That is not an easy question to answer. After all, a new job can give you a higher salary, more authority, more responsibility, a better chance for advancement, even a better work environment. On the other hand, making a move for the wrong reason can lead you down a treacherous path and away from your ultimate goal.
Consider the stories of two train customers. Their names are changed, but their stories are true. Jim Peters dreamed of becoming a sales manager for a national construction company. Having spent five years as a salesperson for a Georgia-based construction company, he thinks it’s time to move on. You feel underpaid and don’t see room to move forward. After talking quietly with a few local firms (who are hiring sales people with your level of experience), you accept a higher-paying job at an architecture firm.
Four years later, Jim is ready to move in again. While you enjoy your boss, the job is more difficult than your previous job and the chances of advancement are nonexistent. What’s worse, the 10% raise Jim designed by changing jobs was also paid to his successor at his old construction sales job.
Given his disenchantment with architectural sales, Jim opts to return to construction sales. Learning that Washington, DC is one of the most popular construction markets, Jim begins looking there. But no company is willing to raise their salary because their architectural sales experience is premium. A company offers a job without a salary increase. Jim agrees, rationalizing that there will be a chance to move on later. Jim moves to Washington. But the disappointment comes a few years later when his long-awaited rise doesn’t materialize. Jim eventually buys a fast food franchise with his brother-in-law.
Bill Doyle, a civil engineering student with the highest academic honors, dreams of leading a design team for one of the leading national engineering firms that designs luxury hotels. But no civil engineering company hires at your university. Your resumes do not generate interviews from your target employers. Instead, upon graduation, you accept an offer from a local power company.
Three years later, Bill learns of the exceptional salaries civil engineers are earning in the Texas oil fields. This time, sending a resume produces an offer and a 25% salary increase with a major oil company. Bill dicks. Five years later, the oil crash hits and Bill is fired. After six months of searching, he finds a job designing pulp and paper plants with a 20% pay cut. Eventually, Bill finds his way back to hotel design, as an individual designer, not a Manager, for a rather boring national hotel chain.
Unfortunately, both Jim and Bill made fundamental and common mistakes. They were willing to trade jobs for better offers, but their moves never moved them toward their ultimate career goals. The end result was a lot of movement that did not lead to the desired destination.
Don’t let the same happen with your career goals. With basic career planning, you can find the right jobs and know when to accept the right offers.
The following career planning method uses simple common sense. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity. The difficulty comes in the execution. You will need discipline, self-assessment, and commitment.
A secure two-step plan
My advice comes down to two points: adopt a career goal and then develop plans to execute it. These two steps allow you, not the destination, to control your progress.
Your career goal should be a specific position within a specific industry (i.e., you may want to be an executive editor for a technical publishing company or chief engineer for a major auto parts manufacturer).
Your work plan will have two elements. Your long-term plan will be a list of all the jobs you must have to reach your career goal. This plan should include not only the job titles, but all the skills and experience required for each position. Your short-term work plan will list the skills and experience necessary to move up to the next rung of the ladder.
For most of us, there are no shortcuts. With only one goal in mind, you can know when you have arrived. With just a plan, you can be sure that you will arrive on time, or will arrive on time.
To choose an appropriate goal, frankly evaluate your experience, skills, interests, strengths, weaknesses, enthusiasm, and aversions. If you find self-assessment difficult, ask a close friend for help or consult a professional counselor. Once you have a clear idea of how it works best, you can select a career lens that fits your character.
Try to get an idea of the daily reality of the position you aspire to. Research is paramount here. Spend time in the library. Read relevant books and magazines. Talk to executive recruiters. They know what it takes to thrive in a certain role. When you begin to clarify your goal, interview the people who have achieved it. Find out if you really want your responsibilities and your hard work. (Either way, it’s best to know beforehand.)
To start establishing your work plan, ask your role models how they got to their current positions. Plot your career histories and consider the composite output to be a very rough roadmap. You cannot follow their advice to the letter, because the career landscape always changes slightly. For example, foreign languages may become important as your business or industry becomes more international. You may need experience in a process or technology that did not exist when your mentors were in your stage.
So be sure to ask your role models two additional questions: What qualifications was your successor expected to have, and what knowledge did you lack, but wish you had, when you started this job? As you begin to see the path to your goal, interview the people who fill the positions on your path. The better you understand what to expect, the better you can meet the challenge.
When you’re ready to go ahead with your plan, time becomes of the essence. You should search for each new job as soon as you are ready to succeed in it. Moving before you have the skills and confidence can be disastrous for your career and your company. Also, there is no need to move too early or too high just because a rare opportunity comes prematurely. There are always opportunities for outstanding talents.
Similarly, there is no professional benefit to staying in your current job once you have prepared for another. Loyalty and stagnation are two different things. As soon as you are ready to take on more responsibilities, look for them. As you go, stay abreast of changes in your industry. Changes in regulations, technology and business conditions have the potential to alter both your route and your destination. Be flexible and regularly review your plans and goals.
Keep a high profile
Your reputation within an industry is very influential in obtaining interviews and securing new positions. Never assume that doing a good job is enough. It’s just a good start. The best way to build your reputation (and keep up with the job market) is to actively participate in a trade association. Serve on a committee in your area of interest, write articles for your group’s magazine, and agree to speak when invited. These initiatives publicize your commitment to your field.
Cultivate a network of successful people within your industry. Make it clear that you respect their achievements and want to emulate them. Most people will be flattered and happy to help. This network will provide an early warning of the best openings, which are rarely advertised.
If you have a choice, it is better to stay employed and learn about vacancies through your network than to quit your job and be a full-time detective. Your appeal as a successful employee is worth much more than overtime to buy.
To review, effective professional management requires a goal, a plan, and a good time. Choose a goal that is worthwhile but achievable. Develop a plan based on complete and up-to-date knowledge of the industry. Look for your next job as soon as you have the skill and confidence to move forward. Do these things well and consistently. You will realize your true professional potential.