to the job you are applying for, you decide to play the short game. You use a generic resume, apply online to eight different jobs at a top company, and use an employee’s name (an acquaintance of yours) for the referral, with the hope that a recruiter will call you back for at least one of the job openings. But you don’t hear anything back, which causes frustration, leaving you to wonder what you did wrong and feeling defeated as you continue on your job search. (By the way, the above is a true story – and that person who applied at my company and used my name – without my permission, I might add – did not get a call back for any of the roles.)
A better approach in life is to play the consistent, long game, aiming to make progress each day and not rushing the process. My work with my coaching clients centers around playing the long game. Playing the long game means focusing on long-term outcomes, while taking small, intentional steps to stay ahead of the curve and achieve what you want. It means avoiding instant gratification and focusing on building a foundation that will better serve you in the future. It may initially feel like you’ll never catch up or get ahead, but playing the long game is the key to career success.
“I’ve learned that the long game is the shortcut.” – Richie Norton
I walk the walk with all of my career advice and this is no different. I follow this long game career approach and am in the midst of taking my small, intentional steps to achieve my next career transition. I’ve been at Salesforce about eight years and in that time have been in numerous customer-facing roles. I realized late last year that I wanted my next move to be in Talent Development at the company, helping to shape and guide employees’ career development. With that in mind, below are some ways I am playing the long game and how you can too.
Dedicate Time to Career Planning
It’s crucial to take a step back and give yourself space and time to do some inner work when it comes to your career. This can look like getting clear in what you want to do, understanding what your strengths are through personal assessments, or setting goals and laying out an action plan, to name a few. You won’t have career clarity unless you set aside time for reflection and planning.
For me, I spend time each quarter with my Career Development Plan (download L&I’s free template here), as it allows me to document and update my values, my short and long term goals, and my areas of opportunity/improvement. This allows me to be focused on what it is I want so I can outline my long game plan and then share it with the relevant people involved. For example, I am expressing my goal of joining the Talent Dev team to my manager in our quarterly career conversations. This provides him awareness of where I’m focusing my time and development (while of course still adding value to my current team). I’ve also shared my goal with my various mentors so they can keep their eyes and ears open for me too. Which leads me to…
Make Genuine Connections
The power of knowing and connecting with others is real when it comes to shaping your career, as I alluded to in this post about how I’ve been able to secure all of the jobs I’ve held. Think of every interaction you have with someone as a chance to build rapport and grow your career. It’s a long game, friend – developing relationships takes time but putting in the effort will pay off. Having a network you’ve nurtured over time can lead to positive outcomes, such as getting an “in” at a top company, landing your dream role, finding a mentor, or getting leadership visibility at your company.
Here are a few ways to start:
- Begin with warm connections: Approach those you already have a relationship with. As part of your chats, ask who else they might recommend you talk to based on your goals. Personal introductions are huge to growing your network! You can use L&I’s Networking Target List to help guide you through your existing connections.
- Make it personal: Do your research and get to know the person before you chat with them. Come to the conversation prepared and show an interest in who they are by asking them questions. Use their name. Pay attention to what’s important to them. (I recommend using a doc to take notes to reference in future convos.)
- See each conversation as a learning experience: There is always something to be gained from a conversation, even if the desired outcome isn’t immediate. Don’t think of a conversation with someone only as a means to make an ask. Take advantage of things like informational interviews to grow a relationship.
- Show gratitude: Be conscious of people’s time and appreciate their effort. Find ways you can reciprocate – offer or ask if there’s something you can do in return for them. And don’t forget to follow up with a thank you message!
- Keep it going: Nurture your connections and check-in periodically. Show that you genuinely care! Genuine, long-term connections can form then through commonalities and shared goals discussed. Regardless if there is immediate impact or not, putting time and effort into those career relationships can prove fruitful in the long run.
Knowing that I personally am laser-focused on the Talent Dev team, it’s a no-brainer that I’m putting my best foot forward in making connections with people on that team. It gives me the opportunity to get visible so they know who I am, what my career goals are, and understand how I can potentially help contribute to their team.
Expand Your Skill Set
Expanding your knowledge is one of the easiest ways to play the long game for your career. Having the drive to continue to learn will not only expand your skills and competency but also highlight your efforts and help you gain visibility with your target audience (in my case, the Talent Dev team). Spending time improving your skills can help you achieve your personal career goals such as earning a promotion or becoming a thought leader.
You can do this by first identifying gaps in your knowledge and skill set to achieve that next career goal. From there, sign up for trainings, certifications, or workshops and educate yourself through webinars, publications, or conferences where you can continue to educate yourself on the topics that interest you most. Volunteer for stretch assignments or take on projects that will give you the experience you need to continue honing your craft. If you start to feel some slight discomfort, know that it means you are growing and likely on the right track. Keep taking those small, intentional steps and do what you can to learn something new every day.
Knowing my resume is full of digital marketing and technical consulting experience, I knew I needed to upskill in preparation of applying to any Talent Dev role. I went through training to become a Career Coach and High-Impact Teaming Facilitator. I got involved in and became a leader focused on career development within my company’s women’s group. I raised my hand for a project on the Talent Dev team that I can help with and support a key leader in that organization. All of this and more are key resume builders and talking points I can use to my advantage when I am ready to apply/a job req opens.
Take Rejection with Stride
Let’s face it – not all goals will be achieved the first time and unforeseen obstacles will arise. Rejection is a natural part of building our careers. Even during the lows, you can play the long game with your attitude and how you handle adversity. Even if you run into some challenges in achieving your career goal, remember you can use the process and experience as a key learning. You can understand what didn’t go well, how you can improve, what ways you can continue nurturing your relationships, and pivot if you need to. It’s a reminder that not everything is going as quickly or easily as we’d like. But I like to think when a door closes, another one opens.
While playing the long game certainly is not the easiest path to take, it is a strategy that can elevate your career and prepare you for long-term success. With careful planning, intention, patience, and a positive attitude, you can achieve your career goals.
Now, a moment of reflection: think of a career goal you have. What are long game actions you can start to take?
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Senior Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.