Take charge of your career with these strategies for reaching long-term goals

In response to a member's personal experience, management expert Steven Watson provides advice for achieving management-level positions in the IT field.

A recent post in a TechRepublic discussion by Frustrated at Work focuses on an important issue that most employees face sometime during their careers: a lost promotion. Promotion or career advancement is a sensitive subject for people because it can have a significant impact on our sense of self-worth and pride as well as our economic well-being.

Frustrated said he was promised a promotion to manager by his supervisor but did not receive it due to "lack of experience." Frustrated's situation is compounded by a supervisor who makes promises but does not provide an explanation or guidance about what experience is needed for the promotion to be a future possibility.

Strategies for reaching long-term career goals

The reality of our current job market requires people to become more strategic and proactive in planning and managing their careers. Although Frustrated has some short-term issues to consider related to his current situation—like whether to trust his supervisor or begin to look for other opportunities—his successful career development will require longer-term thinking and planning. Here are some suggestions for Frustrated to consider in reaching his goal of becoming a manager:

Control your own destiny

Take control of your career planning. Evaluate and reevaluate where you want your career to go and what you need to do to get there. This is a dynamic process that requires sensitivity to trends in your chosen and related fields as well as the ability to take advantage of opportunities and challenges that will occur as time passes.

Identify specific skills you require

Work with your supervisor, human resource staff, or other senior staff to identify specific training or education required to reach your career goals. Many organizations offer such training and education to employees who wish to advance. If your organization does not offer such opportunities, you can look at local colleges and universities or professional organizations for certificate programs. Many are now offered on the Internet and can be completed at your own pace.

Advertise your goals

Let supervisors, higher-level managers, and others who could influence your ability to succeed in an organization know that you are committed to the organization and want to help it succeed. Prioritize the development of positive relationships with people, and build a reputation as being someone who is helpful and supportive of others.

Network for opportunities within your organization

Don't rely on the kindness or good intentions of a supervisor. Try to find ways to network with others in the organization by volunteering for projects that involve other areas of the organization or looking for people who can serve as mentors. Many organizations have formal mentoring programs that match senior managers or technicians with younger employees who have potential. If your organization does not have a formal mentoring program, look for opportunities to work with senior staff that you respect and who show an interest in you. You can also consider technical, professional, or community organizations that might offer some opportunities for networking with people who can help you.

Using these strategies

As an example of how using these strategies can help your career, consider the following scenario:

Debbie works for a midsize organization in the Midwest. She has about six years of experience in the IT field, three years as a technician and three years as a help desk coordinator where she currently works. When joining her organization, she had spoken to her supervisor about her goal of becoming a network administrator for a branch or division of the company. Her supervisor was supportive of her interest and implied that it was entirely possible for her to reach that goal someday.

Debbie was encouraged by her supervisor's supportive statements and worked very hard as the help desk coordinator, believing that it would lead to bigger and better things. However, over time Debbie began to feel frustrated and discouraged with her work. During the three years she had been with the company, she had been passed over for special projects and other assignments that she had requested and knew would have provided opportunities for her to show her management potential. When she approached her supervisor about not being chosen, he would state that she did not have sufficient experience with the company or did not have the specific skills needed for the assignment. Even though Debbie had worked as a technician for three years, she sensed that her supervisor did not value or acknowledge her technical abilities.

Debbie approached the human resources director for suggestions on how she could promote her career aspirations in the organization. He was very supportive and suggested that she enroll in training offered by the organization that helped younger employees plan out their career objectives. Debbie attended the training and was very impressed with the information she received. She also struck up a friendship with the instructor, who offered to spend some time mentoring her and helping her to identify career opportunities within the organization.

Debbie spoke to her supervisor about her interest in the mentoring opportunity. He was hesitant at first but, after speaking to the trainer, agreed to support the process. He even offered to spend some of his own time with Debbie discussing her specific career goals and how to reach them—something he had not done in the past. Although Debbie did not obtain immediate gratification regarding her interest in becoming a network administrator, she did create a process that greatly increased her chances of achieving her objectives in the future.

The moral of this story is that Debbie created her own opportunities by approaching the human resources director with her interest in building a career within the organization; following-up on his suggestion to take the training; striking up a friendship with the training instructor who saw potential in her; and using that relationship as leverage in gaining more support and attention from her supervisor.

Member suggestions

Frustrated received some helpful comments from other TechRepublic members regarding his dilemma, with most suggesting a change of work environment as the solution. For example, maxwell edison commented that "it may be time to update the old resume and seek the management position you desire elsewhere," while TomSal writes that it may be best to "go elsewhere if he is playing around with you on the promotion thing." Another theme in responses is to push for more information about what experience is needed in order for the promotion to occur. According to maxwell edison, Frustrated should "ask him to specify the exact experience he believes you are lacking," and Oz_Med asks if Frustrated had "asked the boss what specifically he feels you need to work on in order to qualify for management."

Join the discussion and offer your own advice

If you have some advice to offer Frustrated At Work, or if you'd just like to read the advice offered by other TechRepublic members, join the discussion.

These suggestions will certainly be things that Frustrated needs to consider. However, most career development professionals would point to the approach that Frustrated is taking toward his career as the real issue. Several decades ago, it was very common for people to accept entry positions in a corporation or business and then move upward in the organization's hierarchy as time passed. Unfortunately, the business environment has changed and requires new approaches to career development. Corporate mergers, downsizing trends, competition, and technology have nullified the assumption that people can count on building careers within specific organizations.

Further resources

Frustrated's concerns and frustration about not being promoted, despite his supervisor's promise, are very common. Most work environments are very competitive, so it is highly likely that all of us will be disappointed at times in regard to career opportunities. However, a focus on career process and not on specific outcomes helps to reduce frustration and also builds confidence in our ability to reach our goals eventually. The steps to a successful career process are:

  • Being proactive in identifying career goals.
  • Developing a plan of action that is flexible enough to adapt to new opportunities and challenges.
  • Building positive and trusting relationships among your coworkers.

If you would like to learn more about career development, I recommend The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Career You Want (And What to Do Once You Have It) by Karen O. Dowd and Sherrie Gong Taguchi, and How to Shine at Work by Linda R. Dominguez.

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