Tag Archives: career pathing

Milestones

I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons I teach my students as a latin dance coach and how that applies to learning about my own career.

This past weekend, there was a big competition and I was pleased to see how my students did. They didn’t make the final, but the level of improvement that I saw was noticeable and was, frankly, brilliant.

I told a few couples the same thing. This isn’t the end. You can see how far you’ve come from the beginning and you can track your progress up until now. This is a milestone on what will hopefully be a long career. You’ll be able to reflect on this later, but you’re still working toward something coming down the road.

The same applies to you in your professional career. Regardless of where you are now, job seeking or not, happy in what you do or just seeing your job as nothing more than something that pays the bills, entry level or senior management, this isn’t it. We get really wrapped up in knowing where we are right now (and for those of you who are unemployed, I appreciate why that’s more true for you), but we tend to forget that it’s the collection of milestones – the journey, if you will – that makes a career. It’s how you work to shape the journey that matters.

As we get close to the end of the year, and as we approach performance review season for those of you that have that kind of system in place, reflect on that and consider your milestones and what kind of milestones you expect and hope for in the future. It’s a pretty personal topic, so I won’t force anyone, but if you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.

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Don’t Stop Believin…in your career path

Yesterday was the first day of our annual HR conference where we get together and talk about big picture things that are easier to discuss in person than by phone or video conference. One of the conversations we had was about career pathing.

Yesterday was also the season finale of Glee where they reprised “Don’t Stop Believin” – hence the title. To justify it, I say that that song is by Journey, which is what a career path is. But I digress.

When I think about my career path, it’s hard to define it because I’m not sure where I’m going. I’ve talked before about how I have a couple different opportunities on my plate right now, any one of which might be where I go. Or there’s the possibility I might end up going somewhere different entirely.

But what’s important to know is that if I choose any of those paths, where am I headed and how do I make that journey?

A lot of this is going to fall on me. I need to figure out my goals, align myself in a direction that I want to move in and find people that can help me along the way. The organization picks up by showing me what obstacles and challenges are faced along the way, by guiding me towards people that can assist me, by making the levels more transparent so I know how to get from Point A to Point Z, etc. But it starts with me and it ends with me. It’s my career, not my organization’s.

What does your career path look like? And what level of responsibility do you claim for it? Do you think there’s more that your company/employer should be doing for you? Share the love – I want to hear from you.

Reunited and it feels so good!

I went to my high school reunion over the Thanksgiving break and, despite my expectations, I had a fantastic time. It was interesting to interact with the same people from years ago now that I’m a lot sassier, a lot more flamboyant and much more outgoing than I was back then (plus it helps that I’m a bit skinnier and I dress a whole lot better). I had an escape route planned with the friend that I went with, but I didn’t need it and was one of the last ones to leave.

Since I’ve done a really poor job of keeping track of everyone, I had to ask the obligatory “What are you doing?” to get the ball rolling. And once they finished, they turned the question right back to me, “How about you? Where are you now?”

Every single person, without exception, defined themselves by where they are in their careers now. Some people have jobs. Some people are still in school. Some people are unfortunately unemployed (and I gave all of them a lot of credit for coming since they had to repeat the ‘I can’t find a job’ or ‘I got laid off’ story over and over again). I’m equally guilty of it. My response to the question was, “I’m still living in DC and I work in the HR office for an architecture firm downtown,” or something along those lines. And that was followed by a little bit of detail about what that means: “I’m a people person” or “I talk to people all day”. There’s not enough time to talk more than that.

I wrote a few weeks ago about what Gen Y is looking for career-wise. This whole reunion showed me where the whole idea of “being fulfilled by a job”, whether load of crap or not, comes from. When we talk about who we are, “career” is an obvious milestone that follows graduating from high school and maybe graduating from college. Since there are only a few classmates that have gotten married or had a child, this is the last milestone that we all have in common. And since milestones are how we, as people, define our lives, it makes sense that we define ourselves (at least for now) based on that career. So is it any wonder that we try to add meaning and purpose to that career to justify our decision?

