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Science Careers Blog

March 5, 2008

Your Personal Board of Directors

In last month's special feature on mentoring, Science Careers contributing editor Elisabeth Pain talked to Jan West, the manager of the Women's Engineering Society in the U.K., who advises readers to get career advice from multiple sources instead of relying on just one mentor. Recently on Yahoo Finance, author Jim Citrin advises working professionals to take a similar approach to major career decisions, a process he calls building your own board of directors.

Citrin says creation of a personal board -- a small circle of trusted advisers -- is a time-honored practice, used by notables from Alexander the Great to today. Citrin tells how 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie developed such a personal network, which acted as a sounding board to help Carnegie make key business decisions. Carnegie's contemporary Napoleon Hill, an early motivational writer, called these collections of trusted advisers "master mind groups."  Carnegie used them to challenge assumptions, develop alternative courses of action, and consider new strategies.

You need to be selective and demanding, says Citrin, when assembling your personal board. In addition to your regular mentors, find people inside and outside your workplace who can give sound advice: friends and family who have been accurate and candid in the past, as well as consultants or analysts you know and trust that cover your industry. He recommends seeking from this group an honest and direct assessment of your own strengths, weaknesses, and plans.

Citrin notes as well that interactions with your board work both ways. Just as they help you out, you need to return the favor. He says the benefits can be both professional and psychological. You get good advice;  they become invested in your success. And, adds Citrin, the results can change the course of your career and even your life.

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