I’ve chatted with a few folks lately about career path. I believe everyone should think about their career path; sometimes you have an idea of what you want, and need to think about how to get there, while other times you aren’t even sure where you are trying to go. Either way, it helps to discuss your career with others. I am always glad to talk to professionals about this subject, sort of a “pay it forward” concept because many have been willing to help me along my career path.
In particular, professionals who feel like they don’t know what their end goal is can struggle. And that struggle can include a sort of “embarrassment” – like they are inadequate because they don’t have it all “figured out” yet. This “embarrassment” can lead them to not seek guidance, precisely when they need it the most.
I always think of career path this way:
- Identify a “fuzzy goal post” in the distance. Something you think you want to aspire to. The main purpose of this is to help with step 2.
- Identify steps along the career path that will lead to the fuzzy goal post.
It actually maps out kind of like this graphic, which I found at http://lifehacker.com/5845035/plan-your-career-like-a-four-phase-project.
The key is regular review, after every step and before your next move, re-confirm your fuzzy goal post, ensure that the possible steps along the way still make sense and would lead to that end game.
There is some foundational “truths” that need to be considered in both of these steps, so much so that I can’t even put them in a linear list of steps – they need to be embedded in every decision. These truths include your values, and your desires. Let’s look at some examples.
- Let’s say you value a normal work schedule and predictable time with your family. That might lead you away from jobs in the nightlife or entertainment business, where we often have to be available at nights or work events in weekends.
- Let’s say you don’t mind long hours but want to establish roots in one place and not move between cities every few years. You might look for a company and a role where you can work at headquarters versus a role such as GM of hotels or restaurants, where you often experience regular movements to new venues.
- I prefer the stability of a big company, I am less entrepreneurial than others. You might be comfortable in a smaller business or even owning your own business.
- Some careers and roles are better fits for extroverts (sales, for example) and some for introverts (data science, accounting). You should understand how you would best fit in.
Thinking through these truths will help you add or eliminate possible steps along the way. For example, if your goal is to lead a team of project managers, and you have a choice in your next move to work in a new industry and new company in a new city as a senior project manager, or lead a team of IT developers in your current company and current location, you can assess how those best fit with your truths. Both would seem to be additive to your ultimate goal, but maybe your risk-aversion and desire to stay near your extended family will lead you to prefer the second choice.
There are no right or wrong answers, and that’s another reason it helps to have multiple views and opinions and insights. Ask others what they think, show your career path flowchart to your mentor (don’t have a mentor, get one!). Your career path will take turns and twists you couldn’t predict; the point isn’t to be right, it is to be proactive and intentional. If you do that, you will feel more prepared and more comfortable and have a better chance of achieving your career goals.
For some additional reading, check out these links: