Considering all the new ways to work, you might assume that big corporations and their employees are on the endangered species list. In fact, a study from Deloitte finds that among millennials, only 35 percent would choose to work for a large global business. However, most Americans still work for big companies. More than half of American employees work at a company with more than 500 employees.
I’ve found a common characteristic among the people I work with in the corporate environment: Many are stuck, unhappy or at risk of being downsized. And that’s because, unlike entrepreneurs, many professionals are allowing their corporation to dictate their career path – a mistake that can render them obsolete. Here are five assumptions I see professionals make, and the entrepreneurial mindset shift that can help you take the reigns of your career path, and develop the skills to strike out on your own.
Mistake 1: Letting the corporation define you.
Independent Mindset: Understand and telegraph your personal brand and strengths.
Often, corporate employees follow a career path and skill progression based on what their company needs, not necessarily what’s best for them as individuals. It makes sense -- a company assigns projects based on business priorities and opportunities, without focusing on or assessing the strengths of individual employees. But, this is also why many people are put into specific job roles and end up struggling or even failing.
To avoid this scenario, first heighten your self-awareness. Do a deep dive to figure out how you're being perceived within your organization, and then understand exactly where your strengths lie. Independents and entrepreneurs focus on work that leverages their strengths to maximize their impact on the organization.
Most corporations don’t devote the time, effort and energy to figure that out for you, so it’s your responsibility to discover how to capitalize on your strengths. Two great tools I recommend are StandOut and Strengthsfinder. I especially like StandOut because it gives you actionable advice on how to make an immediate impact and what to watch out for when working with others.
Mistake 2: Becoming complacent in your role.
Independent Mindset: Start taking risks.
Even in a traditional career with a clear path, it’s vital to extend yourself by taking risks. Seek out assignments that are just outside your comfort zone. Volunteer for a special project that raises your profile inside your department or within the broader organization.
Those working independently know they need to push their limits. Their success depends on it. Inside a corporation, if you don’t show that you’re willing to get uncomfortable, your employer might decide you’re content where you are, squashing your career ascension.
Mistake 3: Staying inside the corporate bubble.
Independent Mindset: Explore what’s happening in the greater marketplace.
Corporate bubbles can be geographical (you never leave the corporate campus) or attitudinal (you start to hold a myopic view of your job function based on your company’s norms).
That’s why it’s vital to get out in the market to meet peers and compare notes. Read blogs and articles or listen to podcasts to learn more about your industry and competitors, or seek out differing viewpoints. The broader your horizons, the more nimble you’ll be. Successful contractors are constantly discovering best practices outside their microcosm, and you can do the same.
Mistake 4: Neglecting your network.
Independent Mindset: Start networking. Now.
The new career path is through your network, and the time to build it is now. It’s not uncommon to talk to smart, seasoned professionals who have been impacted by downsizing or internal change and realize they have literally no network. Remember this: when you need your network, it’s too late to build it.
Independent workers know this, and they’re constantly seeking out advice, partners, mentors and people with different perspectives. Set a goal to meet with someone outside the company once a week – or even once a month -- and change your perspective on your current role and your career options.
Mistake 5: Assuming your company will handle your professional development.
Independent Mindset: Control and invest in your career.
Find opportunities to stay current in your discipline without relying on your company. Invest in yourself, whether it's through a seminar you invest in after hours or a podcast you listen to while you commute. It's critical to invest in your career, whether to prove your value to your own company or to break into a new one.
By shifting your thinking and acting more like an independent entrepreneur, you start controlling your own destiny. Growing and learning is second nature to entrepreneurs, and must be for every professional who wants to stay in their corporate gig while getting ready to make the launch to a full-time portfolio career.