Credit: Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

The pandemic has forced us to think a lot more about the other aspects of our work besides the salary: job satisfaction, work-life balance, mental health, and long-term goals.

Many people have recently resigned from their jobs because they realised the pay cheque alone is not a good enough reason to stay, and the media folk was no exception. Yes, you need to pay the rent but we are not truly happy in our work if we do not have the right work culture, a sense of mission or flexibility.

Cold feet around jobs existed pre-pandemic but the mass job cuts that followed left many journalists feeling 'lucky to be employed' and staying put. Now, as the media industry is recovering and new opportunities are popping up every day, it is worth re-evaluating whether our jobs are serving our needs and goals.

In a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, author Mark Herschberg shared his best tips on planning a fulfilling career. He started out as a software engineer, went on to teach at MIT, and then wrote the book The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. His main message is to have a plan but be prepared to veer off the beaten track if the right opportunity presents itself.

Here are his top tips for assessing goals, weighing up options, and creating a career plan.

Take stock of your needs and goals

When you look back on your life, the reality is that your job is only a part of the picture. You may as well make your work fit around your life, not the other way around so start by looking at the bigger picture and ask yourself what you want to achieve.

Do you want a consistent 9-to-5 where the responsibilities end after you clock off? Do you want to travel and see the world? Target opportunities that will support those lifestyle needs.

Use this free to download list of questions to help you clarify what you really want. You do not need to have all the answers right away but do come back to them periodically.

Expand your horizons

Networking needs to be an everyday task on your to-do list. That means attending events, making time to talk to people or sending off LinkedIn connection requests.

We often roll our eyes at meaningless small talk, business card swapping and this awkward feeling of being used when someone asks you for a favour. Try to consider every connection you make valuable, even if you need to dig a bit to find it.

Talk to everyone you can reach about their careers and jobs, especially to people outside of the media industry. Ask them why they picked that field, the pros and cons, where their industry is headed, and what they wished they knew starting out. You may realise that your skillset lends itself to a different field, or that there are opportunities for transferable knowledge.

Try to help other people if you can because that sets the right tone for a genuine relationship, not a transactional one.

"You never know where someone can wind up. What someone brings to the network is not just their skills but everyone else in their network," he says.

Treat your career like a work project

Any major project at work will require you to create project timelines, budgets and progress reviews. Apply the same framework to your career, otherwise you will just end up fumbling from job to job without direction.

Your plan will have stepping stones, like promotions you work towards, a portfolio you need to develop, or a company you need to make connections with. Make sure that with every opportunity you accept, you are getting closer to these goals.

The plan will be more concrete in the short term and fuzzier in the long term. Recognise it is fine to change the script if something new comes up and revisit your goals once or twice a year to check you are on the right track.

Tap up your best contacts

The way to find the right job is to look for it two years before you need it.

"Who do you ask to help you move [the house]? You ask close friends and family. We ask bigger favours of people we know because you already have that relationship," says Herschberg.

The standard job application is tough and unforgiving because you are coming into the process cold. Having a contact on the inside, somebody to endorse you, will stand you in much better stead. When it comes to finding other jobs, your roster of solid contacts will rally around you.

Create demand to help you negotiate

The media industry is fiercely competitive and people often settle when they only have one option. Maybe they will get lucky, or maybe they will end up doing a job that does not serve them well.

When you are looking for work, reach out to your contacts and see what comes back, even if it is out of the ordinary. This gives you leverage in the interview process and means you can afford to be sold to. This way, you are creating more opportunities for yourself.

Call upon diverse contacts and communities you have managed to integrate into. But do not discount the possibility of doing it yourself: independent content creators are often willing to lend an experienced hand if you want to consider your own podcasts, social media channels, or newsletter.

"Podcasting didn’t really exist 10 years ago, now it's commonplace, and more revenue will flow through it [over time]. Set yourself up across a diverse portfolio of fields so you can be ready when one of them starts to take off and more opportunities are in that area."

Find a good fit, not just a job

If you need to take a small detour from your career plan in a moment of need, that is fine. But an effective career plan keeps you on track and working towards an end goal.

Before taking the position that comes up, you also need to know if it will accommodate your current and future needs. For example, be sure to ask about work culture: "What is something employees have suggested that you’ve acted on?" or "Tell me about how you support staff career growth".

These questions may seem quite direct but attitudes towards asking them will smooth out over time, according to Herschberg. As more applicants ask about work from home policy or mental health support, companies will realise these are genuine needs and come to expect your questions.

Getting the balance right

Asking probing questions about a workplace in a competitive industry can feel like rocking the boat or coming across as a difficult employee. A direct approach can be a desirable quality if done for the right reasons. What you want to do is ask questions to better understand how to be successful in the role.

For instance, ask the manager how they like to work when it comes to decision-making. Do they prefer to stew over an email or discuss it face-to-face? Do they want you to come up with the solution but be given the chance to object? Or pick from a few different solutions? This will show you whether there is working compatibility. But be careful to gauge the right timing.

Join the bandwagon?

When you have your own career plan figured out and know where you want to go, it means you are in control. You do not need to get drawn into a mass resignation movement. You only need to keep tabs on your own progress and tweak your plan along the way.

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