It’s so easy to stagnate. You get out of your post-secondary education and get that first job. Finally done school and working! Work takes over that part of your life. For some of us, our environment is stable, and the company comfortable. For others, the environment is chaotic or turbulent and there’s no time for professional development. And our professional growth starts to stagnate.
Employers can’t be counted on to drive career growth. Some companies do offer training or education subsidies – these are a resource for career development, but not a driver. Ongoing professional development is key to almost any career path. To have the greatest impact, we have to drive this growth and development for ourselves.
Many career coaches ask: “Where do you want to be in X years?” For many people, especially early in their career, the answer to this can be challenging. It’s hard to say where you want to be if you haven’t been anywhere! One thing is often clear, you don’t want to be a Junior Help Desk Analyst forever. As we progress in our career, we start to see areas that are interesting, making the answer to the above question a little less hazy. That being said, I’m 15+ years into my career and still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up!
The point of that question is simple – they’re trying to help you develop a vision of where you want to be. From a vision, it’s easy to create the tangible steps to get there. Your vision will change and develop over time:
- As a child, I wanted to be a race car driver.
- In my teens, an astronaut.
- In my 20’s, I was deeply in IT as a senior server person and expert troubleshooter.
- Today, I’m a technology leader and IT management consultant.
- Next year – who knows. I know that leadership is my direction. My vision is to become the best leader I can.
Four Easy Action Items
- Develop some sort of a vision and some short-term goals. Remember that your vision will change over time, and that goals are merely the steps to get there. Your vision may be as simple as “To be Network Administrator”. Corresponding goals may include:
- Complete the ITIL Foundations
- Get a CISCO certification
- Get a Microsoft certification
- Create a professional development budget. Consider how much money and/or time you’re willing to dedicate to your professional development each year. $500 per year and up to a day per month? That’s a good start. $5000? Even better. Remember that your company may be willing to help with the financial aspects – so your primary constraint is often time.
- Talk to your boss. This may seem obvious. Open a discussion with you boss about your career path, opportunities, and areas of growth. You may be surprised at the result – showing initiative and interest in growth is a great way to get noticed. You may find yourself working on new projects that meet your interests or in a mentoring relationship with more senior staff.
- Find a mentor. Talk to people in your industry and find one or more people who can help you understand your career options, and kick your butt to continue down the path as necessary. There’s lots of great articles on the benefits of finding a mentor. Consider looking for peer groups in your area as well (like the Vancouver Technology Leaders).
Does this sound a little like a project plan to you? It is exactly that. Your career is something like your project portfolio, with many projects within it.
Get focused. Develop a vision and goals, then start completing them. Also, remember that growth is often uncomfortable – stretch yourself.