A career track is important to develop. When I join a company, like everyone else I am very excited and prepared to focus on building myself to move ahead. I think long and hard about my career track. Both my employer and I need to benefit from the relationship.
However, before I can start discussing my planned career track with my boss, I need to show my employer that I am excellent in my current position and due to the excellence in my current position I have permission to start thinking about and planning my career.
Jane’s Career Track
Let me give you an example. Jane is a 29 year old business analyst at a paper company. Jane is a public certified accountant and holds an MBA. She is bright, ambitious and well liked by her colleagues. Jane arrives at work promptly at 8:30am every day and leaves at 6:30pm. She is a great colleague and her co-workers like socialising with her. Jane has been an analyst for 6 months and is desperately trying to have a conversation with her manager, Karl, about moving ahead to the next level. Karl politely sidesteps these discussions and simply tells Jane she needs more experience. Jane is puzzled and keeps pressing the issue. She believes her career is on track to be Karl’s “lieutenant” in the department.
To Karl Jane is good at her work but not great. He still needs to check and sign-off all her work. She is not creative enough. While her work is good she is usually at her best when she knows what needs to happen and “disappears” for 1 to 2 weeks to complete the assignment.
To Karl Jane needs to have better attention to detail, she needs to be more creative and understand the business better. In Karl’s opinion, Jane does not act as if she is a senior business analyst and therefore does not yet have his permission to start transitioning her career to the next level. To Karl, she needs to focus on being better in her current role first. If anything,
Lessons for Jane
Jane should sit down with Karl and understand his expectations of her.
Jane must distinguish between explicit (“complete the businesses cases on each product launch, review the material for the management meeting etc”) and implicit expectations (“the team has been down recently so we hope to inject some confidence with your arrival, the analysts and marketers do not get along so I hope you can help us bridge that gap etc”).
Understand what is most important to Karl and the business.
The expectations must be clear to Jane, and where possible, be measurable and have milestones.
Jane should also discuss with Karl her expectations of working with Karl. What support, guidance, and feedback she needs.
They must agree to proper feedback meetings at regular intervals and after each major piece of work is completed. They should also agree to a performance discussion every 3 months.
This is important, Jane must determine at which point Karl will be open to discussing her career progression. It is important to note that not all companies have formal career paths, so it is not a bad idea to be proactive.
Once this meeting is over, it is best to transcribe the discussion and send an email to Karl for his records. Jane must keep the email friendly but specific. Many people forget discussions. Capturing key discussion points protects both Jane and Karl.
How should Jane use this discussion with Karl?
Over the first six months of her job Jane must be laser-like focused in ensuring she is meeting Karl’s agreed on expectations of her. Her objective now is not to focus on her distant career track, but to make sure she excels in current role. Jane must document her progress and where possible have tangible evidence of her successes.
Three months after the expectations discussion, she should arrange a discussion with Karl to discuss performance. Prior to such meeting it will be helpful if Jane summarizes her performance on a single piece of paper.
Jane’s objective in this meeting will be to determine if she is meeting or exceeding Karl’s expectations. She needs to gain clear and constructive feedback. Jane should probe for examples and areas of improvement. If this first feedback meeting will not go well, then Jane needs to buckle down and fix those problems.
If it will go well, Jane then needs to focus over the next 3 months on fixing any small development areas. In these next 3 months Jane must start acting as if she is at the next level. Now she can start thinking about her career track.
She should be careful not to overstep her authority, but must use every opportunity to show she is already at the next level. For example, if the next level requires liaising directly with clients, should that opportunity present itself, Jane should engage a client and build a good relationship for the company.
If Jane does this well, then in Karl’s mind she is exceeding expectations in her current role, shows ambition and accountability, and he will likely be open to discuss her career plans. Karl will himself start thinking about Jane’s career track. He will not want to lose a talented employee and may even initiate the discussion himself.
This is a more effective way to progress in a company. Ensure you have the implicit permission of your manager to start thinking about the next level of your career track, and start acting as if you are already at the next level. Yet before you can do this, you must over deliver in your current role. No one wants to promote an employee who cannot perform in their current role, to a more senior role.