That may change as family or romance or knowledge aspirations develop. But for where a large majority of Gen Yers are right now in their lives, “career” is the most important part of self.

We’ll see how different things are at my next reunion.

“The manatee has become the mento”

The manatee has become the mento. --Tracy from NBCs 30 Rock

"The manatee has become the mento." --Tracy Jordan from NBC's 30 Rock

I’m an avid believer in the idea of a mentor. I’m in HR, it kind of goes with the territory. But come on, the concept that someone is looking out for you, guiding you, teaching you – it doesn’t get much better than that. Tracy and Kenneth from 30 Rock would clearly agree.

Now, there is a difference between formal mentoring and informal mentoring. And they definitely serve different purposes. Formal mentoring happens when you’re paired with someone who is supposed to teach you something. It can definitely have a more casual feel to it. You might be matched by an external group, but you don’t have a set agenda and it’s up to you to set one for yourselves (and that’s what we decided on in a mentoring program in our office, but that’s a whole other story). Or it can be more structured in that you’re matched with the goal of accomplishing something specific.

Mentoring can also be informal. Personally I think that the informal relationship is one that develops over time because there is a personal connection between the people in that relationship. It’s not forced or set up through matching, but instead comes out of conversations, shared projects or group interactions. Sometimes you unintentionally gravitate towards someone who can become a mentor.

I had a brush with this “gravitational” nature of an informal mentoring relationship and that got me thinking about mentoring relationships. I’ve been working on a project for a while now with someone I really like and truly respect. At a meeting last week, he spoke up on my behalf to tout some of the work I had done. And when I found myself less than thrilled with the outcome, not only did he check up on me, but he encouraged me with some positive reinforcement and advised me on how to move forward from my stalled position.

That’s really what mentoring is all about. Here’s someone who is looking out for me, acting as my cheerleader, pushing me to do more and guiding me towards success.

Depending on your personality, both formal and informal mentoring can work for you. Sometimes you need the structure of a formal relationship. Sometimes you don’t and informal works better. But either way, finding someone who is looking out for you and helping you achieve your own goals goes a long way towards maintaining your happiness (at work and in life) and setting you up to do good things down the road. You can ask your mentor(s) to give feedback, to act as decision advisors, and to serve as stable members of your overall career support network.

So what if you don’t have one? Identify someone who you think can be a mentor. Talk to them about that role, why you picked them and what you’d want them to do. Think about what you want to get out of a mentor – is it career guidance? Is it help with a particular skill set? Is it to introduce you to others in your field? Is it to pave a way for you in your organization? This is on you, no one else is going to own it. And keep in mind that your mentor today won’t necessarily be your mentor forever. They can phase in and out as you need them.

If you can’t identify someone to serve as your mentor after thinking really hard about it, think about why you are where you are and whether it’s time to make a change. Yes, yes, I know, now’s not the best time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t consider your options. And if you are stuck, find someone external to your organization that can be a mentor for you.

Any success stories you’ve had being mentored? How about successes as a mentor? What worked and what didn’t? What do you want in a mentor? Show me some love.

Human Sustainability

I have a friend who is looking for a job. Yawn – so are a lot of people. What complicates things for her is that she had a sudden realization that she isn’t as bulletproof as she once thought she was. Her feelings about insurance went from not caring whether she had it (which she didn’t) or not to being afraid to move for fear of needing a doctor. Needless to say, her desire (and need) for healthcare coverage of any kind has suddenly become more acute.

In talking to her about her current search for jobs, she reiterated that she was doing the best she could to find a job she was interested in. When I asked her on the phone about taking a crappy job that would pay the bills AND give her health insurance, she responded, “Well, I don’t think I’m that desperate yet”. My response to her was a sobering, “Well, for what you consider ‘desperate’, do you really want to get there before you HAVE find a job to pay you and give you benefits?” I got silence from the other end of the line for a second before, “Yeah, I didn’t really think about it that way”.

