5 Steps To Help You Manage Your Career Path

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By: Kerri Heider, Campus Recruiter

When I was in college, I thought I knew everything. I looked at my world and my future with rose-colored glasses (as many do at the age of 22), and assumed that once I graduated, I’d move into a career where I was the top seller in the company. Prospects and clients would applaud as I walked out of a presentation, and promotions would come twice a year (insert eye-roll here). I couldn’t WAIT to graduate and jump in with two feet to a job where I just knew I would be the BEST!

Then, reality smacked me upside the head about six weeks in.

I quickly — and at times painfully — learned that my time in college was the easy part, and growing and thriving in the corporate world was something of which I’d have to take full ownership. Giving 100% every day did not equate to a promotion, but merely a “satisfies expectations” on my yearly review. Not many people noticed my successes unless I highlighted them (which was much harder than I thought it would be), despite my know-it-all attitude. No one could have prepared me for the challenge that I was about to endure as I transitioned from being a student with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with to a full-time employee who barely had time to do her laundry every week.

And that’s why I’m here. I want to give my two cents to you, which I wish someone had given to me earlier in my career. As I look back on the first eight years of my corporate experience, while currently working alongside students on a weekly basis who are in the same shoes I was, circa 2010, my goal is to allow these tips to absorb sooner for you than they did for me. Below are my five steps to not only managing but owning your career path.

  1. Advocate for yourself

I cannot express this enough. If I had to narrow this list down to one thing, this would be it. The reality of corporate life, and life in general, is that no one, and I mean NO ONE, has your back like you do. I have had managers who were/are amazingly supportive, and I’ve had managers who were not. Regardless of the relationship that you have with them, you have to realize that even if they love having you on their team, sometimes, they may not be incentivized or motivated to move and shake you to the next level of your career. Getting promoted is not always as easy as checking the boxes of things you’ve done over the past year. If you begin to ask for, then highlight the stretch roles you’ve taken on, and provide written examples of the accomplishments that you have achieved, this will allow them to take a step back and remember all of the great things you’ve done to help you AND your team to succeed in their goals. Everyone has their own agenda, we are moving faster than ever, and it’s very easy to forget your wins amid the chaos. Use your accomplishments to write up a business case for yourself. Keep a word document saved in a personal folder, and any time you work through a difficult project, or see a success in something that is out of your scope of responsibilities (or within them, but you knocked it out of the park) — WRITE IT DOWN! Keeping a bulleted list of these projects will help you remember every great thing you’ve done all year. Life moves fast, so keep track of it.

  1. Highlight your strengths, but prioritize constructive feedback

This may have been the toughest transition for me. Though it’s important to keep tabs on your highlighted strengths, your openness to feedback is, in my opinion, a step higher in importance when it comes to your personal brand. Receiving feedback is tough, but coaching yourself through changes to make around that feedback is even harder. Make sure you are focusing on not just the feedback, but on the action steps to help get things in motion. Upward-manage in the sense of asking your manager questions around “how” — or else the feedback they give you is fairly useless. Feedback doesn’t just have to happen during a formal review; asking for feedback during your weekly or monthly check-ins will impress your boss, as well as give you the tools to benchmark your progress so nothing comes as a surprise when it matters for a raise or promotion.

  1. Never stop asking questions

Intellectual curiosity is something that not everyone is born with, but it is critical for the sake of upward mobility. Reaching your status quo is comfortable and easy. Asking questions around how processes and projects can improve, reshaping the way things are done, and asking questions around things that might seem obvious pushes the envelope. This also accomplishes two things: It helps you shape a more holistic idea of what is expected AND it shows people around you that you are curious — and, selfishly, puts you in the spotlight, if only for a minute. This also can apply to more common, tactical experiences that happen daily. The least productive conference calls I’ve been on are ones where no one has any questions. Many times, the questions you might think are “dumb” are those that other people likely have and are thankful that you asked.

  1. Give yourself a break

It’s 2019, and we as a culture are moving at the speed of light. It’s amazing how efficient we have become, but the expectations we are up against as a result are more substantial than ever before. Life has a funny way of pouring when it rains, and burnout is a real thing. Take care of yourself and your family. Take a vacation. Take PTO. If you are working at a company whose culture downplays work-life balance, and taking time off is discouraged, it might be time to rethink where you work. Taking a physical and mental break from your work is imperative to your success as an employee and human being.

  1. Find your “why”

Transitioning from college to the “real world” is one of the most difficult times of your life — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s equal parts exhilarating — getting your first paycheck is a fabulous feeling — exhausting, and sometimes discouraging. If you can take two minutes every day to jot down in a journal, notes app or napkin to explain to yourself WHY you are there, your journey will find its purpose. It is a quick and painless way to hold yourself accountable for your own happiness and success. Some days, my “why” is as simple as, “I have bills to pay,” but most days, it’s a bit more purposeful than that. Simply put, if you can take a step back and reflect on your big picture, I promise it will set your stage for a better, more positive day, week, career.

You may not agree with any or all five of these, and that’s OK. I’d love to start a dialogue with you in the comments below! What are your thoughts?


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9 Responses to “5 Steps To Help You Manage Your Career Path”

  1. I commend Kerri for capturing these key ingredients to success and fulfillment. I wished I had that advice early on in my career (especially about the advocacy and “the why”)! It will give you meaning and a clear path. I am at the end of my career journey and been very lucky, as well as very determined, in my success. One area that Kerri mentions that has always been a challenge (even after 30 years in the workforce), is item 4 – give yourself a break. It is SOOOOO vital to your mental and physical well being to be able to take pause, reflect and enjoy your hard work, or perhaps your mistakes (what did you learn from them)? Your family and friends will thank you. More importantly – you will be a better person and happier. I had to learn the hard way – I had to quit work to figure out what I wanted and the “why”. I was successful through sheer hard work and determination, but it nearly burned me out. They always say you need the “work-life balance” but that doesn’t fly if you don’t know why and/or take time to reflect – learn what is working and what is NOT! Ask your coworkers, friends and family what their impression is – it is a great reflective mirror if you are a little blinded. Gartner is a great company for understanding the balance. Thank you Gartner.

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