Where do you want to be, career-wise, in 1, 3, 5 or 10 years?
Is the position you are in at the moment helping you to reach that goal, or are you stagnating?
These are questions I think everyone should be asking themselves at least a couple of times a year.
Career Growth During Study
If you are studying for an undergrad degree or a PhD, this is quite simple to work out. If you started your course of study with a fairly clear idea about what you want to do when you get the degree, and chose your course accordingly, then you are moving in the right direction since you are growing your skills and knowledge every day and moving along the career path toward the next point you have planned.
If you have not planned in this way, it might be a good idea to do some serious thinking. Doing a degree or a PhD just because it’s the easiest option available – the line of least resistance – is not a good way to do things. Sure, if you put the effort in you will come out with a set of skills and shiny certificate to say how clever you are.
But if those skills don’t allow you to do what you really want to do, then it’s a waste of your time.
If you are in this position, you should think about making some adjustments to either
1. Your studies, by taking modules or additional courses that will give you the skills you need to do what you want.
2. Your career goals, by looking at the skills you will have at the end of your degree and working out whether there is a way to modify your career goals to fit those
3. Your course. Maybe your course is just taking you in completely the wrong direction, and if so the best option might be to cut your losses and move to a completely different course (or job) that is more in line with your goals.
Option 3 especially may seem very harsh but it’s just a case of being realistic about your goals and planning ahead. If you are not realistic then you will be faced with a worse option than quitting your course – the prospect of a career that you do not really want to do when your course is finished.
Career Growth While Working
Judging whether your career is moving in the right direction when you are working in a job is a bit more complicated than while studying, but it basically boils down to the same questions. Were do you want to be, and is this job helping you get it?
A real difficulty is that you can be lulled into a false sense of growth by measuring yourself by the standards of others, rather than your own career goals.
For example, your boss may be delighted in your progress if you are working diligently in the lab becoming better and better at a specific set of techniques each year. In this situation you are certainly growing in some ways since you are becoming better at your job, and so delivering more value to the company or group you are working for.
But are you growing in terms of your career? It depends on what your goals are, and on what else, other than lab techniques, you are learning.
If your career goal is to stay in that, or a similar, job for the rest of your working life and just get better and better at it, then you are doing just fine. You are growing in the direction of your goal.
But more likely, you will be looking to move toward a career that requires additional skills such as different lab techniques, management, presenting, writing, negotiating or whatever.
The question is, are you growing in these areas in your current job? If not, is there a way for you do so, like taking on extra responsibilities, training or a new post?
If the answer is “no” then it is time to consider moving on, especially if you feel like you have plateaued in the skills that you actually are learning.
Like quitting studies that are not right for you, this can be a big decision, but if you postpone making the decision for too long you are only wasting your own time, so it is definitely best to be brave and ruthless.
Moving the goalposts
One final thing to consider is that your career goals should evolve as you move through your career. You can only really plan a certain amount of time ahead, maybe 3-5 years, in my opinion, so continuous re-evaluation of your goals is essential.
So how about you, are you growing in your career?