It seems that many in their late 20s through 40s wonder if they are on the right career trajectory. I hear clients and others ask aloud if they are heading in a prosperous direction, at a good pace. This can be difficult to determine, but I usually advise clients to follow these steps:
First, recognize that there is no one “right” path. Second, use caution when comparing yourself to others. Careers progress differently – sometimes it may seem like you are behind, but if you are positioned correctly, you may leapfrog your peers. You may choose on occasion to “downshift” in order to gain family or life balance. Third, life is a series of trade-offs. You may not be able to have it all, all at once. What are your priorities? While it may be difficult to assess if your path is leading to a cliff or to the top of the mountain; ask yourself these 10 questions:
Internal- Personal Assessment:
- Do you like the work you are doing from a functional perspective? If you are in IT, do you like technology and IT work? The same goes for any function – accounting, finance, human resources, operations, customer service, marketing, sales, engineering, law, etc. If you don’t, the rest of these questions are likely irrelevant and you may need to make a move.
- Are you good at what you do? Be honest here. What do you think and what does your boss tell you? What do you hear and observe from management? If they say you’re doing great, but then you are passed over for advancement a few times, actions speak louder than words.
- Do you like your company? Is it a good fit from a cultural perspective and how important is that to you? Sometimes people will take less compensation for more flexibility in hours; and that may be more valuable to you than advancing quickly.
- Does your firm have a career path? This is important. If there are no discernable career paths, you may be nearing that cliff.
- Do you know your next step…and the one after that? I’ve always coached people to think beyond your next move to the one after the one you are contemplating. If you can’t identify the “next beyond the next,” you may be heading to a dead end.
- Is your functional area growing, stagnant or disappearing? These next three steps are about trends. Are you in a growing, stagnant or downsizing functional area and/or company?
- Is your industry growing? What are the trends for next 3-5 years?
- Is your company growing? It’s much harder to advance your career if your company isn’t growing. When your company is thriving, it will need to add and develop people. There will be more opportunities for you. Get in a growing company and industry!
- Are you being paid fairly for what you do? Notice I said “fairly” here. Check salary.com to compare your salary to the rest of the industry.
- What are the opportunities to increase your compensation? Tying in with a career path, would adding more responsibilities create a significant increase in compensation? How can you leverage your skills to increase your income over the next 3-5 years? This may mean you need to be more aggressive within your current company, or you may need to look outside your current company for a higher income.
Hopefully these questions will help provide a framework for thinking through your career path in a more objective manner. Understand that it isn’t about how long you have been in a job or company; but rather how much you contribute to the success of your firm that will determine how much you are worth. That said, there are situations where you may face a lot of “boulders.” You have to decide if the reward is worth the boulder removal. Another path, either in a different career or different company with less boulders might be easier and better, or may just bring different boulders.
If you feel you haven’t made as much progress as you’d like in your career, then I encourage you to consider these questions, determine next steps, then build and implement a plan to boost your career. Recognize that this might mean trade-offs in terms of spending more time at work and less with family, and decide if you are willing to do that. Avoiding a cliff takes a lot of work!