December 14, 2010
By Pamela Williams, CAE
Does it seem as though your once-promising career has come to a grinding halt? If so, you’re not alone. Many talented people reach periods when they seem stuck, like a car in a roadside ditch, while plum promotions and career-advancing assignments pass them by. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get out of a rut and back on the road to success. I called upon CTHRA’s community of HR professionals to share some tips and advice.
If work advancements aren’t coming your way as they used to do, it’s unlikely you unwittingly committed some professional faux pas that has sabotaged your career. More likely, the reason is that you’ve simply stopped seeing—and reaching for—opportunities that are around you. In the words of Rosalind Carter, AETN svp, human resources: “People often become comfortable and confident, even complacent. It is important to evaluate and refresh how you present yourself. Try to be that individual who is constantly in touch with business challenges while exploring and offering solutions and using new technology, processes and approaches. Don’t rest on your prior successes. Make sure you have done something of note recently, rather than simply getting the job done.”
Once you’ve realized that your lack of movement stems not from anything you’ve done, but potentially what you haven’t done, Carter advises it’s time for the next step: “Tap internal resources to learn more about career paths and ask for a perspective on what may be needed in order to be seen as a competitive candidate for the position. Look at criteria listed for jobs posted both internally and externally and determine how your experience compares.”
Get the Show on the Road
Putting yourself on the fast track for a promotion may simply be a matter of showcasing your skills and abilities in a new light. According to greenlightjobs pres/CEO Lisa Kaye, "take the initiative on projects, volunteer for new work groups, spearhead new corporate initiatives, find a way to innovate and make the company money, align yourself with high-achievers in the organization. Above all, don’t be afraid to stand out.”
To really kick your career into high gear, look for a chance to relocate or take a temporary assignment, perhaps overseas, in the field, or with a vendor. As was noted in a recent CTHRA article, many companies are expanding internationally (click here to read that article
), thus increasing opportunities to gain experience outside of the country. While it may be inconvenient or may not result in an increase in earnings in the short term, the payoff can be significant. Says Comcast Cable svp, human resources William J.T. Strahan: "In the long term, you will be the person who is different, who has the unique experience, who answered duty’s call when the company needed you. During tough times like these, there are always business units that need fixing. Be the first to volunteer and know that you’re building good career karma.”
Examine and Conquer
Sometimes, advancing a lagging career is not as simple as throwing off complacency and leaping into the spotlight. It may take what AETN’s Carter calls a full self-evaluation. She encourages career climbers to ask themselves these questions: Do I have the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities for the next step? Do I have or am I developing the necessary support system?
A network will not only alert you to new opportunities, but also help you evaluate the appropriateness of your experience and provide recommendations. If you find that you lack some of the skills or knowledge necessary for the next rung on your career ladder, do everything you can, formally and informally, to acquire them. That may entail earning a formal degree or professional certification. Lisa Kaye of greenlightjobs cites a colleague who started out as an administrative assistant in the entertainment industry during a robust job market. Kaye recounts, “Instead of ‘working her way up the ladder’ like many of her peers, she quit her job and went back to school, earned her Masters degree and re-entered the job market a few years later at a much higher level than she had left. Ten years later, she is a senior vice president of corporate communications at a major media company.”
A return to campus isn’t necessary for everyone. Simply taking advantage of internal training or developmental assignments may be all you need to give your skills set a boost. Volunteering to work on a project or filling in during staffing shortages or peak work periods is also an excellent way to acquire new skills.
Beyond providing qualifications needed for your next job, seizing learning opportunities wherever you find them will give you another feather in your career cap. Cablevision svp, compensation and benefits Mike Butler notes that “aside from the specific knowledge you gain or skills you acquire or hone, demonstrating curiosity, initiative and eagerness to improve will land you a prime spot on management’s radar screen.”
Step Back to Leap Forward
What if your honest self-evaluation revealed that you’re not really crazy about the work you do? Maybe you come in every morning and do everything that’s asked of you to the best of your ability, but your heart just isn’t in it. In that case, your best move may be a career change. According to Comcast’s Strahan, “If you are sincerely emotionally invested in your work, that fact will come through in the quality of your contribution to the organization. Engaged people simply perform better. The concept of loving your work is coupled with the decision to choose a business that genuinely appeals to you. If you are not in love with media/telecom, but feel you can’t possibly start over elsewhere, look for another type of work within this industry that you would enjoy more. That may entail taking a short step back at first, but ultimately the combination of engagement and diversified experience will pay off personally, professionally and financially.”
It is typically easier to make a transition to another area in your current organization when you have demonstrated success, are respected and have the support of your management. It has to be clear that you have a commitment to the company, but are in need of new direction personally.
The bottom line is that there are an abundance of effective tactics to put your stalled career on the road again. As Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
Pamela Williams, CAE, is Executive Director of the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association (CTHRA).