by Miranda Johnson | December 8, 2010
If you’re like many of the doctoral learners we interact with through the Career Center, you probably have a lot of obligations each week—rigorous coursework, a full-time or part-time job, friends and family to care for and socialize with, volunteer work or hobbies that are important to you, household chores to finish… and that’s often just the beginning! With all of these commitments, sometimes your career can take a back burner.
Why is it important to carve out time for your career? In order to make progress toward your ultimate career goals, it’s important to make time to do the work. Career management isn’t something you can put on a shelf to work on later –after you land that job, or finish your degree. If you do, later will never come. It’s a continuous process of identifying your goals and taking action to achieve them. By yourself, however, it’s really easy to procrastinate. Further, career management can feel like a lonely endeavor. You own your career, and it’s up to you to manage it, but that is an easier proposition if you feel like you have a collaborator. That’s why it may be helpful to identify a “career partner.”
Defining “career partner”
A career partner is an individual who encourages you to move toward your career goals, and in return, you do the same for them. Unlike a traditional mentor – typically someone of higher seniority who imparts wisdom through her years of experience – a career partner is at the same level as you and has similar goals and a similar approach to their career. She may be a current or former colleague, a member of a professional organization, or even a career-minded personal friend. Alternatively, if you have established a close relationship with someone in your doctoral program to help and support each other through your courses and dissertation, the two of you could extend your conversations to encompass careers as well.
Regardless of whom you choose as your partner, the two of you can help each other in a number of ways. You can hold each other accountable, check in with each other about actions you are taking to achieve your career goals, encourage each other, share career management tips and tricks, help each other clarify your career goals, and even help each other see how you may inadvertently be underestimating your talents and abilities, or creating obstacles for yourself when it comes to realizing your career goals.
Finding a good match
When thinking about who might make a strong career partner, consider people who:
- Have a strong commitment to personal development
- Are often used as a sounding board by others
- Are sought for their opinions
- Are dedicated to their own career growth
- Have a similar approach to solving problems and taking on challenges
A strong career partnership is collaborative and reciprocal. Your career partner should know you well and be willing to challenge you. You should be open to receiving constructive feedback from him or her, and you should feel comfortable providing feedback in return.
Have similar goals
Given the nature of the conversations you’ll have with your career partner, she should probably not be in your direct chain of command or be one of your immediate coworkers. In fact, she might not even work at your current employer. Thinking outside of the box and considering past colleagues or classmates, individuals in your personal network, or even someone you do volunteer work with may give you the opportunity to partner with someone who has a valuable outside perspective.
It’s important that your career partner can give you relevant feedback and suggestions. The ideal career partner should be able to understand your situation and relate to your organizational culture. Take care to partner with someone who can relate to your career goals and help you determine actionable steps, and for whom you can do the same. Also, consider if it is important to you to be in the same industry. Perhaps it’s sufficient for you to have enough commonalities, such as similar work environments, personal obligations, or educational experiences, to draw from and create a solid partnership.
Depending on the career goals toward which you are working, your answers to these questions may change over time. You may have more than one career partner over the course of your professional life.
Have compatible schedules
When thinking about your career check-ins, would it be helpful to meet with your career partner briefly each week? Every other week? Is an hour monthly more realistic? It’s important that you are both on the same page and that your schedules match well enough to find time to dedicate to each other—whether that means grabbing coffee, scheduling a phone call or Skype session, or connecting over lunch.
Reaching out to a potential career partner
After you have identified someone as a potential career partner, you will need to approach them. It is helpful to articulate your reasons for choosing this individual as a possible career partner, and share your goals and expectations for the relationship. Then ask for their reactions or thoughts. They may also need more information or time in order to make a decision. If the individual seems unlikely to commit, graciously thank him or her for meeting with you and turn your attention to finding a better fit. Remember, if you want someone to hold you accountable it’s important that they are committed to the process, too!
Forming the career partnership
To build a solid foundation, both you and your career partner should identify your goals for the relationship. Discuss your reasons for participating, and consider discussing the following during your first meeting:
- If you don’t know each other that well, you may find it helpful to share personal information to get acquainted. This could include life stories and background information (where you grew up, school, family information, hobbies, career history). If you know each other well, or if the partnership is developing organically out of an already-existing relationship (friend, colleague, former colleague, etc.), you most likely won’t need to worry about this step.
- Discuss your process – Who will schedule meetings? How frequent will they be? What is the best way to connect with one another? Would you like to set up an agenda in advance, and if so how? What follow up work may be necessary? How should you check in after your first 3-4 meetings to discuss what is working and what’s not?
- Discuss and agree upon confidentiality parameters. Lay the ground rules for your conversations, including truthfulness, candor, and openness. Discuss if any topics are off limits for either of you.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, discuss what each of you want to get out of the relationship. Be clear with each other about how you like to communicate, receive feedback, get suggestions for different approaches to problems or challenges, and so on.
Maintaining the relationship
How your partnership works, grows, and changes is completely up to you and your career partner; the two of you can decide how you want to work together to help each other in your careers. Take care to always communicate openly and respectfully about how the relationship is working to ensure that the partnership is beneficial to both of you.
At some point, it may be time to discontinue your career partnership – perhaps one of you changes jobs and it comes difficult to find a way to meet, or maybe your goals shift and you need something different from your career partner. In some instances, the relationship may simply run its course and not serve a function anymore.
No matter what the reason, if you feel like it’s time to discontinue the partnership, be sure to tell your partner that in a courteous and respectful manner. Do not simply stop contacting your career partner or be dishonest about your reasons for wanting to break off the partnership. Your career partner can and should be a member of your professional network going forward, and as such, it is important to treat them professionally and respectfully.
Having a career partner is a great way to continue moving towards your career goals, whatever they may be. If you’d like a career partner, start the process of identifying strong candidates for partnership today!
For more career-related information and advice, please visit Capella’s Career Center.