- Christy Song
- Nov 08, 2015
- academia, career path, mentor, personal development plan, transitioning out of academia
Finding a Career Path…In an infinite maze of thought, concern, and pressure
Image credit: Wikia
“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” – Steve Jobs
When introduced to the concept of a career path, I had to first do a little research to make sure I understood what exactly that meant. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, career path means: “the way that you progress in your work, either in one job or in a series of jobs.” I had the definition, but rather than being satisfied, I wanted to know how to put the idea into application.
It’s easy to get caught in the mode of thinking about what one’s dream job/position is, but it’s also easy to stop once you get an idea of what that looks like. Being a young professional, it was easy to get complacent with the idea that I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted to really do with my life – long term, or for those of us who have worked for years it may be easy to get complacent with the idea of staying in the same place because it’s comfortable. But, these days what we are seeing is three or four job turnovers before retirement. So, what does this mean? It means we need to look further down the line – beyond our current position, beyond our next position, and into a bigger idea of what we are hoping to accomplish and achieve in general.
Rather than immediately jumping into job searching, there is a need to stop and think about what our overall goal is that we are aiming for. Then, within that goal – which is and should be flexible, figuring out a starting point. From there don’t remain in the same place, but begin to think about where your next position may be. This is not referring to eyeing anyone else’s position, but to first start by expanding your own current position. It’s important to continuously ask yourself “now what?”. Now what, after completing a simple task; now what after completing a project; now what upon realizing that your capabilities have surpassed your current position; now what, after you reach the next stage in your overall vision.
Take the Initiative
All of this now what is implying that you have to be proactive. It’s not enough to wait for someone to tell you how to do your job better, but to figure out what can be done before being told. It is important to self-evaluate on a daily basis to make sure that you are getting closer to your overall goal. Although it may sound like a lot of work, keep a list of daily goals, monthly goals, yearly goals, and big picture goals. Hold yourself accountable. After all it’s doing yourself a favor before anyone else.
Be on the Alert
Another issue that comes up is what if there isn’t a next foreseeable stage? This may sound either ridiculously simple or brilliant, but it’s transparent and refreshing regardless – make one for yourself. How do you think positions are created in the first place? If there is a need in a company, the company will find someone to fill that need. I understand it is much easier said than done, but start by looking for areas that need improvement, talk to your peers and co-workers about struggles they may be facing, build relationships within the company, and get really familiar with the environment of where you work.
Create a Personal Development Plan
Personal development planning is the process of creating an action plan based on awareness, values, reflection, goal-setting and planning for personal development within the context of a career, education, relationship or for self-improvement. The PDP (personal development plan) usually includes a statement of one’s aspirations, strengths or competencies, education and training, and stages or steps to indicate how the plan is to be realized. Personal development plans may also include a statement of one’s career and lifestyle priorities, career positioning, analysis of opportunities and risks, and alternative plans.
Here is an example if you are not familiar with a Personal Development Plan.
Find a Mentor
Having a career mentor is indispensable if you are serious about proactively managing your career. Finding career mentors isn’t always easy and asking someone you don’t know to be your mentor can be intimidating. Obtain great mentors and overcome the ‘finding a mentor jitters’ by following the 4 tips recommended in this article.
Get 360 degrees of Feedback
It is critical to solicit a wide and diverse range of feedback that comes from members of an individual’s work circle. Most often, 360-degree feedback will include direct feedback from an employee’s subordinates, peers (colleagues), and supervisor(s), as well as a self-evaluation. It can also include, in some cases, feedback from external sources, such as customers and suppliers or other interested stakeholders. It may be contrasted with “upward feedback,” where managers are given feedback only by their direct reports, or a “traditional performance appraisal,” where the employees are most often reviewed only by their managers. Here is more information on how to approach this.
So in the end what does finding or even having a career path mean?
- Think of a bigger picture for your career path.
- Look beyond the immediate steps and ask yourself what now?
- Take the initiative and be proactive in your self-evaluation.
- Be on the alert and try to look for missing aspects or areas that need to be improved.
- Create a Personal Development Plan.
- Find a mentor.
- Get 360 degrees of Feedback from subordinates, peers, supervisors, and yourself.
And as I always say, you’re not alone. Just breathe and let’s take it step by step.
In the meantime, The SearchLite’s Innovator-in-Residence Program is a great option to consider while transitioning out of academia and searching for a career path. Look into how we have helped our IIRs make the transition and how we may be able to help you!
Also if you like what you’ve read, check out our blog series on Transitioning Out of Academia.