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Janice Burns, Chief Career Experience Officer at Degreed, discusses how you can get ahead in your purpose-driven career in 2021.

It has, undoubtedly, been a tough time in the workplace and ensuring your career’s survival might’ve been your top priority over the past few months. But as we enter 2021, you have an opportunity to take stock and reflect on how you’d like to move forward in your career. It’s worth thinking about what a fulfilling career means to you – what it looks like, how you can get there, and who can support you with your goals.

Becoming your own career architect

My career has been transformed over and over. In the early days, I wanted to become a psychologist. Then, I became a public school teacher, and eventually, I entered the corporate world as a marketer, HR leader and eventually, Chief Learning Officer at Mastercard. Now, I’m the Chief Career Experience Officer at Degreed, a role that I shaped myself and that involves working with leaders in Fortune 500 companies, to help them support their workers in a personal and authentic way.

What links this all is courage, the ability to adapt and learn, and an understanding of the art and science of career management. The first step in building a fulfilling career is to become your own career architect. To know how to design a career with a strong foundation and structure, and that challenges and excites you.

Get used to pivoting

Pivoting is something once associated with the start-up world. Now, it’s par for the course. The pandemic caused widespread pivoting, both company-wide and individually. We saw automotive manufacturers like Ford switch to ventilator production, perfume factories create hand sanitizer, and airlines redeploy cabin crew as healthcare assistants. You can use this momentum to pivot your own career.

Of course, many of these moves during the pandemic were done out of necessity. But in 2021, it will be much easier to switch careers, shift industries, and explore new horizons because of the way we adapted in 2020. Whereas before, a hiring manager may have thought twice about a candidate from another sector, this is something more commonplace now. 6.1 per cent of those employed between January to March and April to June 2020 changed jobs during the first half of 2020, compared to 5.7 per cent the year before. Of those who switched jobs, 52.5 per cent moved into another industry. Simply put, massive job shifts will no longer raise eyebrows – and therein lies the opportunity to take a leap for your career.

Five steps to a fulfilling career

However you choose to shape your career, I always recommend following the same five fundamental steps:

Follow your passion

My early passion for understanding and helping humans is my north star. It carried me through training to be a clinical psychologist, to then becoming a teacher. In this role, I first encountered what true educational inequality is like – and its lifelong impact. And this led me onto a new path, to challenge this systemic problem.

Through teaching, marketing, and being the Chief Learning Officer at Mastercard, I’ve now become the Chief Career Experience Officer at Degreed – and I’ve had to make some tough decisions along the way. But my passion always provided a framework for my decision-making, even when the pull of recognition and remuneration was strong.

Understand your value – and develop your skills to increase this

My next career step after teaching took me into a one-year management training programme in a bank. I recognised the value of my analytical and psychology skills combined and wanted to use this to differentiate myself.

After the programme, I chose to enter the marketing department at the bank as it offered the closest fit between analysing and influencing human behaviour. I enjoyed this role for many years before joining Mastercard as a product manager. Over almost three decades, I shaped my contribution at Mastercard into something that drew on my unique skillset (as well as offer personal and professional satisfaction). This translated into leading Mastercard’s diversity effort – and Mastercard eventually made it onto Diversityinc’s top 50 employers list.

All of this started with my skills – with me taking a hard look at what skills I had and what I could bring to the table. I combined this with understanding where I wanted to go and what I wanted to achieve. And then I built the skills and experience that I was missing, through different work tasks, talking to people, and formal/informal learning.

Find your career tribe

One effective way to learn new skills and build your career is to turn to your network. Find people who can act as mentors, sponsors, advocates and supporters, then leverage their skills and knowledge to become better at your work.

Seek out the people who share the same vision and who are willing to work with you to achieve the same mission. In my career, this took various forms, from Mastercard’s CEO and Chief HR Officer, who encouraged my strategic thinking, to David Blake, co-founder of Degreed and Learn In and co-author of The Expertise Economy, who shared my vision for learning equality.

Understand that everyone you meet along your career journey has a lesson to teach you. They may provide inspiration for your next step, or valuable knowledge for your current role. They may challenge your perspectives and encourage you to continuously grow.

Go for opportunities, even if not quite ready

It’s unfortunately common for women to not take a career opportunity unless they are 100 per cent qualified for them (men, meanwhile, apply when 60 per cent qualified). This is selling yourself short as it doesn’t fully value your career and learning potential. Even if you cannot do all aspects of a job, you can learn.

Conversely, in the current climate, you may have to take on work that doesn’t serve your long-term career goals. You can still learn from this. Transferable and social skills will serve you in any role, help you make significant career shifts, and future proof your career.

Pay it forward

Remember the third step? Well, this is the other side. As you grow your career, who can you bring up with you? Everyone has a skill or lesson to teach. Discover what you can offer your colleagues and then actively seek ways to teach and mentor others.

Your passion is your compass

As you journey along your career path, you won’t know where you’ll end up. And that’s part of the joy of cultivating your career. Every decision, every opportunity, can lead you to new areas. Each new role will take you closer to career fulfilment. Especially if you use your passion as a guide.

Even if you take detours, always return to your original purpose. Consider the legacy that you want to leave the world. For me, that’s making sure that everyone, regardless of their education, degree (or lack of it) and background, has access to the economic market. What’s yours?

Janice BurnsAbout the author

As a human capital futurist and strategist, Janice Robinson Burns develops and implements talent management and development programs that drive business results. She recently joined Degreed as their first Chief Career Experience Officer. Prior to Degreed, Janice spent 27 years at Mastercard, with her most recent role as their Chief Learning Officer. As CLO, she led the design and implementation of employee learning experiences and development programs globally, as well as development of frameworks to advance managerial capabilities and effectiveness. Prior to the CLO role, Janice served as Group Head of Human Resources for the Global Products and Solutions organization and Chief Diversity Officer of Mastercard. She earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from New York University and a Bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University.


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