Why You Should Ditch Your 10-Year Career Plan Right Now

6 min. read

The majority of Americans are not excited about going to work each day. In fact, fifty-one percent of our country’s full-time workforce doesn’t feel engaged at work. And sixteen percent actually resent their jobs or employers.

At some point in your career, you may have felt this way, too. Maybe you feel this way right now. The good news is, you can take steps to ensure you won't regret your next job, and you can plan ahead so that you never find yourself in this position again.

You don’t need a ten-year plan, but you do need to be smart about every move you make when it comes to your career. We consulted several Boston professionals who’ve built great momentum, and got their advice on planning a path that is fulfilling, enjoyable, and rewarding.

1. Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover

When many people consider their next career move, they focused on landing a better job title. But as you think about where you may go next, there are a few other factors to keep in mind to ensure you don’t discount a perfectly good opportunity.

First, you need to understand how your industry is structured. Industries that have been around for a while (e.g. finance) may have very clear-cut career paths and job titles, but newer and rapidly growing industries (e.g. technology) often have less defined career paths and less cohesion with job titles. This is all to say that the job title isn’t everything.

If the career progression in your industry isn't as defined, you’ll want to focus on the responsibilities of roles you’re considering over the title itself. For example, an associate at one company who is involved in customer interactions and strategic planning might actually be getting more experience than someone working at another company in a managerial position — if they’re given less challenging work. So long as the role is more challenging and interesting than your current or previous one, you can consider that a good career move.

Next, you need to know how your organization (and others you’re considering working for) defines various roles and career paths. Especially for newer companies and startups, job titles may not mean as much since everyone has to wear a lot of hats. Again, in this case, focus on the responsibilities and opportunities of a role over its title. 

2. Identify and Fill Your Resume Gaps

As you start looking at job descriptions, naturally you’ll want to know if you’re qualified enough for the position. Dan Baptiste, vice president of brand partnerships at Skyword, Inc. says that any time you’re thinking about making a move — and ideally well before that — you should look at a variety of job descriptions to identify any gaps that can be filled with additional training or education:

“If you’re looking at job postings and there’s a consistent skill or experience you’re missing, you’ll know what to work on, even if it has nothing to do with your current job.”

Let’s say you’re in marketing, and you notice that the openings you’re gravitating towards require event planning experience. While you may not have that responsibility  in your current role, here are several  ways to get around it:

  • Find a local organization or nonprofit that needs event volunteers
  • Organize your own local meetup
  • Pick up a side job or internship where you can get event planning experience

The sooner you set your eyes on the type of job you want next, the sooner you can identify skill gaps and begin working on them. That way, when the time is right to move on from your current job and apply to new ones, your resume will align nicely with what employers are looking for.

3. Find Companies With Career Advancement Potential

You have one of two options as you plan your next career move:

  • Jump to another company
  • Work your way up at the same company

While some people enjoy moving from company to company to keep things fresh and new, job hopping is not for everyone — and it can be exhausting. Before you jump ship, it’s worth enquiring whether your current employer offers opportunities for growth. If you are a manager today, is there an opportunity to move to a director role a few years down the road? If the answer is no, make sure any future employers offer the chance to advance through the ranks.

Gwen Betts, director of customer experience at Komand, said that what led her to the company was the growth potential:

“I wanted to make sure the company had a career progression for me so that I would know where I was headed. Komand offered me growth as a director, and in a few years’ time, I’ll be on track to be a vice president. I have a clear incentive to work hard and earn that role."

Especially if you see yourself at a company for the long haul, don’t be afraid to voice your intention to grow with them. Dan says that when he began his career in a sales role at CBS Radio, “Right away I communicated to the leadership team that I wanted to be in management one day. I told them, ‘When this role opens up, I want to be considered for it, so what do I need to do and what skills do I need to develop in order to be ready for that day?’”

Over time, Dan was given more responsibilities, and given the opportunity to work on strategic projects. He shares, “I continuously asked for more work and to be taught what I needed to know to be my best.” By being intentional and driven, he was able to work his way up from account executive to retail sales manager at CBS Radio over the course of just a few years.

“Say to yourself, ‘This is what I have to offer and it would have gone untapped or unnoticed by my former employer.’” This strategy will help you move on from the past and land a more fulfilling position.  

4. Be Open to Horizontal Moves

If you’re early on in your career, or considering a major change in focus, a new job may not always mean a vertical move. Sometimes you need to move horizontally to get the experience you need. Gwen says that if your goal is to be in marketing, for example, but you’re having a hard time breaking into a marketing role:

“Begin in customer support, so that you can learn to work with and understand customers. The job functions are complementary, and just because you start in one area doesn’t mean you can’t work your way into another.”

This advice applies to just about every role. If you can’t break in right away, find a related role so that you can work your way into your ideal one.

Especially if you’re changing industries or job categories, the role you move into may not be a move up, and that is okay.

“You could be starting a new path in sales, so even if you’re 30 years old, you may need to start off as a junior salesperson to get experience,” says Mila Hadzhiracheva, territory development associate at Starry, Inc. “When making a transition like that, understand that you may need to start at the beginning in order to work your way up.”

If the industry or role is one you could see yourself in long-term, this can be a sound strategy. 

5. Maintain Your Network

As a hiring platform built around referrals, you can bet we see the value in having a strong network. While you may hustle to make connections when you’re on the lookout for new opportunities, it can be all too easy to let your professional network fall by the wayside when you’re not actively looking for a job anymore. “It’s so easy to lose, but also really easy to maintain,” says Sam Feldman, product marketing manager at Trello. “People just don’t think to do it.”

One way to easily maintain your network is by making a point of checking in with former managers a few times a year. “Send them an email once in awhile to let them know what you’re up to,” Sam recommends. 

Another way to maintain your network is by reaching out to old co-workers or friends both inside and outside your industry on a monthly basis. “Grab coffee with these people — you never know who is going to end up where,” Sam says. And, of course, if you have a mentor, make it a point to keep in touch with them regularly as well.

Pro Tip:

One of the easiest ways to keep on top of your network is by creating a contact spreadsheet. While this may seem like overkill, it’s an easy project that will serve you for the rest of your career. This spreadsheet should include:

  • All current and former connections you want to maintain
  • Their email addresses and/or phone numbers
  • The last time you chatted with them
  • Ways in which they may be able to help you
  • How you can help them, too (make sure you’re delivering value to them in return!)

Designing Your Career Path

There are many ways to get where you want to go in your career, and finding the right path is an exciting (sometimes daunting) challenge. Knowing what you need to do to get to your ideal role is one part of the equation, and the other is to embrace the process.

Each day, make a point of learning something new, challenging yourself, and only putting forth your best work. This will pay dividends in the long-run as you prove to yourself and your colleagues what you’re capable of, and the options for where you go next will be yours for the taking.

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