This article by Michael Pollock first appeared on Forbes.com
If you’re not always thinking about what should be next for you in your career — and what might be next after that — you may well find your working life following a trajectory that is not of your own choosing. This can easily become the norm as you are all tied up in the day-to-day of keeping your current projects on track. You have to do this, of course, but why not make some time every week or every month to see where you could be headed, where you should be headed and where you want to be headed?
If you don’t plan ahead, you may simply stagnate, losing all forward momentum; and all too often, stagnation leads to the exit. Alternatively, you may find yourself promoted to a leadership position you don’t really want, but you take it on because you feel you are owed it. That promotion could effectively remove you from actually doing the work you love; instead, you find yourself responsible for a troublesome or under-resourced team, and that can lead to sleepless nights for you and perhaps even sub-par work being generated while you are in endless personnel meetings with HR.
Another thing that could happen (because you’re a superstar, as you know) is that you get recruited and flown all over to be interviewed for some other job. But wait. Yes, it’s flattering and, yes, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to scope the gig and meet some new people — but is this for a job you actually want? Is it for a company you would be proud and happy to work for? Do you have any idea what you would be getting yourself into?
If you find yourself being recruited for less-than-thrilling positions, is this because your LinkedIn profile or resumé frames you for just that thing? Are you presenting a personal value statement that will get you where you want to go? Or are you just saying, “here’s what I’m doing now,” so then you’ll get another job doing just the same thing and not advancing?
Part of the trick to a successful personal presentation is to make it super easy for a reader to get right off the bat what it is you’ve achieved and what you offer. This should happen quickly. Don’t make them work for it. I’m telling you this because your leading story needs to be an easy-to-grasp statement that touts your specific successes and shows how you can be valuable in…well, you should certainly use more than 140 characters, but don’t spin it out!
Okay, you get that. But that’s not all. Informed now by your up-to-date goals, you can be figuring out better ways to take advantage of the position you have right now, of the current projects that you are deep into and the next ones on the board. Should you be more focused on strategy than you have been? Pushing harder for better quality? Practicing more or better leadership? Make some choices and point yourself towards the projects that will excite you and can be presented to show clearly that this is where you are headed.
In general, not advancing is not a good thing. You should be moving forward and doing so in the manner of your own choosing. This could come from your leadership ability, the scope of your projects, or the style and quality of your work. But it should be your call — you’re in charge.
So, though I repeat myself, put the effort into considering what you want so you don’t get swept along to satisfy some agendas that are not your own. Make sure that you are working on, and constantly refreshing, your own agenda for your own career.