Managing Your Career in an American Organization
In the United States, career management is typically the responsibility of the individual. This can be challenging for employees new to the US who are unfamiliar with the norms and expectations that typically dictate professional advancement. Understanding what career management means is the first step toward managing your career effectively. Then, learning about how career management in the United States differs from your previous work culture will help you to achieve your goals more effectively.
The value of individualism ranks highly in American work culture. As such, you'll likely be directly responsible for your own professional advancement. Promotions or pay raises will usually depend on your goals and performance, and how you communicate these to your superiors. This attitude is different from some work cultures. Elsewhere, organizations may play a larger role in the guidance of employees' careers, while in some cultures seniority is more important than performance. Employees new to the US's working culture may find such differences, and the subsequent results, jarring.
There are four aspects of career management that are important for managing careers in the United States:
- promotions – Promotions are often given only once employees have shown themselves capable of handling the responsibility of a certain role – before being formally offered it. This means that employees should take the initiative to do the job they want – maybe without the title or pay – to prove they're able to fulfill the role when it becomes available. Further, soft skills – such as giving presentations or negotiating – become increasingly important the higher the role being sought.
- pay raises – In the American workplace, employees typically receive raises for their personal accomplishments, rather than those of their team. Because many companies offer incentives to employees in the form of commissions or bonuses, it's not uncommon for a high-performing employee to earn more than his manager.
- rewards and recognition – Employees new to the US may feel that they've been passed over for promotions unfairly. These employees and their managers often see the promotions process differently. Feedback, for example, may be worded such that it doesn't seem like praise. In many American offices, praise is often more subdued than in other cultures, though no less earnest.
- relationships and networking – In the United States, beneficial contacts with other professionals are most often made through professional associations. This is a marked contrast with other countries, where such networks are typically built, for example, along familial lines or through alumni associations. In American professional life, your network is usually your personal responsibility and property.
There are four guidelines you can follow as you try to manage your career in the American workplace:
- identify your professional objectives
- make sure you understand your manager's expectations
- find out about the compensation scheme in your organization
- obtain a mentor or coach.
The first guideline is to identify your professional objectives. To do so, you may need to rethink what managing your career means. If you come from a culture where management typically has more of a say in employees' professional development, this is especially important. It's up to you to determine how you want your career to develop, so you need to be proactive. For example, tell your manager what kinds of projects interest you, rather than waiting to be steered toward them. Further, you should express your interest in being part of particular projects that are in development, instead of hoping for certain appointments. You need to make sure that your manager is aware of the direction you want to go. And you're the only one who can tell her this.
The second guideline is to understand your manager's expectations. If you want to be promoted or get a raise, make sure you know what your manager expects from you. Arrange a meeting to discuss what's required to achieve your career objectives. Try to refer to specific examples of your performance and your expectations. Ask your manager to be similarly specific. Doing so will provide you with a set of actions that will help you to achieve your goals.
In addition to understanding your and your manager's expectations, the third guideline for career management in the American workplace is to find out about your company's compensation scheme. Your company's rationale for giving pay raises and promotions should be outlined in the form of a compensation scheme. Arrange a meeting with someone in your company's Human Resources Department. Ask about how the company's compensation scheme works – what's valued, and what's required to obtain raises.
The fourth guideline is to obtain a mentor or coach. Your mentor should have in-depth knowledge about professional life in the US and, ideally, some familiarity with your culture as well. In order to have your perspectives adequately represented, you may want to talk to several people – Americans colleagues from a variety of ethnic backgrounds as well someone from the same cultural background as you. Mentorship is valuable in helping you to understand the American workplace in general, and career management in particular. In addition to representing your perspectives, mentors should excel in your particular professional area. Learn what makes them stand out by observing them at work and discussing work issues with them. This can help you understand what you need to do to ensure you're on the right track for your career. Your organization may provide access to structured coaching or mentoring programs for employees. These programs can make it easier for you to select an appropriate mentor.
Being able to set and achieve your goals will increase your motivation and morale. Managing your career effectively allows you to plan your actions to achieve your professional objectives. You'll also improve your effectiveness as an employee with better career management. The motivation that results from having your expectations fulfilled will likely encourage you to invest more time and effort in your career, and direct your energy more efficiently toward achieving the next goals you set for yourself.
In the American workplace, managing your career is your responsibility. American perspectives on promotions, pay raises, recognition, and networking are likely to be different in certain respects than in your previous work culture. To help you adjust to these differences, you can follow four guidelines. First, identify your professional goals by asking yourself where you want to be in your organization. Second, find out what specific expectations your manager has of you and share your own. Third, find out about your organization's compensation scheme and how pay raises and promotions are given. Finally, obtain a coach or mentor to help you manage your career effectively by learning how they met the challenges of American working life.