Have you been working for a few years and jumped into different positions on a whim and a little luck? Are you now at that point where you want to start making a name for yourself in your industry? I think we all kind of start in this awkward, ‘figure it out as we go’, career path. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have built successful careers out of the gate and were lucky enough to know exactly what it is they wanted to do and were even luckier to be good at it AND enjoy it. Unfortunately, that isn’t a story we can all tell.
Perhaps you’re five years into your post-grad working life, or maybe just started working full time. Either way, there is going to be a moment when you realize that unless you start climbing a ladder, you’re going to get stuck in a no-growth career path. It’s hard to reflect back on a short career and ask yourself, “is this really what I want to do?” only to tell yourself “NO!” It’s tough, but sometimes you just need to make whatever it is you’re doing work.
A no-win situation in this type of situation is you give up. You give up because you’re not happy, not making enough money, you don’t know what you want to do, and you throw all that progress out the window. You made more money bartending in college so that is what you go back to. It’s the third holiday night shift in a row you had to work behind the bar and now you’re realizing why you got out of this gig in the first place. Now, you’re longing for your salaried position, nights and weekend free, and paid holidays. You’ve now lost precious time in your career for this break you thought you wanted.
A win-lose situation obviously has it’s pros and cons. You’re winning because you’re employed, you get by, you’re a little lost but right now whatever you have going on is working for you at this point and time. You’re losing because you have no future in whatever it is that you’re doing, no growth path, no desire to continue growing, and no avenue to carve out a path of your own. Sure, this is sustainable for awhile, especially as you’re figuring out what kind of career you want. But then you remind yourself, work is work and it’s 5 days a week, the rest of your life. Is this soul draining job it?
If you’re one of the lucky folks who had it all figured out since day one, congrats, this article isn’t for you. Whatever you did, keep on doing it and keep on killing it. That kind of drive and dedication is admirable and you should be proud of yourself. You should also use your status of career happiness to help others figure out if your career path is for them. Perhaps you have a struggling intern, or a friend admiring your success, be a source of information and guidance. Answer questions, provide honest feedback, be transparent, and be encouraging. Look at their resume help them edit it.
A Forced Win
This is my favorite. So you’ve come to the realization that something needs to change. You don’t know what or how or when, but the status quo isn’t going to keep you sane for much longer. The good news is that your options are endless once you decide when Day One starts.
- Day One is when you go to work and you think about one or two things about your job you enjoy.
- Day Two is when you go to work and you think about one or two jobs at your company that sound interesting.
- Day Three is when you go to work and you think about what kind of projects you would like to get involved in to diversify your day.
- Day Four is when you think about how all of those things can come together.
- Day Five is when you start doing research on what a career path matches the puzzle you just created.
Now, it’s going to take a lot longer than 5 days to make a big change and start a career journey. But, you can start taking steps toward that journey within 5 days!
Talk to your manager and ask if there are any projects you can get involved in.
Network within the business and learn about what people do in their jobs and start volunteering to support them on small project tasks.
Browse your internal job board and begin having exploratory conversations. Did you know the cost to hire a new employee far outweighs the cost to hire an internal candidate with no relevant experience? From my experience, the right person on the inside will get the job, even if they aren’t 100% qualified. Hiring managers and business stakeholders are almost always willing to sit and discuss their teams, their work, and make introductions. Be up front and tell them you’re thinking about how to expand in your current position and are just doing preliminary research.
Volunteer outside of work. I heard a few folks who have had passions they wanted to turn into full time careers. One past colleague of mine loved to volunteer for the local Food Bank and had such a sense of fulfillment from it. She thought she had found her purpose of working in non-profit, so she left her corporate career to work in a non-profit. She came right back to the job she left within months because the grass wasn’t greener. Another reason to volunteer is to learn new skills. Hey, they might have you scrubbing data in excel and it’s boring, but if you just learned how to scrub data in excel you just scored yourself a new skill! You can also meet people and network your way into a new career, you never know who you’ll meet.
Why a Subject Matter Expert?
The point is, you need to find something in the job you’re currently doing and make a career of it. Start being a subject matter expert in this area and watch your career start booming. It’s difficult to be successful as a jack of all trades because recruiters don’t know what to do with that resume. It will fall into the ‘maybe’ pile almost always compared against someone who is specialized in the area they are hiring. Start building an effective resume and continually build on your experience in that area. You want to be the person that is in high demand and businesses are fighting for. You want to be that person who knows everything about their problem and just how to fix it. Finding a niche is difficult, and we may not all love the niche we pick, but that doesn’t mean that is all you’re ever going to do. The great thing about having a successful career is that you can continue learning new skills, explore new industries and verticles, finding new areas of interest and be able to segway into new territories. Don’t ever feel stuck, there is always opportunity to re-strategize, plan, and do it all over again.