Manage your research career – don’t just focus on “looking for a job”

Editor’s note: Karen Morgan is president of Morgan Search, a Santa Monica, Calif., recruitment firm specializing in the marketing research industry.

No one teaches us to manage our careers. Some people are fortunate and seem to just “fall into” opportunities. However, for most of us it’s vital to have at least an idea of where we want to go. This doesn’t mean you have to map out the next 10 years, simply that you have an idea of the following:

• What are your interests?

• What are your strengths?

• How can these play into your current role?

• Are you in the right role?

• What skills do you need to develop in order to take the next step in your career?

• What kind of environment do excel in? Organized and process-driven or less-structured and entrepreneurial?

Gone are the days of operating within a silo. Researchers need to be right- and left-brained in today’s business environment. They need to see themselves not as researchers but as problem-solvers and solution providers. This holds true at all levels and whether you’re on the client side or research agency side.

Today’s environment is so competitive that you always need to be thinking ahead and be aware of the business as a whole rather than focused on what you are doing or even on your department. How are you making yourself valuable beyond the research? Are there initiatives that you could be taking to increase your visibility and contribution? And, as importantly, what steps can you be taking to remain engaged, stretched and challenged?

We live in a world where training is minimal and managers have less time to guide and mentor, so more than ever, you will need to seek out your mentors. This may mean finding someone outside your immediate work environment.

As for training, this may be something you will need to do on your own time – and on your own dime. You may be able to convince your company to help pay for it, especially if you can demonstrate how these new skills will contribute to the business. But even if you firm won’t foot the bill, consider the outlay an investment in a better future for you and your career.

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