Even at times when there are no pandemic, global crises, and the world itself is not planning to collapse any time soon, a career path can take anyone to unexpected places and give a hard time. Needless to say what the world is facing today.
Every day, jobs and entire industries are on the brink of extinction. However, professional growth and career plans should not be left behind. Yet our approach should be reconsidered.
1. Stretching The Limits
Initially, let us consider the “building a career” concept and what is behind it.
Unfortunately, society still believes that building a career means making your way to C-level or Top-management. This is yet another misconception. In fact, a professional in a narrow niche can earn as much as his manager, or even more. And a cross-functional employee can be as influential as his/her manager.
Let us consider the job of HR, for example. It combines different features and skills, such as:
- compensation and benefits
- corporate communications
- employer branding
- event planning
The list goes on.
Some professionals might have a staff assessment competence only and they will be in great demand for large companies. Such companies are in a look out for a person who has different assessment tools, knows how to apply them, and comes up with methodologies for different departments and industries.
On the other side, we have an HR Generalist. Such a person knows a little about each area and can pick out the necessary expertise depending on the task. Such a professional is preferable for many companies, especially growing ones. For example, I joined HRBP exactly because of my extensive expertise in a huge number of projects.
Such experts can have their influence at the level of HR Director and even with the same wage while being at a lower level in the company’s structure.
Getting a management job because you have to, not because you want to, might be rough. There was one case in TECHIIA when a designer was transferred to the team-lead position. However, everyone quickly realized that he was not into constant communication and other management tasks. He rolled back to his previous position and found new ways to increase value and salary.
It's cool when you have the courage to take a step back to get closer to yourself. This is not a shame at all, and it is important that the company reciprocate, which will benefit that company.
Just to make things clear: I'm not saying you shouldn't make your way to the management position. I’m saying that a career is the professional self-realization of a person in all ways possible. You can grow vertically in the hierarchy, move to another position horizontally, expand your own functionality or influence. These are all about a career.
2. Choosing The Approach
Usually, there are two key approaches to career planning.
The first one is the strict approach.
"I know where I’m heading, and I'm paving my way there. For example, I want to be the Head of my department and I pump particular skills for that. I will follow this goal no matter what."
During my career counseling, I had a client who wanted to work only in the field of intellectual law. She had very little experience but a huge desire. So much so that she kept reaching out to all companies via all possible channels. In the end, she was hired by one of the best law firms in Ukraine, they simply could not resist her energy.
Here is another case, not career-related. One of my friends once decided to live in Portugal. Despite my warnings that it was necessary to prepare carefully, that it would take a year or two, within a week she took a backpack, $400, and left. She found a place to stay and a job. She's been living there for more than a year now.
There are people who think and act just like that. They deliberately drive themselves into trouble and bravely fight them. A clear goal with no step aside is their main motivation.
I respect this approach. However, it is more relevant for people with no relatives depending on them. Because being tied to something or someone and experimenting is a risk. Especially now, when the company may start reducing costs at any time, and the profession just like the whole industry may vanish because of the crisis.
And that’s when the second approach, the flexible one, comes in handy.
"I would like to get a new position. I work in an organization I like, and I'm looking for its needs that I can cover."
This method is more appropriate for people who love the company they work in and are not strongly attached to a specific goal. It is important that you do not try to fix all the company’s problems but look for a match of your own desires and needs. If there’s a match, the company will notice it and will promote you.
The flexible method has a positive side effect. While looking for a match, you ALREADY grow professionally and gain new skills in a safe environment. If something happens tomorrow, your skill base will stay with you. This is a key principle of modern career development.
3. Highlighting The Goal
The next question is: "What and how much do I really need?"
When we rely on external settings, we overestimate our needs. Because of this, the whole meaning of a career can go wrong.
Here’s a recent example. The Head of the big department of a successful strong business came to me for a session. He has well-established processes, a great team but he is tired and looking for a "job to joy." He wants to resign and get a job as a project manager in a creative agency.
And we've found what the client really needs ... to see the results of their work and be closer to something great. At his current job, there were only numbers and sheets. And everything he was seeing was just a small part of the business. The job of the project manager is a large number of tasks in conditions of uncertainty, difficult communication with creative positions and customers, and at a really high pace.
In the end, the client honestly admitted to himself that he wanted to be connected to something creative and beautiful, but not in this way. He decided to start a hobby related to creativity: organizing exhibitions, painting, etc.
