Perhaps the biggest concern people have is their career development. Where am I going? Am I tracking at the right pace? Once somebody is in a job for 18 months it seems they get so anxious to move on. They see peers getting jobs and they want a new one as well. They see openings at their company or hear about new ones through a recruiter and immediately they become dissatisfied with their current situation and want to move on. Their spouse gets a promotion and they feel the itch to get one as well. All of this thinking makes their current job seem old and boring, There is not the drive to fully immerse oneself into learning new skills for the current job as they direct so much attention to the next job. All of this leads to suboptimal performance, motivational issues and ultimately slower career growth.
Take a look at this Harvard Business Review blog where Robert Pozen talks about career paths. The first point is that when you really study how successful people got from the beginning point of their career to where they are today there are no magical answers. If there is any insight it is that career paths can’t be predicted and it is very difficult to point to a “typical” path in order to plan your future. I might even argue that the more common climbs in our industry may be the slowest and the least interesting.
The blog points out some incredibly important pieces of advice. The first can be summed up as developing breadth and depth in your background. Yes, this means doing the current job extremely well. It begins in school where the author points out the importance of learning real skills really well. This may mean pushing yourself to become proficient at writing, analytics and other areas which may not be your most favorite areas but will benefit you in the future. It may mean taking a variety of jobs early in your career to gain broad experience. This may mean working in different geographies, industries or at least different functional areas. Perhaps more important than the breadth of the experience is the depth. How much do you learn while in each position and do these new skills help both with the current job as well as the next?
Perhaps even more important than the actual background or learning experiences are the networks you establish. Not all of these are formal. Networks are being formed every day by you with people you interact with in meetings, over the phone or even in more casual settings. Sometimes you may not even know you are getting on somebody’s radar screen. I can remember hearing stories about how people acted in sales training classes or how they developed a creative technique for seeing the impossible-to-see doctors and saying I want them on my team. Obviously the more traditional or formal networks are just as important. Just like having breadth and depth of work experience it is just as important to have breadth and depth with your contacts. This network can be built in many different ways through your different life experiences, diverse activities and through friends who can introduce you to others who may eventually help your career growth.
Career work seems so complex and complicated when in reality it is quite simple. If you constantly do your current job well, demonstrate an unquenchable thirst for learning and treat everyone as if they are vitally important your career will blossom. If you treat your job and the people you meet as stepping stones you will be constantly dissatisfied. So many successful people will tell you they had no idea where they were going when they started out and really don’t know how they got to where they are today. That is because they recognized early on that if you develop the skills and are truly successful in the present, others will take care of your career. Relax in the understanding that so much is really our of your control.