Tom TateDecember 06, 2021
Topics: Employee Experience

Why You Need Your Own Personal Career Council

Workers everywhere are recalibrating how, where, when, and why they work — for a myriad of reasons.

At the top of the list? Lack of opportunities for professional development.

In our latest episode of Talent Experience Live, Erik Harbison, co-founder & president of, joined us to discuss the benefits of mentorship through a "Career Council," and practical tips for forming your own. Watch the full episode here, or check out the highlights below!

When possibilities seem limitless, how do you choose a direction?

In 2016, Harbison created TheMarketingHelp as a career acceleration community for marketing professionals. Members can make connections, find resources, and get advice on navigating career challenges.

Leading this online community has given him a unique vantage point of the current labor market landscape — from his point of view, it's clear employees aren't shying away from jumping into new opportunities. One member, for example, recently started a new role – her third in 18 months – and has doubled her salary in that time period.

Of course, it’s great to have choices. But what’s the best move for you right now? With an abundance of possibilities, how can you be sure you’re setting goals that will advance your career, not spin your wheels? And what exactly are your career goals?

That’s where building a personal Career Council comes in.

The Career Council: An executive board for your personal brand

Think of yourself as your own brand or company, Harbison said. When it comes to strategy and decision-making, companies have executive boards comprised of a mix of backgrounds and industry perspectives to steer the course.

Now imagine: Who would sit around that table as your own executive board, or Career Council? Choosing the right people can result in a slew of benefits:

  • Perspectives on all angles of your career
  • Sound advice to guide career path decisions
  • Insight to the tactical day-to-day in your field
  • Truthful feedback on goals and direction
  • Inspiration to push boundaries
  • Accountability to follow through on goals

Related: The Art of Mentoring: How It Improves Employee Experience

Building your career council: Key members

First of all, scratch your current manager and direct co-workers off the list, Harbison advises. Instead, think about people outside of your everyday work orbit – people you can trust to give you honest, reliable input, such as:

  • A former colleague or boss
  • A family member
  • Someone a few steps above you in your career
  • An industry expert (you don’t necessarily need to know this person, Harbison clarified – he or she could be someone you follow on Twitter or LinkedIn)

“Whenever you have that need for inspiration or education, these are the folks you want to be contacting,” Harbison said.

Pro tip: It’s good to have a balance of seasoned professionals, as well as younger contacts. This way, you get a mix of perspectives and expertise.

Establish a give-and-take relationship with mentors

Family members are one thing. But generally speaking, when it comes to keeping up relationships with mentors on your career council, it’s best to maintain a consistent outreach schedule to maintain relationships.

“If you think of the degree of cadence required, the less you know somebody formally, the more frequently you want to be engaging with them,” Harbison said.

And what about industry experts you may not know personally? How do you cultivate a relationship with these members of your council? Engage with them digitally — either through email or over social media (e.g., send them a Tweet or comment on their LinkedIn posts).

It’s OK if the cadence fluctuates, just don’t let communication lapse for too long. “Set a reminder on your calendar for a quarterly gut check,” Harbison recommended. “That can keep you on track to make sure you’re giving as much as you need to before you’re getting.”

Maximizing the value of mentor feedback

Once your council is in place, how do you get the most out of what each member has to offer?

Getting truthful feedback might take a bit of finessing, according to Harbison. A lot of us are programmed to focus on the positive. And while hearing that everything you’re doing is great might feel good, it definitely won’t help move the needle for your career.

That’s why Harbison says he enters conversations with mentors by requesting open, honest communication that will breach the comfort zone and lead to real breakthroughs.

Related: Crap-Free Career Pathing: What's Next When You're Not Sure

Navigating new opportunities: Conversations are key

In today’s market where employers are under pressure to fill positions and opportunities are endless, it’s key to be selective about the companies you’re interested in. “You need to be in control – focus on conversations over applications,” he said. “Take the time to focus on where you want to work, and then focus on conversations with people at those companies.”

What about the temptation to mass apply? Don’t do it, Harbison says: “It saps energy and it lowers confidence. [And when] that happens, we go into an ugly cycle of lack of progress.”

And finally, don’t delay constructing your career council. “Do it now in little bits and pieces, and it will be such a foundation for you when you need it.”

Level up employee development with intelligent career pathing and mentoring tech — request a demo of Phenom Employee Experience today.

Catch Talent Experience Live on LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook every Thursday at noon ET to get the latest in recruiting, talent acquisition, talent management, and HR tech.

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