I know, for example, an HR professional who loved her job but quit to become a business coach. Only then she realized that she really wanted publicity and recognition. And she was able to gain it even without quitting her job.
In order to dig deeper into your needs try the “5 whys”. I want to become a leader - why? I want people's attention - why? With honesty, you can come up with, for example, the strange answer "I want to be loved!". And, as we all know, such a person will face a lot of surprises (unpleasant mostly) when reaching a leading position.
It is important not to confuse the form with the content. When we are told that work should be fun, we often forget that it is NOT ONLY fun. In addition, you can succeed in different ways, the profession is just one of many.
4. Finding An Instant Growth Area
I distinguish four main areas of career development: a leading position, functionality expansion, job transition, a career change. There also can be a fifth option - a need that can be satisfied right away: recognition, influence, gratitude. There is also an option of starting your own business, but this is a different huge topic.
Once you decide where you want to grow, I recommend you look at your current job first. Maybe here you will find everything you seek for.
Take a closer look at your colleagues. Every company has written and unwritten success stories. And the second ones are usually more valuable, you can learn a lot from them.
There are companies that prefer straightforward employees, and there are those who prefer to go easy on colleagues. In some companies, everything is controlled by the Chief Accountant. In others, the Director of Human Resources has the last word.
Who was promoted and how? Who works the longest time and why are they valued? Why did employees quit? What are the team’s informal rules?
Answers to these and other questions are your guidelines for future action.
Have a meeting with your supervisor or HR. Ask them to tell you about your opportunities of bringing more value to the company. They can also conduct a small interview to find out where you will be useful and what are your preferences.
This can save you from needless actions. For example, one of the holding employees recently came to me and said that he is striving for significant growth. To do this, he planned to take a number of courses and obtain international certificates.
After our conversation, a colleague realized that these certificates will give him the internal value, but they will not be a reason for the sharp increase. Yet sessions with a coach to move into senior management roles and the search for mutual benefit are the right way for instant growth.
Search for mutual benefits. It works both while working in the company and when looking for a job in the market. Let's say you want to get a web designer job. You can analyze the target company's website and send it a letter describing how sole elements could be improved. For example, an acquaintance of mine, who works on the employer's brand, analyzes the positioning of the target company and sends it a few recommendations in advance.
The main point here is to give a piece of value in advance. And this is my favorite option when working in the company. If you have time and motivation, ask for additional tasks to complete when you have free time. Or ask to do something that no one in the company has time for.
This is the least risky way for both the company and you. If you don't succeed or you don't like it, no one will be offended. Formally, it's not your job - you're just taking the initiative and experimenting. But if you succeed, you will most likely become the first candidate for a new position.
Don't wait for someone to make the first step, do it yourself.
5. Determining the gap and ways to close it
If your plans are not related to your current job, you should determine the gap between what you already have and what you need for your new position. There are three tools for this.
Explore relevant vacancies. In order to systematize the analysis, I recommend writing all the requirements in the following table:
|What I know/can do||What I don’t know/can’t do||How can I learn/get what is missing|
Mark those requirements you find the most with asterisks or any other way you like. Such a table will at least help you prepare for interviews. Even if you are asked whether you have a particular experience, you will be able to answer that you have not, but you know how and where you can learn it.
Find a cool person in the career field you are interested in. It can be a professional from your company or a market specialist. Ask him/her to conduct an interview and help you come up with an individual development plan.
Many of my clients get a strong side effect: in the process of finding a mentor, they develop helpful qualities. For example, the strength to ask for help, communicate with strangers, look out for points of mutual benefit.
Try a get-to-know-each-other session. You can have a lot of interviews but few might be helpful, and these are the ones you should look for. Preparing for a job interview helps to develop yourself and reveal your experience. You will realize what exactly you need to work on for the next career step.
It may turn out that you already have everything you need to start in a new job, and specific skills can be gained later. Or vice versa, you will understand that your dream job is great only inside your head, as in interviews you are annoyed by the requirements, approaches, or a person. It is important to listen to yourself and be able to give up on what is definitely "not for you".
Flexibility is essential for building a career today. We have fewer opportunities to plan our lives in advance, so you should listen carefully to yourself, the environment and evaluate your ‘match’ more often. The career path will not become smoother. However, it will be your path, exclusively.
Original article on