We all know the old script: join a company, work hard, move up the ladder. But it’s been decades since that was a reliable path, and not just because of layoffs or outsourcing or robots.
These days, the culprit preventing many professionals from identifying a clear career path at their company is simply that one no longer exists. Given that successful companies must often pivot to adapt to changes in the marketplace, and the half-life of many skills is now estimated to be five years or less, companies often have no idea what staffing needs they’ll have in a few years’ time or who would be qualified to fill them.
Here are four strategies professionals can follow to successfully navigate the new terrain.
First, it’s essential to make yourself aware of the possibilities. One appeal of the traditional linear career path was that it didn’t take much research: while not everyone achieved the end goal (such as a promotion), it was very clear what it was. In the new workplace reality, individual professionals almost have to take a detective-like approach, investigating and vetting opportunities. That may not be hard in smaller companies, but in large global enterprises, information becomes key.
Second, it’s important to seek out help. Even if your employer isn’t providing explicit guidance about your career path, they’re likely to recognize and appreciate the value of an engaged employee who is raising their hand and asking for support. If you go to HR with suggestions about professional development programs or conferences you’d like to attend, courses you want to take, or functional areas of the business you’d like to understand better, they will often be extremely receptive, as you’re modeling the ideal, proactive behavior that many of today’s talent leaders seek to cultivate.
Third, don’t wait to hear about open positions. Instead, identify your own ideal opportunities.
Take it as your job to precisely target the opportunities that appeal to you most, and develop a strategy to connect with, befriend, and court those connections.
Finally, work to cultivate influential allies. It’s always useful to have a mentor board of directors that can help advise you as you weigh possibilities — and a sponsor, a leader who is willing to exert political capital on your behalf, is even better. But once you’ve landed these key allies, your job isn’t done. As you progress at your company and in your career, it’s essential to keep your mentors and sponsors informed about your progress, so they’re aware of new skills you’ve developed and your current career aspirations. Otherwise, even if you keep in regular touch about other matters, they’re unlikely to question or update their initial impression of you.
It may feel disconcerting if your company hasn’t crafted a linear career progression for you. But it’s also a significant opportunity to build a career that’s uniquely tailored to your own needs, skills, and interests. By following these steps, you can proactively shape your professional future.
Taken and adapted from an article by Dorie Clark – Harvard Business Review