Grow Your Career

The Struggle Is Real

I recently took a class about growing your career that I found fascinating.  It was a fun course taught at the company I work for, and I learned a lot.  Sitting in the class, I was hoping to gain insight on how to further my career and reach my goals, but after all of us participants introduced ourselves I realized I had already gained an interesting insight into a common problem that we all share.  We all have jobs, and we all have career goals, but none of us really knows how to connect the dots from where we're currently at in our careers to where we want to be.  To me, this is absolutely fascinating.  How can a room full of smart people be so confused about how to move forward with their careers?   The answer to that question is, "it's hard!" It's hard for a few reasons:

  1. TIME.  Getting ahead today takes a lot of time!  Consider how much time all of the things in your day take:   Commuting, Working, household chores/ responsibilities, dinner, dishes, keeping up with friends, sleep, exercise, etc.  After all of these things, how can we possibly have the time to do more?
  2. DIRECTION.  We don't know which direction to go.  Most career paths these days are no longer linear.  It's unusual to pick a company and stick with it for life, climbing up a straight ladder towards your goals.  These days your career is a lot more like a web, going all over the place as new opportunities arise, companies are bought & sold, and we are forced to pivot in a different direction as things are under constant change. 
  3. OPPORTUNITY.  It's not always clear where the opportunity lies; either in our current company, or out in other companies.  Who should we talk to?  Where should we look?  It's easy to chalk up others' success to luck, and stay put in your current position hoping that one day you, too, will experience some of this luck.

How to take charge of your career

The main way you can figure out how to grow your own career is to look inside and ask yourself a couple of questions:  1.  What are you passionate about? 2. What are your skills/ capabilities?  The answers to these questions may not come easily!  You should spend a little bit of time thinking about it and writing these things out on paper.  Then, you can start to look at the final piece:  Opportunities.  For this part, you need to ask yourself what are some of the needs your current company has (or other companies) that you could fill?  Look at industry trends, review business needs for your company, or those in your field.  Talk to people in your network about where they see opportunities in the industry, and maybe even ask your manager if there are other needs you could help fulfill.  The idea here is to start becoming more of an ACTIVE player in your career, as opposed to being PASSIVE about it.

Once you've looked at what you're passionate about, what skills/ capabilities you have, and what opportunities/ needs are around, you can begin to form a Venn Diagram of these three areas.  The intersection of those areas is where you should focus your attention.  Looking here not only guarantees success in growing your career, but it also will move you in the direction you want to go.


Action items

So, now that we have taken some time for introspection, we can begin to form plans.  It's important to stick with it and not give up at this point!  You need to set goals for yourself, and create a timeline.  What is your main goal?  Okay, great, so how can you get there?  You take a look at that larger goal and then break it down into 3 (or more) "action items" that you will perform on a set timeline in order to advance towards (and achieve) your goal.  

For example:  

Big Picture Goal - I would like to take on more responsibility at work by contributing to more projects and working/ learning from other engineers on my team.  (i.e. I want to get a promotion to the next level of software engineer.)  Action Items:

  • In the next 2 weeks I will have a meeting with my manager to discuss the career path for my position, talk about my plan, and determine what skills and experience I'll need to achieve this.

  • In the next 3-5 months I'll be working on building those skills by reading a book on an area  I need to improve, and I'll take an online course to further build those skills.

  • In the next 6-12 months I will continue to contribute, ask to work on more projects and teams, work closely with my mentor & manager to reach my goals.

In Conclusion

The main take-away here is that you can get in control of your career and reach your goals just by simply taking a little bit of time for introspection on what you're passionate about, what skills you have, and what opportunities are out there.  Then get a personal action plan together, with a timeline, for how you intend to reach your goal.  The timeline component is crucial because it allows you to hit intermediate milestones, which in turn will encourage you to stick to your plan.  By trying these things, you're no longer sitting passively in the back seat of your career, you're taking charge and climbing behind the wheel to steer yourself through your own career web.

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"Grow Your Career" course at Advent Software, 2015.  

Material for course, and teaching credit goes to Marca Clark.