The Career Path Elephant in the Room

139077-425x282-career_path_planningOk, how many of you believe that you should be promoted?  Most of you, right? How many of you are wondering what your company’s career path is or will be?  Most of you, right?  Here’s the plain, unvarnished reality: It is 2014 and the traditional career path is dead…and has been for some time.  Didn’t you get the memo?  Don’t worry, no one did.

I’m sure there are companies (probably “old guard” companies that are old and very large) that have career paths and other companies may pay lip-service to some form of a career path.  However, for the vast majority of us, a career path imposed by someone other than ourselves is a mirage…a myth…and I would tell anyone who encourages you to follow their career path to listen to them with skepticism.  Think about it for a minute:

  • Will you be in a company long enough to work your way up through a career path? Unlikely…the 2012 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the average length of time with a company is 4.6 years.
  • Will the organization stay the same to support a clearly defined career path? No, definitely not. It was true in the past, but even truer today: Companies must change or die.  So you need to expect re-organization.
  • Will the industry you’re in stay the same to support a career path?  Maybe, maybe not…look at just the last few years, several industries have been turned on their heads by disruptive innovation.
  • …and if that weren’t enough, Thomas Buckland showed us that all we need is a laptop to create a startup.  He didn’t even have a house and camped in the forest as he created While extreme, it does prove the point that you don’t need a traditional company (or apparently even an apartment!).

This means that your employment environment (either yourself or the company) won’t be stay static long enough for a career path to be meaningful.  What it also means is that you likely won’t have a smooth, straight career path…but that’s OK – even preferable. Each person must have his/her own career path that spans multiple companies and can spans the same company through reorganization.  The sooner your embrace that, the sooner you’ll get ahead.

I’ll admit it, part of why I’m writing this is because I’m re-evaluating my own personal career path.  I’ve had good experiences and had success in progressing through my own career path.  I’ve recently left one company and gone to another.  So with that, I need to re-consider where I want to go and the skills needed to get there. Everyone can and should do that periodically whether they are 20 or 60. While the specifics may be different, the process is basically the same.

While it does take some time, effort and research, you too can Create your own career path.  In fact, I recently interviewed someone who is doing just that: I was asked to interview a young college graduate to see if there was a match to a job we were offering.  Unfortunately, the job needed more experience than the person had at the time.  However, I spent some time talking with him about a personal career path.

This person is skilled in his field and demonstrated that skill through high-school.  Taking the recommendations of school’s guidance counselor, the student selected the appropriate major that was a skill-match.  Through college, the student did well and generally liked the major. However, towards the end of college, the student was given a look at the job(s) that graduates from that major typically receive.  That’s where it went bad.  The student really didn’t like these kinds of jobs.  The problem at hand, was what to do next?  Go back to school for a different degree?  Take a job that the student didn’t like and hope for the best?

I talked to the student (now graduate) about looking to generalize the skills developed in college and apply the fundamentals to a new career path.  Come to find out, this person was interested in data and databases.  Ok, now we have something to work with!  The person worked through a basic SQL class and then quickly moved into the intermediate SQL class.  I encouraged the person to continue along the path by learning as much as possible about databases.  Fortunately, there are many, many on-line options for this.  Voila, the person went from no job prospects at all to opening up a new world of possibilities.  I can’t wait to see how this young person does in their career.


Veteran technology professional and manager

Posted in Career

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