What's your career exit strategy?

You hear this question a lot when you mingle with the entrepreneurial crowd. Venture capitalists want to know when they’ll get a return on their investment; entrepreneurs fantasize about getting bought out for big bucks…
But you rarely hear individuals talk about an exit strategy regarding their own careers, that is, unless they are close to retirement.
Maybe we would make smarter, more proactive career decisions if we thought of our careers like a business—a business we were planning to exit. Consider, for example, some of the following “business decisions” we might make, if we planned our exit far in advance.
The Career Start Up—The 20’s.
Like a startup company, which often searches for the right product and market, your early years should be open to exploration. Don’t spend too many years in a company with no growth opportunities, or in a job you don’t like, or with a boss who doesn’t appreciate you. You are wasting valuable time.
Maximize each position you hold by learning everything you can and out- performing your peers. Volunteer for projects that will stretch you and take some risks.
If you don’t have a degree, or special training, now is the time to get it. It won’t get easier once your life is filled with responsibilities.
When your career is young, you have the luxury of making more frequent changes—jobs in different geographic areas, industries, and companies.
Starting your own company is a great option and many young people are eager to avoid corporate life, after seeing what’s happened to the generation before them. Another plus is that failure is much easier to recover from when you are in your 20’s!
By the time you are in your early 30’s, you will want to be positioned for the next phase.
Finding Your Groove and Growing It—The 30’s.
Entrepreneurs, who want to sell their company, have to have something to sell. Once they find a marketable product or service the consumer wants, they have to grow their market share, or hone their special technology, so someone will want to buy what they are building.
For example, if you have interpersonal skills and enjoy leading, you should shoot for a lead, or supervisory role. If it’s technology you love, you should be striving to lead projects and be a “go to” person. If you have a passion for a special industry, it’s time to get deeper expertise in that area.
If you aren’t in this position, you need to make a move to a company, or new role. The goal is to find your groove and create layers of experience and knowledge. 
Decision Point-The 40’s.
Do you want to stay in the field you’re in? Are you ready to start your own business? Do you want to move to a new company? You are at the midpoint and still young enough to chart a new course.
If you haven’t already decided to break from corporate life and start your own business, now is the time. By now, you should have credibility and experience. Some people start moonlighting to test the idea of launching something on their own.
 If being an entrepreneur was always your plan, you will likely have a better chance of success if you have been networking, and getting enough exposure to key areas—sales and marketing, for example.
The 40’s are when competition heats up. If you have stayed in a company and moved up the ladder, the opportunities become scarcer, so it’s important to have a reputation as someone who can get results and is easy to work with.
If you are looking for a position outside your company, you are competing with both 30 and 50-year olds. If you have been building your brand—and your network—you are well positioned.
Arrival—the 50’s.
There is still time to achieve more but for most people, the 50’s is when they reach the top of their game.
If you are an entrepreneur, you’re already starting to look at the finish line—trying to figure out how you are going to exit with enough money to sustain you into old age. You are pushing for growth and sustainability.
If you have spent your life in an organization, you have a good feel for the lay of the land. You’ve made some decisions about how high you want to climb and what brings you satisfaction. If you are the ambitious type, you are probably looking for your last big job.
For many, empty nests and grandchildren bring in a new dimension. The 50-hours- a-week types are leaving early for long weekends.
If you’re lucky enough to have achieved some of your goals, now is the time for enjoying what you have accomplished.
The Exit—60’s and beyond.
Money and time are the topics. Do you have enough money to retire? How can you get more free time?
Whether you leave a corporate career, or exit your business, having a life after work is key. People, who stay active and engaged in meaningful activities, are happier and healthier.
If you’ve been managing your career with an eye toward the exit, there’s a good chance you will be a winner in your own life.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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