Working with job seekers I come across it all-too-often – someone with solid skills in a specific area but whose career seems as though it was put on pause at some point along the way, before that person had reached his or her full potential. We talk a lot about knowing your niche here at ClearanceJobs.com – it’s increasingly important in today’s job market. But it’s also incredibly important to be in a continual learning cycle. In some jobs, especially information technology or analysis, if you’re not relearning everything you do every 18 months, your career is standing still.
There are specific and easy-to-spot cases of individuals who were simply never afforded the opportunity to progress in their current position – you see it in their resume, interviews, etc. Perhaps it’s the Tier 1 help desk technician who simply doesn’t have what it takes for higher-level work despite years on the job. Or it could be the communications assistant who despite a college degree and great writing credentials hasn’t mastered the leadership skills to take on a more senior role. In each of these cases it isn’t just in an employee’s best interests to push their career forward – it’s vital in today’s contracting environment when you may find yourself looking for a new job regardless of how content you were in your old role. In most of these cases it isn’t that the individuals didn’t have the capacity for more challenging work, they tend to act as though they’ve simply never had the opportunity, and don’t know what to do about it.
In these cases, the simple answer is that these people have a boss who’s keeping them stupid. Whether it’s intentional, unintentional or somewhere in between, here are a few points to consider:
Think of yourself as a business asset
You may get a certain promotion or move a step forward in your career because you’re likable or a team player, but if you really want to advance your boss needs to see you as a business asset, and you need to start thinking of yourself as your own personal advocate. Your boss isn’t going to pay for additional training, certifications or a master’s degree unless you make the case. If you’ve been a Tier 1 helpdesk technician for two years and it’s time to move forward, determine what it will take to get you there and present it to your boss from the standpoint of what’s in it for him or her – explain how your business experience and company loyalty makes you the best candidate for a higher level opening and present the case for you being the man or woman for the job.
Waking up one morning and deciding your job sucks a la Office Space isn’t likely to garner winning results. Don’t suddenly start venting to your coworkers about your situation or complaining to your boss about your lack of professional development. Read point number one and take some time to think through the steps it will take to get you to the next phase in your career. It may sound silly but plan your own “personal brand” retreat – bring your spouse along and spend a weekend thinking about your career – where you’re at now and where you’d like to be next month, next year or ten years down the line. Your plans should be flexible, especially in the long-term, but you should have some idea of where you’d like to see your career progressing, including any possible career relocation or shifts in industry.
Don’t assume your boss has your best interests at heart
This isn’t a boss-bashing article, but the fact of the matter is a good boss has the business’ bottom line in mind first, you as a person, second. Even if you’re lucky enough to like your boss or even be friends with him or her, don’t let that muddy the professional lines of your relationship. Too many employees will get caught in the trap of letting a boss talk them into staying in a mediocre or mundane position – perhaps they don’t want to lose you to another department or into a management position, perhaps they tell you your skills just can’t be replaced. Those are great ego boosts but they’re not going to move your career forward and they’re definitely not going to be a lick of help if you find yourself unemployed and needing a new job.
Ask about professional development up front
Most job seekers get the inevitable “Where do you see yourself in five years?” interview question. Once you actually get the job, make sure you turn that question around and ask your boss at your annual review – “Where do you see ME in five years?” Then lay out a road-map to how to get there within the company. If you’d like to move into management ask for team leading responsibilities or for the time to complete leadership courses. If you’d like to increase your technical skills make sure you’re getting industry certifications or perhaps a higher clearance level to be able to do that work. If your boss tells you that he or she sees you in the exact same cubicle you are now five years from now, it’s probably time to start looking for your next job.
You are the best champion your career will ever have. Don’t put your job fate into the hands of a boss, supervisor or corporate human resources department. If you feel your mind, and not just your butt, growing numb from too many hours in the same cubicle, it’s time to start making the business case for yourself. You are a valuable resource to your current company. If they don’t realize it, find an employer who will.