Considerations for Career Development

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To the Career Counselor:

Recently I was asked to take on additional responsibilities — including supervising the work of my current peers — but with no change in title or compensation. I like what I do, and I like the idea of advancement, but this request seems kind of odd. Should I take it? Is this all on the up-and-up?

— Needs Help Deciding

Dear Needs Help:

Whether to accept or decline a new job assignment can be a stressful decision, especially when it is offered without pay — and in today’s economic environment. It will be crucial for you to determine if the new role fits with your career plans. You could start by making a list of the advantages and disadvantages of accepting the role. Here are a few areas to consider (in no particular order) as you begin to make your list:

  • Skills: Do you have the skills to do the new job, or is it too much of a stretch? Sometimes stretching is a great thing and will enhance your career in ways you cannot imagine. However, if you will need to stretch, be sure you have the appropriate background and are mentally prepared for it.
  • Training: Do you have all the information required in this new role, or would additional training be needed to make you more effective?
  • Career Path: Does this opportunity align with the direction you would like your career to take? Does it fulfill a role you have been requesting from management? Consider whether turning it down would send the wrong signal to upper management who might be trying to invest in your career development.
  • Future Career Growth: Will the new role lead to promotions? Does it take you into a field you want, or does it deviate into another area? A job offer or promotion is a great time to think about where you want your career to head.
  • Mentorship: Will your boss be a good role model for you?
  • Support/Resources: What type of support and/or resources will be available in your new role? If appropriate support and resources are available, they could make the transition easier for you.
  • Personal Time: How will the new role affect your family time? Keeping yourself in balance is important, so it is crucial to have a healthy balance between your work life and personal life.
  • Passion: Is this something that interests you (or might interest you) for a career move? If it doesn’t align with what makes you tick, be very careful not to make a move for the wrong reasons. Career decisions are important — they shouldn’t be done for others. The worst thing you can do is take on new responsibilities because you feel you owe it to others, especially if the new position takes you away from what you enjoy and are obviously successful at. Make career decisions for yourself.
  • Salary: Although this new role does not come with a salary increase, is there a potential for one in the future? Be sure to check potential costs that could decrease your take-home pay, such as charges for fuel or parking, as they might effectively result in a salary cut.

In our work culture we often have to prove ourselves before getting to the next step. It is not necessarily a bad thing to take on uncompensated work as a means to furthering your career. But as with any job decision, you should try to understand how this situation looks from the perspective of your boss. Is she grooming you for a promotion, or just looking to plug a gap for free? A change in title might be a sign of good faith from your employer (without costing them anything) and can really look good on your CV.

There are also special concerns when it comes to supervising co-workers, particularly if you wind up with responsibility for their work but no authority to hold them accountable for performing it. You should have a frank discussion with your boss about the situation and how you will handle any challenges that crop up.

Now that you have made your list, look at it again. If the pros outweigh the cons, you can feel confident that taking on the new role is a good decision.

To the Career Counselor:

What things can/should I do to pursue my career path?

— Trying to Get Started

Dear Trying:

It’s great that you recognize career opportunities don’t just fall into one’s lap — they require active planning. There are a number of activities in which you should engage to maximize the potential for success in your career:

  • Make career planning a regular event. You should review your career plan at least annually. Map your career path and make sure to update your map. Where have you been? Will your career map get you to where you want to go?
  • Keep track of what types of work you enjoy. Were there projects, committees, tasks, or new technologies that you found particularly rewarding and enjoyable? Anything new that really engaged your interest? Did you get new opportunities that broadened your perspective? Reflect on these milestones and see if anything surfaces that changes or reinforces your perception of your desired career path.
  • Keep a record of your accomplishments. Most people don’t keep track of their major milestones and contributions until it comes times to update their resumes. Even if you aren’t currently seeking another job, make sure you either keep your resume updated or record your key contributions.
  • Research and evaluate career and job trends. To ensure that the career path you’ve chosen is viable, keep abreast of trends in your field or the field to which you’d like to move.
  • Set career goals. Having goals, perhaps with rough timelines, will help you chart the course of your career.
  • Explore education/training opportunities relevant to your career path. Also remember that not all relevant training is formal — there might be informal ways of obtaining some of the skills and knowledge needed to reach your career goals.
  • Maintain your professional networks. Most people find opportunities through their professional networks of colleagues and acquaintances. Make sure that you not only cultivate and maintain contacts within your field but also diversify the areas in which you network with others.
  • Participate in professional associations and societies. Professional associations such as EDUCAUSE are not only a great way to develop your professional network, they also offer opportunities to volunteer and obtain valuable skills and experience. Consider presenting at a conference or seminar to enhance your visibility and to strengthen your resume.
  • Do your research. Check out the EDUCAUSE Professional Development opportunities on the website. Listen to the podcast from Brian Hawkins, Learning to Drive (and Other Lessons Along the Way), in which he shares lessons he has learned in his nearly 40-year career in higher education regarding management, leadership, and professional life.
  • Remember that trade journals are also great sources of information. Consider publications such as CIO Magazine, InfoWorld, and CIO Insight. You could also read journals in areas that affect technology, such as business or academics, to find the trends in those areas that could affect your career development.
  • Find a “career buddy.” You could consult a professional career counselor, but you might benefit from a simpler (and cheaper) approach by enlisting the support of a professional friend — preferably from outside your department or institution. A career buddy who understands your professional life and with whom you can share openly can cheer you on, make sure you record your achievements, and ask you hard questions that you might otherwise avoid. A commitment to help each other through this process at regular intervals can be mutually beneficial.

Many people plan vacations, meetings, and social events but don’t take the time to plan their own careers. Through planning, you not only increase your chances for success, you also take active responsibility for your career. Best of luck to you!

Do you have a question for the Career Counselor? Please send your questions to [email protected]. (Your identity will be kept strictly confidential.)