Career progression – then and now

Career progression – then and now

There must be a million articles, blogs, books on getting ahead in your career.
It is increasingly difficult to decide what advice to follow and what to discard. The work environment itself has changed so much that what was good practice and therefore good advice only ten years ago is almost certainly irrelevant today.

For instance, in the not-so-distant past, many corporate lifers expected to retire from the same organization they joined straight out of school. Loyalty to the organisation was an important factor in getting ahead in their careers. A decade ago, it was considered quite normal to “jump jobs” every 4 or 5 years. The rationale was: stay long enough to prove your worth, get a promotion or two, and then move to another organisation – for a better job and more money, naturally – to avoid stagnation or complacency. Now the career pundits suggest you move every two or three years, never stop moving but, at the same time, don’t be in a hurry. Don’t always look for the fast route. Confusing, to say the least.

Just a few years ago any activity outside work – except perhaps fitness activities and parenting related ones – was frowned upon. Today, the people that stand out in the organisation are often those who take three weeks off to conserve a forest or campaign to save a heritage building. A junior colleague is admired for her online articles and blogs. Employees who have experimented with entrepreneurship are seen as having an extra edge. They are sometimes the ones that the bosses seem to favour. A popular piece of advice today is to get some start-up experience.

But whether it is today or fifty years ago some advice remains important. A simple, basic requirement: to get ahead, first figure out where you are going. Have a goal, a career plan. Whether you love your current job or are feeling depressed with it, career planning can help you decide if you should look for a new job straightaway or work at gaining the skills and expertise you need before you move.

I know someone who landed his first job selling credit cards. He plugged away at it for a few years, not particularly happy but extremely busy and moderately successful – he rose to supervisory level quite quickly. Over a much-needed holiday he sat down and thought about what he enjoyed in his current job and what he didn’t. He examined what he was good at and what he needed to work on. He also had a secret dream to start a school someday, when he had enough capital.

Through serious introspection and a very practical approach he came up with a career plan that involved essentially staying within credit card sales for a few more years, aiming for a senior manager level either within the same organisation or another if he got better opportunities. In the meantime, he enrolled for a part-time teaching qualification, and also volunteered to teach at a non-profit school on the weekends. Once a year, he reviewed where he was against his plan. He was busier than ever, at times overstretched with work, travel, family and teaching commitments. But because he had a purpose – he felt happier and in control of his life. This positive approach also reflected in his work, he performed well and consistently. The happy ending: he now runs a highly successful training institute.

Sometimes, getting ahead is just about being pragmatic.