How do you know what to do next in your career? Career moves always involve renegotiating the link between your talent-skill package and the job market. The great temptation is to take the path of least resistance: staying if that’s comfortable. You are jumping at the first “shiny object” opportunity if your current gig feels like a dead-end.

The opposite of the “path of least resistance” approach is developing deep knowledge about yourself and the market for your capabilities. In the last post, we reported on the four-part model for understanding yourself as a worker. In this post, we reveal why real-world savvy is critical to your success and how to get it.

Real World Savvy

Real-world-savvy is the ability to know what’s coming in the actual market for your professional capabilities and act accordingly. It is born from two threads of Biblical Wisdom:

Being ready for opportunity:  In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

Protecting against disaster: The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple goes on and suffers for it (Proverbs 22:3).

Real-world savvy takes work, and it’s worth it. Without it, you are flying blind into the future. Possessing deeply informed instincts about future opportunity and challenge sounds like a huge asset: it is. It is also hard to find.

The Problem

Why is it hard to develop real-world savvy? Three reasons: the “set it and forget it” mindset, the changing game of work, and noise.

The Set and Forget It: Many of our parents and teachers taught us that career success means picking the right career early and sticking with it for the whole course of our lives. With adults changing jobs and careers more frequently than ever, this is an old model that will become less and less applicable to the majority of workers.

The Game is Changing: Keeping up with what’s coming is more work than it used to be. Industries expand quickly and die more rapidly than at any time in the last 100 years. And if you’re a path of least resistance type, just going off of office chatter and your Uncle’s advice, you may find that you are shockingly off in your sense of security.

The Noise Level: There is more “advice” and click-bait news than ever. Sifting through the noise to find real intel is daunting. For instance, prognosticators predict the end of brick and mortar retail. Some stores go out of business, and some reinvent themselves and do well. Even if you follow the business press, you know you can’t trust every headline. How do you sift through the noise and find actionable data about your future?

Given these barriers, how does one develop real-world savvy?

RELATED: What’s Next in Your Career: What’s in Your Hand? (Part 2 of 4)

The Answer

There are three answers to the real-world savvy problem: friends, intel, and time.

Friends: nurturing a growing web of professional friends and acquaintances is essential for cultivating real-world savvy. Grow in your relationships with people who know. Because of noise and the tech-nature of everything, all of us crave human beings we can trust. Here are some tips:

Proactively seek new friends, use a set list of questions to learn about their professional and personal interests and expertise, always offer to help them.

Make it easy for people to find you. LinkedIn is the primary way to do this: excellent photo, clear title, the short and compelling value proposition for your professional capabilities and more than 500 contacts.

When you request a coffee with someone about their company or career, keep it positive, pay the bill, and ask questions to discern three things: 1) would this be a good fit for you 2) what do future opportunities look like and 3) what steps would you need to take to get into that company or field.

Intel: learn where you can find reliable information about your industry and company. I find that layering sources of information gives you the breadth of data needed to make solid decisions. A combination of company websites, industry reviews, and trusted business sources like the Wall Street Journal, provides confident facts for helpful decision making.

For example, I moved to New York five years ago to do work in the Nonprofit world. I was able to find a listing of nonprofits in NYC by using the Guidestar database. All large nonprofits have to report the compensation of their executives and their budgets, so I was able to learn a lot about the kinds of jobs and organizations that would meet my compensation criteria. I cross-referenced the Guidestar list of organizations with websites, linked and generated a list of strategic people to get to know. In 18 months, I met every single one (over 75 individuals), and these relationships provided the foundation for a successful career transition.

Time: Keep your savvy current by never stopping to make friends and gather intel. You develop real-world savvy by consistently pursuing it over time. When you realize you need it, it’s often too late.

When someone sits down with one of our coaches and they have a terrible LinkedIn profile (bad picture, confusing summary, connections in the single digits), they are starting the game behind. The reality of today’s job market is that you don’t know when you will need your friends (unless of course, you’re very current on your intel). It takes time to develop trust and relationships. Start yesterday and never stop!

How About You?

  1. Who do you know who was ambushed by an economic, industry, or company trend, and it had a negative impact on their work or career?
  2. When’s the last time you discovered a job-impacting development from industry-related research or a conversation that turned out to be true?
  3. List ten people who you need to know to be prepared for your work future.

Dr. Chip Roper is the President and Principal Consultant of The VOCA Center. VOCA’s vision is to rescue individuals and teams from the forces that would rob them of joy and effectiveness at work. Certified in Executive Coaching at Columbia University, Chip tackles the vocational challenge from 30 years of experience as a small businessman, a pastor, a career coach, and a business consultant.  You can learn more about VOCA’s faith-based services at www.vocacenter.org and more about their commercial offerings at www.vocacenter.com.