Choosing Your Path to Career Success This article encourages you to have an open mind when it comes to career direction. For many, the right career choice might not always involve a promotion. For instance, by moving laterally to a position at the same level as your current job, you may be Choosing Your Path to CAREER SUCCESS TWO ROADS DIVERGED IN A WOOD, AND I I TOOK THE ONE LESS TRAVELED BY AND THAT HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. These famous lines are from Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken." In just 21 words, Frost captures the importance and value of the choices we make in life. And in today's world, few choices are more important than those we make regarding our careers. In the past, employers took care of managing career development for us. Opportunities were largely pre-determined and somewhat out of our control. But over the past 10 years, the employment contract has changed. As a result, we now have a unique chance to control our career destiny and choose the status, pay, flexibility, and work environment important to us. Are you ready to take the road less traveled? You have more career options from which to choose than ever before. If you're willing to take control, you will find the path that leads you to career success. KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING Before you take a big vacation, what's the first thing you do? Pack the car? Cancel the newspaper? More likely, the first thing you do is to determine where you want to go. Planning your career is very much like planning a vacation. You start by setting your destination. You can go wherever you want, as long as you have the capacity to learn the skills to get there. More than anything else, your destination is based on personal preferences. It's important to keep in mind that position and pay are not the only important job goals. Here are a few other factors to consider: Interests. You may be excellent with numbers, but if you don't like your current job as a bookkeeper, then you probably shouldn't become a Certified Public Accountant. You'll be happier and more successful if you're working in a profession that interests you. Lifestyle. Aiming to become President of a company is not a good idea if you desire a 9:00 to 5:00 job. A healthy work/life balance is critical, but it is also subjective. Make sure the career goals you choose allow you to maintain your personal balance. Career Stage. If you're a seasoned and successful executive assistant for a manufacturing firm, it may be unrealistic to choose dentistry as a career field. When setting your goals, compare the time and effort it will take to achieve them with the time and effort you're willing or able to give. Ambition. As a motivated young lawyer, you may not be happy in a conservative law firm that awards promotions and salary increases based on time served. Make sure your employer can keep up with the pace you set for your career development. Remember that no career goal is a bad one, as long as you've considered all of the issues that are important to you. Your local library has many books that can help you investigate the world of work and clarify your personal goals and desires. Co-workers, managers, and staffing firms can also offer great advice and direction. The more digging you do, the more likely you'll discover work trends to help shape your decision. And you'll be in a better position to define your version of career success. "If You Don't Know Where You're Going, Any Path Will Take You There!" KNOW HOW TO GET THERE If you're driving on your vacation, you study a map to find ways to reach your destination. Your choices include the shortest route, the fastest route, or the most scenic route. Likewise, there are many different paths you can take for reaching your career goals. By identifying more than one way to achieve your goals, you'll be better prepared to overcome the obstacles that arise. The idea of multiple paths to career goals is a relatively new concept. Everyone is used to referring to advancement as "moving up the ladder." Yet there are several compelling reasons to view career mobility from a broader perspective: 1. Technological advances are allowing companies to do more work with less personnel. Career paths change or disappear altogether as computers become more advanced. 2. The current trend of organizational flattening means fewer opportunities exist for people to move up a traditional career ladder. 3. Outsourcing, the increasingly popular practice of giving non-essential functions to external contractors, creates more opportunity as the number of specialty firms and temporary work assignments increase. By taking a broad view of career development, you have a better chance of successfully reaching your goals. UP IS NOT THE ONLY WAY Career advancement and fulfillment doesn't have to come from moving "up." In fact, there are at least five other moves that can help you achieve your career objectives. Moving to the Side Lateral movement involves a change in jobs but not necessarily a change in pay, status, or level of responsibility. It can broaden your knowledge base and skill set. It can also help you add contacts and gain perspectives you would not necessarily acquire by moving along a traditional upward path. And keep in mind that a lateral move today may well increase your chances of moving up tomorrow. For example, you may decide to move laterally from a static department to one that's poised for growth. Moving in Place To revitalize interest in your current job assignment, consider taking on more responsibility. One of the best ways to develop in your current position is to take on a visible job that no one else wants to do. Take charge of a company-sponsored charity event, or organize your annual sales seminar. Growing in place enables you to learn important skills and build more productive relationships with colleagues and customers. And broadening your current position will not only energize your work; it will bring you closer to achieving your future career goals. Moving Through Uncertainty You may need time to rediscover the career choices available to you. In such instances, take the opportunity to explore other jobs that match your skills, interests, and values. Accept a temporary assignment, participate on a project team, or set up informational interviews. The more you explore, the better position you'll be in to decide your career direction. Moving Downward Don't dismiss this option as a "kiss of death!" In fact, moving downward is becoming more commonplace and accepted. If you're a technical manager, it may make sense to move downward if you need to re-develop your technical skills. If you're interested in becoming a manager, you may move downward temporarily to learn an essential facet of the business. You may also choose downward realignment to integrate work demands with other priorities, such as further education or a more comfortable work/life balance. Moving Out Your best option may be to move somewhere else. Sometimes, a current employer doesn't have an available position for you, or they may not be able to help you reach your new goals. In these cases, consider working for another organization where you can perform to your highest potential. Or take an entrepreneurial path that allows you to shape your career goals freely. CAPTAIN YOUR OWN CAREER SHIP The advantages of managing your own career is one of the strongest messages for the new millennium. So take stock of all the career advancement avenues open to you. As you begin to explore these options, keep in mind that you attain career success through decisions that bring you the greatest challenge, eaning, and reward. By looking at success from this angle, up is definitely not the only way! Use a Staffing Firm to Explore Career Paths You've completed an inventory of your skills and identified a potential career choice. Now what? Often, companies are reluctant to hire people for direct positions with no immediate experience. You yourself may not want to make such a far-reaching commitment. A staffing firm can provide detailed descriptions of specific and available career positions that suit your needs. It can also offer you "try before you buy" career options. Temporary assignments can give you the opportunity to work in a new career field and gain valuable work experience without making a long-term obligation. Likewise, temporary-to-direct hire assignments allow you to "try out" a new position as a temporary employee. If you are successful and happy on the assignment, the employer may offer you a position working directly for the company on your chosen career path. This article was adapted from Up Is Not The Only Way, written by career development expert Dr. Beverly Kaye. For more information about Dr. Kaye, the book, career tools and instruments, or available consulting services, you can visit the Web site at www.careersystemsintl.com or call (800) 577-6916.