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Where Do You Go From Here?

Stuck, burnt-out or just looking for a change? Five expert tips on how meeting professionals can get to where they want to be.

As a career coach in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan Spence meets many meeting professionals who feel stuck in their careers. Some would like to move from one area of the meetings world to another—and can’t figure out how to make the leap. Others become burned out by corporate life and are looking to reinvent themselves as business owners, but don’t know exactly how to pull it off. Many, she says, are wondering: How can I bring the joy and passion back to what I’m doing?

It’s a healthy sign. After years of battening down the hatches to ride out the “great recession” and its aftermath, meeting professionals finally have the luxury of giving some serious thought to growing their careers and their businesses, experts say. The U.S. unemployment rate dipped to 7.5 percent in April as hiring picked up, a big improvement over the 10 percent rate when hiring hit the low point of the recession in October 2009.

But even for those based in other parts of the world, such as Europe, that are still experiencing significant economic turmoil, it’s possible to plant the seeds for future career and business opportunities today. The keys, for anyone hoping to engineer career growth today, are planning and patience. Here are some tips on how to figure out what your next steps should be—and how to achieve them.

Tap your core values. Whether you want to stay in corporate life or start a business, you’ll get more satisfaction from any work you do if it’s connected, in some way, to what’s most important to you, Spence says. It’s not always easy to pinpoint what you care about most in the hustle of daily living, so, at her firm, Jan Spence & Associates, she uses an assessment from Career Direct Global ( to help clients figure this out.

Another valuable exercise is to look back at key career milestones and think about which experiences were most meaningful to you. That will give you some clues.

Tapping into your personal passions outside of work can also help you create new opportunities to grow your career. One of Spence’s bored meeting industry clients has a new lease on her career by refocusing it on a personal passion: kayaking in nature. She recently became certified as a master naturalist and is now working on the business plan and gathering the funding for a kayak tour business that will supply meeting and convention groups.

“She’s doing something she’s happy about,” Spence said.

Even if you’re not in a position to make a radical career change into a brand-new job, finding ways to bring what you value to your work can make your job more fulfilling. Spence worked with one meeting planner who, in her time off, loved making chocolate chip cookies and giving them to others. To bring that spirit of giving to her career, she began making the cookies every time she sent a proposal to a client and sending a box as a gift.
“She was incorporating something that brought her joy to the workplace,” Spence said. “It was a way of bringing energy and passion to what she was doing.”

Understand your personality. If you’re unhappy in your work, it could be that you’re forcing yourself into a role or work environment that isn’t a good fit for your essential nature—and consequently drains your energy. Changing to a different type of employer or running your own business may be enough to bring the spark back.

To get some objective insight into what makes you tick, Joan Eisenstodt, a veteran meetings consultant at Eisenstodt Associates in Washington, D.C., suggests taking a personality test, such as Myers-Briggs or the DISC assessment.

“Learn who you are,” she urged.

When Eisenstodt took Myers-Briggs early in her career, it showed that she was an introvert. To thrive in a social field like meetings, she found that she was best suited for running her own business. It gives her the ability to work in solitude—which she finds energizing.

Put your organizing skills to work. Once you’re clear on your future direction, apply the same skills you use in planning meetings to create a personal plan of action for your career, advises Andrea Nierenberg, an executive coach and speaker from New York City and author of Nonstop Networking. Say you want to get a new job and know you need to network more to make contacts. Create a schedule for yourself to ensure that you do this over the next six months, using the “2-2-2” rule—attend two meetings at two organizations that are new to you and schedule follow-up meetings with two people you met there, she advises.

“Take what you’ve been doing for work and use it for yourself,” Nierenberg said.

Think like a C-level executive. One of the most important trends in meetings in the past few years has been an increased emphasis on the ROI, notes Mark Faust, who has advised general managers, large CVBs and meeting planners as principal of Echelon Management International, a growth advisory firm in Cincinnati, Ohio, and author of the book Growth or Bust! If you want to position yourself for advancement in any area of the meetings world, it’s important to bring a big-picture, bottom-line-focused outlook to every meeting, conference and event you plan.

“The most successful meeting planners, both those that are internal to organizations or work for the larger meeting planning firms in the world, are the ones who look holistically at the organizations they’re serving, as well as their vendors and partners,” Faust said.

On one project for a Fortune 500 consumer goods company, Faust came across a meeting planner “who would never be satisfied with knowing the goals for the meeting,” he recalls. She grilled the executives involved about the challenges the company was facing, its strategic objectives and which of those objectives were most important in the near term. Her ability to get inside of the heads of the company’s leadership team put her in demand.

“That was her competitive advantage,” he said.

Whether you work in house for a big corporation or in your own business, a similar focus can only help you.

Consider your finances. Fulfilling your career plans isn’t always a matter of deciding what you want to do and going after your goal. If, say, you’re planning to go after another professional credential or degree or start a business, you’ve got to figure out how to pay for it—so you don’t have to abandon your plan midstream. Before embarking on any major plans, Spence recommends that her clients keep a record of every dollar they earn and spend in a period of 30 to 60 days in order to clearly appreciate their financial situation.

“Most people have an idea, but it isn’t specific enough,” she said.

Once you have a handle on your budget, you’ll be in a much stronger position to find ways to accomplish your goals.

by Elaine Pofeldt | Jul 21, 2013

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