Microsoft’s Satya Nadella steped in a big pile of karma a few weeks ago suggesting that women should wait their turn. The next week I found myself in an email exchange between women executives discussing an uneven playing field. Both exchanges made think about career karma–wait or create?

I grew up with the notion that if you work hard and are nice to people that good things will come your way. However, I’ve come to understand that a proactive strategy helps. Sitting back and waiting for karma to create opportunities rarely works. You need to create the opportunity you are waiting for!

While there are still major inequalities in the workforce that need to be addressed we can all do a better job finding and creating opportunities for advancement and growth. Instead of just waiting for a job offer, seek out partnerships that will give you a needed set of skills and expand your network. Instead of just asking for a raise, learn how to articulate your value add so that its readily apparent what your ROI is. I think that’s the point that Nadella unsuccessfully tried to articulate.

When I’m frustrated by an inequality or perceived missed opportunity, my response is to elevate and empower myself and others rather than just complain. It comes down to setting goals, getting comfortable creating opportunities, and thinking of our personal and professional network as our best promotional agents and resources.

Here are five strategic ways you can create career opportunities;

  1. Set goals. Simply put – do you know what you want to do? Are you interested in being known as a thought leader on a subject? Do you want to keynote a major event? Are you looking to switch careers or join a new company? Be very clear on your short and long term goals so that you can align your actions on that desired path. Write the goals down (make sure they are SMART) and check in on them weekly. Find professional and personal development opportunities that support your goals.
  2. Create your brand. Once you’ve set your goals it’s time to do a personal SWOT analysis. Who do you want people to know you as? What tools and resources can you provide to support that brand? Get clear on what you are passionate about and find ways to speak and write about those topics in a unique and thought provoking manner. Write a blog series on these topics, contribute to a publication, make sure your Twitter handle is found when that topic is brought up on Twitter, etc.
  3. Build a network. Once you’ve set your goals, and completed your SWOT analysis connect with other people. Add people to your network that do similar work to bounce ideas off. Find people that do work that is interesting but different from yours. Creating a network is an incredibly important part of building your strategic karma. If people know what you are interested in and what your goals are they will help you accomplish them. Mentors will provide guidance as your accomplish your goals and help you refocus when you get off track. Find ways to add value for people around you.
  4. Create opportunities. Create opportunities by focusing your voice to the public. Start a blog and use your social media handle to promote it. Collaborate with those that have the same ideas as you and promote your voice together. Start a website that features the work you have completed. Highlight examples of work that can showcase your expertise. Dust off that resume and sharpen your LinkedIn profile. Want to become a public speaker? Host a Google Hangout, check in with local organizations, schools and district offices, apply for panels at education conferences (I’m on 3 panels at iNACOL next month and I helped 10 other people get on the program–it just takes some planning). Find ways at your current organization to get involved in new projects and connect with people in other departments.
  5. Support others. It seems simple enough right? This may just be the most important part of building your strategic karma. Just like you, there are lots of other people working really hard to accomplish their goals. Ask people what their goals are and find ways to support and encourage them. Make connections and provide feedback and advice to those around you. Learning how to empower and elevate others has been an incredibly impactful part of my professional growth over the past few years.

Instead of waiting for opportunities to come to your way – get out there and build your own karma! Work hard, be nice and have a plan.

What ways are you building karma? Share in comments below.

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