“Career-pathing” is a term that refers to the process through which employers and employees partner to help the employee envision career advancement and understand the skills, training, education, and experience they need to reach career goals and milestones within the organization.
Even though 59 percent of millennials, 44 percent of Gen-Xers, and 41 percent of baby boomers rate professional career growth and developmental opportunities as important to them when looking for a job, many employers do not have a career pathing process for their employees. But, it’s not all bad news. Career-pathing programs have been criticized lately for failing to take into account competencies needed for a given path and for seeming to promise employees opportunities that aren’t likely to come to fruition (due to rapid change and flattened organizational hierarchies).
“A reliable path rarely exists,” writes Kim Allen, CEO of AllenVision, blaming “restructuring, mergers, layoffs, outsourcing, robots, and artificial intelligence.” The dramatic workplace shifts wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic will also likely exacerbate the difficulties of career pathing.
These downside force individuals to develop their own career pathing process. And, experts agree, vital to a successful career pathing framework are relationships, conversations, and opportunities. Communicating with others and building relationships are cornerstones to the career-pathing process we recommend:
Look beyond your current organization.
As we’ve learned, reliable paths in the organization may be elusive as the organization responds to change. So, instead of plotting a linear path, Giulioni recommends considering “dynamic constellations of possibilities” that include organizations beyond your current employer. She also suggests preparing for a pivot if changing conditions appear to be an obstacle to your goals. We’re in the age of the “boundary-less career,” in which workers move within and between employers and take control of their own career development. And, the boundaries of geography that once constrained careers are rapidly falling away as more and more organizations offer remote work options.
Talk to as many people as you can, and prioritize those in roles that interest you. Informational interviews and job shadowing are effective techniques for this type of deep-dive into career options. “Without proactive research and conversations with leaders,” Allen writes, “it is [impossible] to be aware of the possibilities.”
Build your advisory board
Identify a mentor, recruit a personal advisory board or a find sponsor within the organization who will advocate on your behalf. If you believe you can meet your goals within your current organization, bring your mentor, sponsor, or current supervisor in on the conversation, and share your perspective, using persuasive, compelling language. Just because they’ve never seen you in that role, doesn’t mean they won’t!
Fill competency gaps
Frequently, upskilling will be necessary to land the job you seek. Spending time pursuing courses, training, certification, or even a degree program can boost your qualifications for future roles and will be a worthwhile use of your time if planned carefully. Investigate whether tuition reimbursement exists at your current employer. You never know! If you get a no, you may still find it worthwhile to foot your own bill. Jes Borland, a premier field engineer for Microsoft, paid for her own training, concluding, “the money I invested in myself all those years ago has paid dividends many times over.”
Create your own opportunity with a job proposal
If the roles you’ve always envisioned for yourself prove elusive, consider creating a role for yourself. The job-proposal approach is aimed at creating a job for yourself – where one currently doesn’t exist – based on the employer’s needs, challenges, or problems. “Focus on problems,” suggests Brittany Binowski; “Embrace and enjoy problems – because wherever there is a problem, there is a solution close behind.” It’s about curiosity; identifying corporate challenges and making a compelling reason why hiring you will mitigate the issues.
With these techniques, you will not be handing over the power to manage the chess pieces of your career to your employer; you will be in charge, and when it comes to your career, that’s not a bad place to be.