Managing your career: knowing when it’s time to move on

Experience has shown that commercial enterprises have no problem parting ways with employees whose skills and experience are no longer relevant to their firm’s needs. Professionals should be equally cold and calculating.

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A new year is always a good time to take stock of your recent professional accomplishments and conduct an annual performance evaluation of your employer. Your employer evaluates your performance every year and you should return the favor, specifically assessing the degree to which your employer has provided the opportunity to expand your skills and experience in ways that promote your career advancement.

Nobody knows your career goals better than you — not even your employer. January is the perfect time to look backward and determine if you’ve progressed in ways that promote your employability in the roles you envision for yourself in the future. 

Create your own report card

Almost everyone seeks to expand the scope of their work-related responsibilities over the course of their career. Most professionals aspire to have progressively larger impacts on the organizations that employ them, and they expect commensurate rewards as a result. Irrespective of the specific roles that individuals seek to hold in the future, they inevitably need to expand their 1) technical knowledge, 2) business experience and 3) ability to work constructively with others, both within and outside their companies. These are the three major maturity indices that every ambitious IT professional should use to assess the development of his or her career. 

As we begin 2018, I’d suggest looking back at 2017 and assigning a grade to your personal development along each of these dimensions during the past twelve months. You should file your personal report card away in a safe place where it can be readily consulted.  (Personally, I store mine in my sock drawer. It can be easy to misfile documents at home, but I never lose track of anything there!) Here are a few questions to guide you through this grading exercise.

1. Did my technical knowledge or skills expand in some way over the past year?

In some instances, you may have developed proficiency in entirely new technologies. In other instances, you may have developed a deeper level of expertise in the use of technologies you’ve employed in the past. Technical expertise isn’t solely based on the use of new tools or systems. The engineering processes used to code, test, certify, maintain and secure software systems are constantly changing — are you at the leading edge of those changes, or trailing behind? Cloud, mobile, big data, artificial intelligence and information security technologies are being leveraged in new and different ways in almost every business. Were you at the forefront of introducing these technologies to your company? If yes, then you should assign yourself a grade your parents would be proud of.

2. Did I learn more about how our business operates?

Business experience comes in many different forms as well. It may be acquired by supporting different operating divisions or functional groups within your company.  Perhaps you’ve historically supported the sales organization and had an opportunity to work with channel partners over the past year. Or maybe you expanded your business knowledge through cross-functional projects between marketing and sales, or manufacturing and distribution. Merger and acquisition projects can provide unique insight into the business operations of other companies as well. It’s always instructive to learn how another company has implemented many of the same business processes employed in your company. Inevitably, there are best practices that can be transferred in one direction or the other. All too often IT professionals sidestep opportunities to learn more about how the business operates by focusing myopically on implementing new IT capabilities in strict compliance with the instructions provided by their business partners. But if you’ve expanded your knowledge of business operations in the past year, you’ve definitely increased your business value – either to your current employer or a future one!

3. Did I learn to work more constructively with other people?

Almost without exception, the only way an individual can have a broader impact on his company or organization is to work effectively with and through other people. (OK, if you’re a genius or a celebrity this may not necessarily be the case, but for most mere mortals, the inability to work with others can be extremely career-limiting!) Expanding your ability to influence, direct, lead and inspire others isn’t necessarily dependent upon the number of people you directly manage. Experience in managing consultants or contractors; negotiating with vendors; participating on cross-functional or cross-divisional teams; working with colleagues in multiple time zones; dealing with customers, partners or suppliers; or leading virtual teams are all legitimate ways of refining your people management and leadership skills.

Now it’s time to construct your report card. Reflect on your personal work-related activities and accomplishments over the past year along the three dimensions outlined above. Assign an A grade if you feel that you were given opportunities to significantly expand or develop your maturity along each dimension.  Give yourself a B if you made only marginal progress. Go with a C if you feel there was little or no progress. And finally, reserve the D grade for situations in which your development was curtailed, possibly through a contraction in your role and responsibilities. 

The test is simple. Compare this year’s report card with the one at the bottom or your sock drawer from last year. If your marks haven’t improved — or in fact become worse — then it’s time to move on!

Grades, schmades — where’s my promotion?

It’s not uncommon for individuals to visibly achieve substantial improvements in their technical, business and people maturity on a year over year basis, and yet fail to be promoted into new, broader roles. Hard work and professional maturity are necessary but not sufficient conditions for career advancement. Your employer has to hold up their end of the bargain as well. It’s your employer’s responsibility to expand the revenues and profitability of your company and, in the process, create more advancement opportunities for you.

IT professionals need to objectively assess the ability of their companies to provide the career opportunities they are seeking. Advancement can only occur when hard work and tangible accomplishments meet new opportunities. Otherwise, you’re trapped in a professional black hole waiting for the senior members of your organization to relocate, retire or die!

Experience has shown that commercial enterprises have no problem parting ways with employees whose skills and experience are no longer relevant to their firm’s needs. Professionals should be equally cold and calculating in assessing the extent to which their current employer is advancing or stymying their career prospects. If you have not been able to expand your technical, business or people maturity in the roles you’ve been given in the past, or if your company is not succeeding as a growing, profitable business, it’s likely time to make a move. Whatever the outcome, you’ll have your sock drawer grades to back up your decision.

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