Keeping your career on track : the importance of career goals

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The first blog in this series focused on continuous learning. Ok, so you’re super skilled and constantly learning, but are you focusing your learning on not only what you need right now or on the learning which will take you to the next level? Having career goals is critical, not only to your learning plan but for every day networking and seeding the path to your future.

A goal is like a destination.  If you are driving without one you will show up somewhere randomly. If you work with no specific career goal, your career will drive you and take you places, sure, but will it take you where you really want to go? By setting a specific career goal and sharing it with others, you do what I call “planting seeds”.

When I started at IBM it was on a six month contract as a bi-lingual secretary. I can still hear the laughter of my interviewer (who was an admin manager) when I shared my goal to evolve to a different type of role. I shared my admittedly vague goal with anyone who would listen.  Probably to a lot of people who would rather NOT have been listening.  My openness about wanting to get out of the admin pool was not taken kindly by some of my colleagues.  I am sure I expressed myself badly at the time and some may have felt that I was disparaging their career choice.  It was not my intention – I know how vital the secretary is to a well-run department. It takes a lot of core project management skills to be a good secretary!

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Everyone who knew me knew my goal. I made no difference of level or role of who I shared my goal with. Any person you meet can end up being the connection that will change your life. One day, Anne-Marie Derouault, who was the head of IBM’s speech recognition department, called me up with a proposal. Come to work for her as an EA and put in two years. From there she promised a marketing role. And she delivered, less than a year later when she was transferred to the US.  That’s how I found myself in my first marketing role!

 

One day, someone told me that most people wouldn’t ask me if I wanted to be a manager. I would need to say so myself.  Years later, Matt Collins told me to think beyond the next level of Director and make sure leaders knew I aspired to be a VP, not a Director. The bottom line is – you have to show that you want it. Some companies have great programs to detect prospective leaders, but you may never be identified, even if you are incredible, if your own management is not focused on their team’s future desires and potential. Unfortunately, many managers are heads down on administrative tasks or trying to get their own work done and don’t take the time to focus on developing their team members.

So don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.  What programs are there for future leaders? What do I need to do to be considered? What skills do I lack that I’ll need? (I would suggest you do your own research on this one too, but it’s a great way to get feedback and you may not be aware of your own worst personal habit enemy.)

Not all career evolution is upwards to management level.  There are huge opportunities to jump sideways to a new domain or discipline. Planting seeds by sharing your goals works just as effectively to move laterally to new disciplines and departments. By sharing your desire to make a transition with people who are in the domain or discipline you are interested in, you can make things happen. Don’t expect it to happen overnight (although sometimes it can) but do expect that you will have to establish a sincere professional relationship if you want this to work.

In my next blog, I’ll talk about Sponsors and the critical role they play in career evolution.