Taking a job does not mean that you’ve settled down and are forever stuck with the decision that you’ve made. You can change your mind – and let’s be honest, it’s human nature to do so. Think about it this way: let’s say you shopped around until you found someone you wanted to go out with, but when you had dinner together, you found out that your choice was not the perfect specimen you originally anticipated, but was, in fact, a big ol’ loser. Do you say to yourself, “Well, it took me a while to make my choice, so I guess I’ll just stick with it and hope it gets better” or do you find yourself a new date and shrug off the memory of your poor decision-making skills? Rhetorical question, I’m sure. So why, then, is a job any different?

Sometimes, you’ve got to do what pays the bills, even if it sucks, while continuing to look for what you actually want. Before you jump down my throat, often times (especially now), finding “what pays the bills” is (much) easier said than done, and while I’m not brushing that aside, that’s not my point. I’m saying that it’s worth devoting at least part of your energy to entering the workforce in any capacity rather than focusing all of your attention on the single job that you’re interested in. It’s not that you’re selling out by putting your plans on hold; instead, realize that you’re keeping yourself going (I almost said “keeping yourself alive”, but figured that was awfully dramatic, even by my standards) by finding something that will not only provide you with money (kind of important in today’s society), but will always provide you with medical care (by way of insurance) should you need it. It’s all about sustainability here.

I read an article by HR Minion earlier that dealt with this issue for people that have taken jobs and have  “fallen into the employment trap“: they’ve ended their job search, lost track of their networks or stopped learning just because they’ve found any old opportunity. No! Don’t do that! If you’re pretty happy, just seeing what’s out there might just make you realize why you’re in no desire to leave. And if you’re not, keeping your options open and knowing that there’s something else out there for you to find may just be what keeps you going throughout the day.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Much to my irritation, I have found that the same question has been repackaged and asked of me since I was in elementary school. As a sophomore in high school, it was “Where do you want to go to college?”. Once I arrived, it was “What do you want to major in?”. In my years as an upperclassman, it morphed into “What do you want to do after graduation?” Even now, I still find that people ask “What do you think you want to do with that?” once I tell them I’m in HR.

All of these questions go back to the underlying “What do you want to be when you grow up?” that we were all asked at the age of 5. I promise you that my 1st grade answer was not “Human Resources Professional”.

In 7th grade, I wrote in my yearbook that I wanted to be a computer programmer because that was the year I discovered how to amuse myself with a graphing calculator in my Algebra class. In college, I had such a love affair with the likes of Borges, Puig and Cortazar in my Spanish literature classes that I envisioned myself going into teaching. It wasn’t until I randomly took an internship in my current field that I ended up realizing that not only was I good at this, but that I actually wanted to learn more and stick with it. Even now, I’m unsure where this is all going. All this talk and action in the social media realm has opened up a new door that I may or may not walk through.

Sometimes you choose your path. The kids in college that are pre-law, pre-med, pre-public health, pre-politics, pre-whatever – they have a plan (hence the pre-), they follow it and the driven ones (and too frequently the not-so-driven ones) will come out the other end. But even within a broad field that plan can change. For instance, my sister the medical student started with the notion of opening a family practice/wellness center, but after doing her rotations, she’s not so keen on family medicine. On the other hand, once she spent some time in emergency medicine, she began to picture herself doing that professionally and is now seriously considering specializing in it. Likewise, a friend of mine spent his whole life as a computer programmer and is now trying to break into the water/energy field because he found that it resonated with him. As for me, I’m questioning now if I want to follow The Pro and head up a front line piece of HR; if I’d rather look to be leading HR from the back end piece of it, which is entirely unfamiliar territory to me; or if I have the urge to explore this new path and dive into social media strategizing. And the best part is, I may end up doing something totally different, something that I haven’t encountered yet.

At work, we all have plaques outside our offices that carry our names and a personal quote. The Pro’s quote is the title of this post: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Personally, I think it’s as much for everyone else as it is for her and I love it – you can spend your whole life asking yourself the question without ever really answering it.

My 1st grade, 7th grade, college and post-college selves may not have been on the same wavelength that I’m on now, but I don’t think they’d disapprove. And what about you? Does your storyline follow a nice and linear plan from start to finish or do you have fun twists and turns along the way? Looking back (or looking forward for that matter), what’s your take?