If careers are an aggregation of the skills, roles, and jobs a professional has over time, individuals must be intentional about managing these elements. Historically, training and development has been employer directed, as employers invested in their human capital, sometimes with incentives along the way. Now, career paths vary more, and employers are less likely to prescribe a preferred path, at least beyond entry-level analyst training classes. Individuals must be proactive about their careers and see all jobs as growth opportunities that they have the responsibility to realize.
One way to think about this active approach to career management is with the career flywheel pictured in Exhibit 18.
The “flywheel effect” is a concept from Jim Collins’s Good to Great that he applies to organizations and that we apply here to the professional’s career.xxxiv
According to Collins,
No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great journeys never happen in one fell swoop. In building something great, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no solitary lucky break.
Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until points of breakthrough, and beyond. (p. 165)
We believe this describes the career management challenge rather well.
The critical success factors for individuals to maintain the progress of the flywheel are as follows:
- Maintain a learning mindset and a growth mindset. Career competencies and character are built over time by dedicating the requisite time and attention for learning and developing your competencies and character through focus, hard work, and good partners.
- Build the alliance with each employer. This alliance is “give and get”: You give value to the employer, you get explicit rewards as well as indirect ones, such as personal empowerment, development opportunities, and feedback for further development.
- Seek work–life integration. Healthy work–life integration will support career resilience and develop opportunities for fulfilment. Being part of an inclusive culture and benefiting from flexible working arrangements are critical contributors to this outcome.
There are several catalysts that individuals can use to enhance their career prospects.
- Career mentors or executive sponsors can be extremely helpful for career management. Specifically, a mentor gives advice on how to advance one’s career—from guidance on technical skills to navigation of interpersonal challenges—and an executive sponsor is an influential colleague who can be a personal advocate when promotions are under discussion. These relationships are much more likely to be informal than formal in nature. Approximately 30% of the CFA Institute members and candidates surveyed have an informal mentor, and 10% have a formal mentor. Women are 50% more likely than men to have a formal mentor, as are those in Asia Pacific versus other regions. This result means the majority of investment professionals are without a mentor, however, and we would suggest such individuals have a harder career journey as a result. It is also worth noting that mentors can be of different types and for specific purposes; those professionals with more experience can benefit from peer mentoring, and being a mentor is usually mutually beneficial. The mentor benefits from insights from a different perspective and the opportunity to build leadership skills (see Driving Change: Diversity & Inclusion in Investment Management for a discussion of the differences between mentors and executive sponsors).xxxv Occasionally, organizational leaders do “reverse mentorships” that allow them to learn from newer employees and get insights about how to better lead the organization. Put differently, all mentor relationships have opportunities for both parties to learn.
- Career plans or roadmaps will be increasingly valuable as the industry becomes more competitive. One of the strongest points of consensus in our industry leader survey is that “individuals’ roles will be transformed multiple times during their careers; adaptability and lifelong learning will be the most essential skills.” Among respondents, 89% of industry leaders agree that this is one of the top three elements of disruption and change that will have the largest impact on individuals in the investment industry in the next 5–10 years. In most cases, it will include working more with technology, but to build a resilient foundation, one should consider ways to acquire a diverse set of experiences. Just 12% of survey respondents have a formal written career plan or strategy, but the majority (66%) have a general plan of future roles they aspire to. Successful career planning involves regularly checking in on development plans to ensure that careers and career changes are producing personal growth.
- Building acquired diversity makes individuals more valuable to teams and gives them greater options for future roles. This form of diversity is about acquiring different types of experiences, knowledge, and skills across geographies, industries, and functions, among others. Individuals should think laterally about complementary skills, augment skills through technology, and build soft skills. Importantly, diversity can be sought in the workplace and outside of it. By having a broader perspective, an investment professional can make different connections and enhance the cognitive diversity of a team. Unlike surface-level diversity, acquired diversity is something that everyone can build.
- Cultivating a valuable network of contacts is an important T-shaped skill, and social media platforms have transformed the way people network. In our survey, 86% of CFA members and candidates say they use social media for professional purposes. The most common purposes are to research job opportunities (61%), follow market trends (58%), and update one’s professional profile (51%).
- Building a personal brand is a considerable asset to a career. We suggest that investment organizations will be particularly attracted to individuals whose brand attributes include positive ethical orientation, strong professionalism, and collegiality. Such attributes will become embedded in the reputations of those individuals who have profoundly and consistently lived the experiences, developed the networks, and laid down the track records.
As introduced in the career flywheel discussion, a successful career and personal brand are not the result of a solitary lucky break but the result of career choreography, extended application, and character development over time. There are so many more confusing factors obstructing achievements in life and work. In the face of these challenges, personal character is more important than ever.