Five Tips for Achieving Your Career Goals
Where we are today in our careers is rarely where we want to be tomorrow. Most of us expect progression in our careers. We seek challenge, promotion, new responsibility and reward. In the IT industry, it is accepted that earning certifications helps to open opportunity’s door. Yet with more than 300 IT certifications and the constantly shifting economic conditions, how do we make effective career choices? This article provides practical tips on staying ahead of the career curve.
Tip 1: Re-examine Your Career Goals
We recommend re-examining career goals every six months. We are not saying that your career goals will necessarily change, but the “re-examination process” will help keep you fresh and on track. Twice a year, spend a few quiet hours thinking about emerging technology and changing market trends. Surf the Web. Pick up those trade magazines that you have been meaning to read.
Also, look within yourself. Do you still have the passion and desire to pursue your long-term goals? If need be, tweak your goals based on what you find. Making frequent corrections helps to adjust for wind-drift and ultimately will keep you heading in the right direction. Even if goals change, you will be moving forward in tight formation with the environment and your own evolving aspirations. To get a practical sense of your level of interest in a new direction or area, consider volunteering for a related project at work or taking a course at your local college or training center.
Tip 2: Keep Your Passion Alive by Dealing with the Fundamentals
There are three fundamental aspects of a successful IT career that will never change.
- ·A genuine desire to be involved in the industry.
- ·The ability to deal with stress.
- ·Becoming a lifelong learner.
As you assess where you are in your career, determine whether you still have a passion for it. If your desire seems to be cooling, try to re-establish a connection with what got you into the field in the first place. We all feel burned out and low at times. This is natural. It is important at these stages to ask, “Why?” The answer or answers can help lead us toward specific actions that rejuvenate and reinvigorate. It is passion that leads us forward toward new goals and excitement about fresh challenges. Keep the fires of your passion stoked. It takes work. But it is worth the effort.
Working in IT is stressful. If the stress is wearing you down and sapping your passion, look for ways to deal with it effectively. The IT business is like a roller coaster. The job is fast-paced with lots of quick turns, surprises, highs and lows. Each of us would benefit from finding ways of transforming our naturally negative reaction to stress into something positive—like the fun and excitement of a roller-coaster ride. This is not easy, but it is necessary.
Sometimes this means developing a new perspective within your existing job. For example, take time to attend a trade show in your area and propose a go-forward strategy on the new technologies you see; consider formally or informally serving as a mentor for new hires; or offer to become the de facto in-house “consultant” or specialist in a critical area.
Also, relax into the role of becoming a lifelong learner. We need to be prepared for taking certification tests the rest of our professional lives. In the same way that you develop strategies for dealing with stress, learn to embrace the rigors of learning and testing—even if you are happy at the job you are doing today and are proud of your certifications. You know at the deepest level of your mind that technology will change your job drastically over time or may even eliminate it. Stay ahead of the curve. Always have your next certification in mind.
Remember that lifelong learning is not limited only to traditional IT classes and self-study books. It also includes learning from work experience, keeping up with online journals and forums and even tinkering on projects at home. Simply asking your IT vendors and suppliers “Why?” can be effective. Try to figure out how the competition solves the same IT problem your team faces. These are equally valid ways of learning in the IT industry. Maintaining your desire for the business, coping with stress and engaging in lifelong learning are as much a part of achieving your career goals as applying for a new job or seeking the next promotion. These fundamentals apply to everyone, regardless of longevity in this profession.
Tip 3: Keep an Eye Peeled for Trends
During your six-month career re-examination, map your skills and experiences against current shortages and opportunities. This will help keep you informed about important trends. Take a six-month snapshot of the industry. Talk with people. Check out message boards and online communities. Look at the help wanted ads online and in your local newspaper. This can help you determine where the hot new job opportunities are and which certifications will help establish your credibility.
Industries have their ups and downs. Health care, manufacturing, insurance, banking, aviation and pharmaceuticals all have cycles. Do your homework to determine which are on the upswing and which are not. Perhaps you have always had an interest in a particular industry, and it is now on the rise. Good thing you saw the trend. No one is saying you have to rush out every six months and change jobs. What we are saying instead is to keep an eye on the trends and remain flexible.
As you look, also consider your own preferences. Newly formed industries tend to change the most since everything needs to be invented, established and standardized for the first time, and all at the same time. Is that you? Or do you prefer the more established, predictable routine found in more mature industries?
Trends occur not only within a business context but also within a technology context. We advise staying as current as you can on technology trends. For example, in the early 1990s two or three CNEs were needed to keep a robust network going. Now a business may be able to assign one person part-time to do the same job. The networks have become that much more automated. With the day-to-day demands of the job, it isn’t easy to find time to stay abreast of technology trends. But no one said an IT career would be easy. At points in our careers, we’ve advised IT professionals to spend at least an hour a day reading up on technology. Certainly that is hard to do, yet the rewards in your career can be profound. The worst thing one can do is to come in and work a job until it is gone. Don’t let that happen to you. Keep looking for clues and trends. They can be found everywhere in the work environment. What are people most excited about in terms of your new products and services? What are the teams in research and development working on? What is your customer satisfaction data saying? Which departments are hiring? Which new partners are coming online? Use these kinds of questions as part of an ongoing dialogue with those in your work environment.
Tip 4: Stay Flexible in Your Choice of Certifications
As you become wiser about yourself and where you want to go and as you stay on top of the trends, be flexible in your selection of your next certification. Try to avoid blindly following a path you set for yourself 12 or 24 months before.
Determine the success skills required of your next desired position. It’s possible these skills may not solely involve facts and figures, but in fact depend on newly acquired soft skills. Or you may find that the hard skills you thought were required have been replaced by others. Talk to people and find out what really matters in that position. Check out the various credentials that will help you move toward your goals. Do these accurately map to the job?
If doing this seems uncomfortable or even “risky,”