I spend a lot of time speaking to early career professionals who are looking for advice or wanting to further their development. And one of the pieces of advice I find myself giving all the time is “Don’t ask permission”. But taking ownership of your own career path is easier said than done. Here are five steps you can take today to start making progress.
1. Write Your Future Resume
What do you see yourself doing in the future? Write it down. I find it useful to write it in the format of a resume or a bio. Something that walks back through your experience from the fictional and aspirational future (written in present tense), backing all the way to the current job and role that you are in today. Write the final job first and then think about what experiences you might need to get that job and make that your second-to-the-last role. Repeat that until you have walked back through a progression of roles or companies that take you where you want to go. Don’t forget to add in education, training, non-profit involvement, or anything else that will be a part of your future, idealized career. There is something powerful about writing it down.
2. Invent Your Path
One of the things you will notice about your resume activity is that you might struggle naming some of the roles that you might want to have. Sometimes getting experience and being seen as ready for promotion isn’t a matter of title (marketing specialist leads to marketing manager leads to marketing director), but rather of actual job contents. And of course in the future, the contents of the job are going to be different. 30 years ago, who have thought we’d pay to take rides with strangers or spend a significant part of our marketing budget on pay-per-click advertising? So, you have an opportunity to invent a job or two along the way. Take advantage of the blank sheet of paper to design a job or role that would give you that experience. And remember, some of that experience might come from volunteer work or even entrepreneurial efforts. Don’t limit yourself. You are writing fiction, so make it worthy of a New York Times best seller award.
3. Research and Network
Look at that fictional resume you wrote for your future self. What questions arose when writing it? Did you wonder what people had done before they became a Chief Marketing Officer? Did you invent a position, but now you wonder if that role exists in some companies today? Are you curious how much education a financial analyst needs to work on a big merger and acquisition agreement? These things are knowable and worth researching. Look up people on LinkedIn in the roles to which you aspire and look at their career progression. Contact people in your network who might know the answers or have ideas of where to look. They could be people that work at your company (check out the leadership page on your company website, if you don’t know people outside your own team or group), or people in the community at large. When asked for their expertise, most people will be generous.
4. Tell Someone
Just like there is power in writing something down, it is amplified in the sharing. This is why sites like BucketList.org exist. They figure you are more likely to do things, even crazy things like climbing mountains or learning Mandarin, if you share your dreams with others. Find people who will be supportive and share some of your ideas with them. If you don’t have people in your immediate circle of friends and family who are likely to empathize, find a group, like HeartSpark, or a professional coach to help you listen and refine your ideas. Or join a networking group, like BizWomen or your local rotary to find a group of like-minded folks to help you grow.
At the heart of all of this is believing in your potential and what you have to offer a potential employer or entrepreneurial opportunity. I’m a big believer in positive affirmations and visualization. By affirming yourself and visualizing where you will go, you breathe belief into yourself. This starts the wheels of destiny in motion. Believe that your career is something you get to build.
So let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you. Be deliberate and bold. Don’t settle for the next rung on your chain of jobs or tasks. Take ownership of your professional story. It can be refined by experiences and reshaped when you want it to be. It may have imperfections, but at the end it will be yours.
Jennifer Davis is CMO and VP of Product Strategy at Planar, a Leyard Company