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Make the Most of Key Career Moments

Make the Most of Key Career Moments

When you get right down to it, your career is shaped largely by just a few key decisions, conversations and actions. I call these "key career moments."

A career moment can last a minute, an hour or a day. It can also really be just a moment -- a few seconds in a conversation, for example, when you did or did not say something critical. Some career moments are predictable and inevitable. Others happen spontaneously and turn out to be significant only in retrospect. You can also create career moments for yourself.

To better understand the nature of key career moments, study these examples:

  • Deciding on a career direction.
  • Interviewing.
  • Receiving a job offer and negotiating.
  • Getting laid off.
  • Receiving and responding to performance reviews.
  • Having an important conversation with a manager or senior person in your organization.
  • Grabbing an opportunity.
  • Talking with headhunters, mentors, an influential person in your network or someone referred to you.
  • Making a presentation or delivering a project, pitch or product.
  • Getting noticed for landing a big client.
  • Managing a crisis.
  • Taking a proactive step to market yourself, create something new, serve your community, start a business or express an opinion.

Seize the Moment

Now, think about the collective impact of these career moments. They determine how you'll be spending the coming weeks, months and years and leave a lasting mark on your resume -- and your life. Why waste them? These strategies will help you seize the moment:

  • Understand Yourself and Know What You Want: To make good decisions in the moment, you must understand who you are and what you want out of life and your career. Invest the time to clarify your purpose. Then, make one of two types of personal plans: A focused, firm plan if you know exactly what you want or a loose plan that lays out the general shape and direction of the kind of career and future you want to build.
  • Develop Your Skills: Most key career moments are foreseeable and have some skill associated with them, such as interviewing and negotiating. The problem is that we don't get to build up those skills, because like buying a house or a car, we engage in these events only a few times in our lives. To be ready when the time comes, work to improve your expertise in those areas.
  • Know When to Overprepare: Work-life balance is important, but there are times when you'll need to go all out so you don't miss your big shot. If a key upcoming event could do great things for your career if you do well -- or sink it if you do poorly -- make a plan that will allow you to shine when the moment arrives.
  • Learn to Ask: You'll have conversations in which you'll need to take the initiative and ask for what you want. It may be a job, a promotion, a referral or information. Don't let a potential career moment pass you by because you were passive.
  • Learn to Say No: Saying yes to the wrong thing is a very common trap and can cost you years of your working life. That's why you must learn to say no to the wrong job, the wrong company or a direction that doesn't fit in with your plans or who you are.
  • Create Key Career Moments: Develop the habit of picking up the phone. You can never go wrong by trying to connect with people one on one. You won't always reach someone, but you will some of the time. Through successful conversations like these, you will create opportunities.

By recognizing and preparing for these key moments throughout your career, you greatly boost your chances of engaging in fulfilling work and reaching your goals. And that's a big payoff for mastering just a few moments.

[Ian Christie founded to help individuals build bold, fulfilling careers and help organizations attract, develop and retain talent. A career coach, consultant, three-time entrepreneur, former senior director at Monster and former retained executive search consultant, Ian is an expert in the fields of careers and recruitment. He believes that career management is a central theme to both personal and organizational effectiveness. offers career services to companies and individuals as well as free career resources.]

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