Career path

I’ve hired more than 60 people and managed many more.

What I’ve noticed in the past two or three years is the demand of my newer and younger employees to want a detailed career road map laid out for them.

Regardless of their position, they want me to serve them up a detailed career path that gives them a line from their current position to the next one and the next one with the inevitable end.

I find this phenomenon quite fascinating, as it runs quite counter to how I’ve approached my career.

My approach to every job I’ve ever had was to learn it, do the best job I can with it, take it in directions no one who thought up the job description ever intended, overachieve as much as possible, do what’s best for the company’s products or services, explore all opportunities, help those around me, take notes on what things in my professional life I like doing and what things I don’t, and prove to everyone around me that I’m not only capable of that, but much more.

I figured if I did those things, the rest would take care of itself. It helps that I’ve been very open-minded about my career path, which allows me to see where proving myself and working hard will take me.

There are so many external factors beyond a career path at a particular company, that I never sought to control anything beyond my own work. Those factors include:

  • Does your current company actively promote people and gives commensurate salary increases?
  • Can you impress your current boss (who is much more likely to behave as an unpredictable human with their own personality traits and quirks than they are to follow a job description matrix that tells him or her when it’s time to promote you)?
  • Do you want to stay in that company?
  • Are you willing to explore every (or any) opportunities that present themselves?
  • Would you recognize an outside opportunity if it presented itself?
  • Are you locked into your discipline, or are you paying attention to the various places your skills can take you?

Like many, I would guess, I could never have predicted my career would go the way it has and that I would have ended up where I have. (I shouldn’t say “ended up,” because there’s still so much ahead.) I realize that there are people who always wanted to be a surgeon, and now they’re a surgeon. Mission accomplished.

But it research shows most people are not quite that focused on a specific career endpoint.

When my employees ask me to help them with their career path, I advise them to follow a form of approach I outlined above. I also try to provide as many interesting and diverse opportunities to my employees as possible. But I can’t make them take them. Exploring new opportunities is up to the interest and ambition of each individual.

I’ve tried to make the most of the opportunities presented, and even when it didn’t end well, it did because I learned about myself, and I identified and learned from my mistakes.

I’m very happy with where I am in my career, and I wouldn’t trade even the worst parts of it. I realize not everyone is me, and for those who need a path, I work to give them one – but not before offering the advice above:

Focus on doing your current job and going above and beyond that whenever possible, and the rest will take care of itself.

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