How to think about your career trajectory
How often to you think about your career trajectory? Once a year? Every couple of years?
I’ve found that people usually think about their career trajectory when they’ve had it with their current job. In other words, they only consider their next moves, and how to tell the story of their previous moves, when they wake up one day and realize they’re unhappy.
I would like to propose an alternative way of thinking about your career—a strategic way.
I’d like you to think of your career as a living, breathing thing…something that is constantly growing and evolving…something you want to regularly check-in on.
Now, by “check-in,” I mean spend some time looking at what you’re doing and assessing whether it’s exactly what you want to be doing (quarterly).
I like to think of it as looking at your current position from a birds-eye view. How are you spending your time? Who with? How enjoyable is it? How do you feel on a daily basis? How do you feel when you think about a future there?
It’s during these “check-ins” when you are going to realize that you find 80% of what you do enjoyable, love every person on your team except for the lazy one, conclude that you’re not learning anything from your current projects, or that you’re sick of working late into the night and having no social life. In other words, you’ll notice if things are going in a direction you like or don’t like.
This information is incredibly valuable. It gives you the opportunity to plan your next moves (within your current company or elsewhere) before you wake up one day and realize you’re miserable.
Now let’s talk about how you can plan, depending on your current bird’s eye view…
Scenario 1: You love your job. You wouldn’t change a thing (right now).
Awesome. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Also, do a tiny bit of thinking about your next steps. Maybe there is someone at your company you would like to learn from this year? Perhaps there are opportunities for growth that you can start positioning yourself for? Make it a point to get the most out of your current role and with those whom you work with.
Scenario 2: You like some, but not all of your job responsibilities.
Now, just because during your “check-in” you realized the degree to which you do not like certain aspects of your job or people on your team, does not mean that you need to get the hell out of dodge. Rather, consider if there is any way to get more out of your current position—rework your responsibilities, projects and/or team to prepare you for a better future (and simply give you more day to day pleasure).
Your manager isn’t a mind reader; he or she does not know how happy or unhappy you are, so why not propose doing more of what you love. It takes a lot of time to hire someone, train them and get them up to speed on things, plus good managers know that people work best on what they are passionate about, thus your supervisor might be more amenable than you think to reworking your current position.
And there’s an added bonus here: You get to practice asking for what you want and need—valuable skills that you can bring to any future job or relationship. Remember that you build character when you work ON things, not when you leave the minute the going gets rough.
Scenario 3: You realize that you aren’t enjoying much of anything about your current position.
Clearly, it’s time to plan your escape route. Glad you realized sooner than later, huh?
Here’s where the story of your career really comes into play. When you’re on the job market (or even just researching your next steps), you need to create and deliver a succinct narrative that communicates two things: 1) exactly what you’re looking for, and 2) why you’re qualified for it.
The most common mistake I see people make, is attempting to tell the story of their career from the past to the present. For example: I went to University of California, then I worked as a Marketing Associate at Yahoo and AOL, and now I’m looking for social media opportunities at start-ups.
Sharing things you’ve done in that past—especially those that don’t relate to what you want to do—is not necessary. Your story needs to be very short and should solely focus on what you want to do and why you’re qualified for it. That’s about as much people have time for these days!
Tell your story backwards, from the present to the past. Here’s an example: I’m looking for Community Manager positions at start-ups. I’m a social media obsessive; I’ve been engaging with online communities my whole life.
Right away, we know what you’re looking for. Right away, we know you’re passionate about the subject. AND we’re not at all distracted by your old job or college degree.
Of course, as conversations get deeper, feel free to share what has led you to this point in your life. But I encourage you to focus primarily on the experiences and skills that reinforce the positions you’re going after now.
Once you’ve got your short story down, it’s time to tell that story to everyone—and I mean everyone.
Share what you’re looking for with friends and acquaintances, your significant other and his or her colleagues, your neighbors, and fellow bus passengers. And amplify your story, skills and strengths online via LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. This way, when your friend refers you to a company or a recruiter looks you up, you’ve got credibility.
In fact, amplifying your strengths via online profiles and social media can help you at any stage of your career. It should be a part of your ongoing strategy. You can either use it to get the most out of your current position or to prep for the future.
Ok, now that we’ve covered those three strategies: 1) Keep doing what you’re doing and keep your eye on future prizes; 2) Get more out of your current position by reworking your duties; and 3) Plan an escape route by rewriting your story and promoting that story, I’m going to remind you of my big fat main point: check-in with yourself quarterly and be proactive about getting what you want out of your career—at every stage.
Good luck to you all! And of course, if you want help figuring out your next moves, shoot me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org