Charting your professional future

Some people always knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. Some people have a bit more of a struggle in forming a clear vision for their future. That’s ok. Most Americans have 12 jobs over the course of their lives. And, 30% of people consider making a job change in any given year.

Many people over the years have come to me and asked me for advice about their careers. Most come at a time when things aren’t going well. And, while they are vulnerable, depressed, and stressed, they are essentially forced to consider what they might do differently. And, they want the quick fix.

So, what is the magic piece of advice that I give? Like so many things that are important, it isn’t easy. And, it isn’t something you can do one time and then never have to do it again. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to think more about charting your professional future and less about finding that next job or that next paycheck. This is even more true if you need to take a job you don’t love to pay the bills while you really search for what comes next. Sometimes those temporary jobs can consume a decade of your life. Let’s talk about charting your professional career. 

Make a plan for the long-term

Where to start? First, think about what is important to you. How do you define success? Think 20 years down the road. Are you somebody that wants their work to mean something to them and to be personally rewarding? Are you somebody that wants to make as much money as possible? Are you somebody that wants to clock out at 5pm and not think about your job again until the next day? All of these are fine, but do some self-assessment to really understand what will motivate you, what will keep you engaged, and what will allow you to feel satisfied with what you do professionally. And, good news, if you get this wrong, you can always change your focus. What I find is that people generally have an idea of what they want their life to look like, but less of an idea of what jobs can build toward that life.

Next, think about what you need to learn and accomplish in order to reach your goal. Do you need special education or training or certificates? Do you need work experience? Is your current job and your current boss able to teach you things that move you in the right direction? You could have a great boss, a great job, a great paycheck, but year after year you make no progress towards the life you really want.

Finally, think about what kind of teacher you need to find who will be willing to invest time and resources into your development. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. You should always ask what kind of time do they plan to invest in developing you professionally? What do they typically see as the next step after your current role? What do they do to prepare you for the next step?

Stay on the steep end of the learning curve

When you interview for a job in your early career, it is generally more important to figure out what you can learn than what you can earn. Your early career is all about building up your skill-set and growing your capabilities. You should look for a job that challenges you. If things are too easy, you aren’t growing.

Don’t be afraid of failure. If you aren’t ever failing then you aren’t growing and challenging yourself. Failure demonstrates that you are stretching, that you are taking risks, that you are pushing the boundaries of your capabilities. Any boss that wants a team of people who never fail is never going to lead you to growth or success.

Understand your next steps

When is the best time to think about your next job? Every job you have, you should be evaluating every 3-6 months based on what you have learned and how you have developed and grown professionally. As a part of every new role, you should be planning on what you should be working towards and what comes next. Now, this doesn’t mean you ask your boss for the next job on day one, but it does mean that you start looking at the roles around you and you start identifying jobs that you think would be a good next step for you. 

Once you identify these roles (within your company or outside), start talking to people in those roles about what it means to be successful in them. Actively solicit feedback from as many people as you can about these roles and constantly evaluate whether or not the role seems like a good fit for you. I used to call these courtesy interviews. As in, “I know you don’t have an open position, but I am really interested in developing my skills toward this particular role, and would appreciate learning from you about what’s needed to be successful in it.”

And, if all this seems overwhelming, find somebody you respect and ask them if they would be willing to be your mentor. Talk to them about your thinking and lean on their experience to clarify some of the choices you have to make.

Set a course for a success

All of this sounds like a lot. But, I can tell you that people tend to fall in one of two groups. The first group is the group that thinks about their career, plans for it, thinks about the future, and invests time in themselves. The second group bounces from one job to another, sometimes quite successfully, but never really takes ownership of charting their own course. The passive approach is sometimes quite successful. Some people are in the right place at the right time and just fall into the perfect job for them. But, the odds are much better if you take an active approach and chart your own professional future. 

At aytm, we make it a priority to set up every single person throughout our organization with the tools, resources, and time they need to be successful. What’s more, we’re strong proponents of promotion from within. So, if there’s someone internally that can fill a role, we’ll eagerly promote them or transfer them to another department before looking externally. 

Join our virtual team