It’s January, 2021. You’re armed with a fresh set of personal resolutions and ready to go.
But what about your professional life? Have you thought about where you are in your career? Are you heading in the right direction? Maybe the career opportunity you’ve been looking for isn’t happening as quickly as you’d like. Or the course you’d originally charted no longer fits the current landscape.
It’s time to evaluate and update your professional strategy. “The pace of new knowledge and technological advances is driving workplace changes across all industries and fields,” says Nelson Baker, dean of Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE). “Today’s workers need to continuously assess developments in their fields and update their capabilities accordingly. Working professionals who are not re-skilling and up-skilling throughout their careers will be left behind.”
Before you can move forward, you need to know where you’re coming from. That means having a good understanding of who you are and what drives you. “It’s important to have an understanding of what motivates you,” says psychologist and Fortune 1000 consultant Natalia Peart. Without it, you can’t make smart career decisions and risk “career drifting -- moving along aimlessly with no bigger vision or sense of meaning.”
To gain this understanding, Peart suggests digging through your memory bank for stand-out moments. Consider what made them significant. What upset you, inspired you, excited you? And when did you feel fully absorbed in what you were doing, or “in the zone?” These sorts of questions are important because they elucidate your characteristics and values, and while the work front is always changing, your core personality is not. The challenge is to optimize your individual traits and talents in a dynamic professional context.
“Self-reflection is the key to unlocking clarity,” says Debbie Phillips, professor at Georgia Tech. “The most important meeting you’ll ever attend is the meeting you have with yourself.” A popular mentor, Phillips tells her students to have a “keen sense of who they are as people and what they want to accomplish.
“It seems fairly simple until you think about all the barriers and distractions a person encounters,” she continues. “I encourage everyone to form a strong visual image of what they want to accomplish. I call it your mental magnet! Your mental magnet has to be stronger than your obstacles.”
Skipping this step undermines your chances of achieving the change you desire. “Many people fail to achieve their goals because they identify an outcome without also identifying the underlying motivation of that outcome,” writes Forbes contributor Pia Silva. “Setting yourself up for success means getting clear on what you’re really going for and why.”
While self-assessment sounds like a solo assignment, Dean Baker recommends getting input from others through what he calls “a personal board of directors.”
“Your personal board is a group of people who can help navigate your career and education, offering a mix of experience, talent, and diversity,” says Baker. "A cross between mentorship and a professional network, the board should have representatives from your field along with any others you might be interested in. They should have varying areas of expertise and experience. And at least one should know you personally. They should all get to know what matters to you in order to provide complementary career development guidance."
Alongside a personal board of directors, a professional career coach is an additional option. Since arriving on the scene some 30 years ago, career coaching has gone from rare to commonplace, with the International Coach Federation reporting a membership of close to 34,000 at the end of 2018. A qualified career coach can help you see yourself and others more clearly. He or she can clarify direction, teach new skills, build on your strengths, and act as a sounding board.
Once you've established your goals, make a plan for how you're going to reach them! Armed with this new-found clarity, you are prepared to begin identifying options that best suit your individual development needs.
Short courses or certificate program are ideal for developing new skills and building deep expertise in a specialized area, while boot camps provide hands-on training to master specialized skills needed to switch careers.
Looking for more breadth and depth in a particular discipline? Degree programs are a longer-term investment to help build real-world knowledge and skills that advance your career.
Additionally, professional associations are a great resource for career exploration and networking as you grow. Many offer year-round trainings, newsletters, and resources to help you stay at the forefont of your industry.
Either way, look inside, make a plan, and take action. It’s a new decade. Now’s the time — ready, set, go!
Written by Laurel-Ann Dooley
Georgia Tech Professional Education is a leader in innovative educational delivery, designed for working professionals in tech, business, and leadership. Our connection to the marketplace — coupled with our world-class faculty, researchers, and subject matter experts — provides an unparalleled prospective to education innovation, industry trends, future work, and lifelong learning. To uncover additional resources to help with questions and challenges around career advancement visit our Working & Learning page.