Career Development in Your 20's and 30's

Recently I’ve been talking with a few buddies about career development for young professionals – specifically, what factors people in their late 20’s and early 30’s should be thinking about in order to set themselves up for long-term success. The foundation you lay early in your professional career is vital. Here’s an outline I put together about making a career change as I just went through the process. I’d love to hear what you have to think!

-KDTW

 

WHILE YOU’RE STILL EMPLOYED-

The best time to be searching for a new position is while you’re still employed. Your current position is your baseline to measure all future job offers against; in negotiation terms, your current position is your BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement). Each job offer that comes in can be vetted and dissected, all while you continue to work for (oh yeah, and get paid from) your current employer.

Now that your mind has begun to shift towards making a change, you may begin to feel as though you are “spinning your wheels” at your current company… but that doesn’t matter. Until you are no longer receiving pay checks from your current company, you still owe them your best work possible. You gain nothing by beginning to let your negative attitude towards the company dictate your work ethic. You risk losing a solid reference and burning a bridge by letting your work ethic slide. Grind it out, learn as much as you can and network every chance you get since your time working side by side with most of your current coworkers and counterparts is coming to an end.

While you’re still with said company, begin to take inventory on what factors you enjoy and what you hope changes at your next spot. Office space / flex schedule / work life balance / company culture / benefits… these factors should all play in to your search.

 

FIGURE YOURSELF OUT:

My advice before you really begin to put your resume out there is to dig in and do some long-term planning about where you want to be in 5-7 years.

How do you get there? What types of positions put you on a trajectory to achieve the goals you have for yourself both professionally and personally? The first 2-3 positions you hold out of college will be fundamental in the development of your career, so do some legit soul searching about where you see yourself heading. Don’t take a job because you want a change. Take a job because it aligns with your ultimate goal.

Spend time moving through personality tests and determine your emotional intelligence. While most people have taken it at some point in their lives, it never hurts to retouch on a Meyers Briggs test to identify your personality type and what careers could be a natural fit for you.

 

DON’T BE A HOPPER:

One of my coworkers has hired or placed over 1,000 candidates. He and I were talking the other day and he shared a good example of why it’s important to be methodical with career changes.

Craig said, “I’m working with a young, rock-solid candidate who is looking to make a move. They know they’re valuable and aspire to climb to the top of the pyramid… but they’re in a rush to get to the executive level. They want so badly to be at the 30k ft. view from a leadership and management perspective. The issue is that they haven’t laid any foundation. What plane are they taking to get to 30k ft.? Sure, you can rush your way into a lofty title and use that to skip a couple steps here and there – think of that as going down to a small airport and asking to get a lesson on flying a bi-plane, then taking the controls and soaring upwards without a clue of what you’re doing... The realistic approach young professionals should take is laying solid ground work by demonstrating a work ethic and integrity that can’t be ignored. Think of that as going through the certification process that a pilot does. Before they are trusted to, and more importantly, prepared to fly a 747 all over the globe at 30k ft., they must put their time in, focusing on training and learning.”

A job hopper solves minor issues by getting a new title and a small raise by jumping from company to company but the key to long term success is having an established game-plan. Your goal should be the factor that drives your motivation for making changes.

As someone who looks at resumes all day / every day, I suggest making a commitment to be with your next company for roughly 3 years (unless an unreal offer comes in that can’t be ignored).  Doing this will allow you to have time to grow within an organization and either demonstrate leadership potential and begin climbing with them, or develop enough skills and market knowledge to know what else is out there.

I see so many people making jumps after one year (or even less) with a company and it does nothing but clutter their resume. Cool, your pay increased $7k by jumping across town to a competitor… but what would that increase have looked like had you moved into the leadership track with your previous employer? On top of that, your old boss probably knows someone at your new company and they’ve found out you landed there. Now you’ve just lost a reference, you’re starting from scratch with a new company, and if you make another quick jump, that’ll be 3 different companies you’ve worked for in a ~1.5 year span. Don’t be a job hopper… it’s tough to trust a job hopper.

 


 A driving force in writing this for me is that I just made a career change. Below are the steps that I took as I moved through the process. My strategy isn’t perfect, but I’m excited about landing with a.l.m. - I checked all the boxes that I was hoping to by making a move. Feel free to give me feedback on what you would have done differently or what you take away from my method.


 ME, THE CASE STUDY-

Step 1: Identified my personal and professional goals

After spending five years with a small-to-midsized organization and getting a taste for both middle-management and the positives and negatives that go hand in hand with a ~50-person company, I came to the realization that my best fit would be to join a smaller company. Though moving into a management role in a smaller company, I knew I’d have a hand in cultivating company-culture. I also knew that long term I’d be able to transition into an owner/partner role which most likely wouldn’t be available at a larger company. Both factors are things I’ve had in the back of my mind for many years as professional goals.

Plans that my wife and I have for our family over the next decade also weighed in to where I wanted to go with this next step. Joining a smaller company allowed for more creativity in my compensation package as I was dealing directly with a partner/owner instead of an HR Rep. Flex scheduling and work from home time are vital when trying to raise a young family so I made sure to discuss these elements early in the interview process.

Step 2: Networked and researched to find potential landing spots

I met with mentors and reached out to old professors to gain a perspective from people who have been in my position before. I grabbed beers with a few old friends who are on similar career tracks in different industries. Some of these meetings I used as sound boards to think out loud. Others showed me directions to explore or resources to check out that had never crossed my mind. One meeting opened my eyes to a big piece of the job-search puzzle that was right in front of me and I was completely missing.

Step 3: Interviewed with multiple companies

There is zero harm in taking multiple interviews and saying “no” to offers that aren’t the right fit. Taking several interviews helps you become comfortable talking about yourself and your achievements without stepping over the line of bragging. Navigating the interview process is always something worth practicing. Leading on a company that you have zero desire to work for isn’t something I encourage, but taking a phone interview for a position that you’re not too excited about is another thing. Don’t have a company fly you in to town for an interview unless you really are interested in taking a position with them.

The more you interview, the more chances you’ll have to see the variety of interview styles that are out there. Each hiring authority conducts their discussions in a unique way. Each company has a different interview process. The more you interview, the less surprised you’ll be when something out of the ordinary pops up.

Step 4: Decided on my eventual landing spot and pursued the opening hard

At the end of the day you are selling yourself, as a product, to the company you wish to work with. Follow the sales model. Present yourself. Sell yourself. Follow Up. Close.

Take the initiative whenever possible. “If this Thursday at 3pm doesn’t work, I can make myself available on Friday at 11am, Friday at 345pm, or Monday at 8am. You let me know what window is best for your team and I’ll make it work.” Demonstrate to the potential company that you are motivated to make the deal happen and will do everything in your power to make the placement work. Larry Nobles always said, “a good recruiter causes a placement to happen”. Which I think is a great piece of advice… don’t hope for a change to work out. Cause a change to happen. 


I believe that the process mentioned above was successful because:

·      I had specific goals and a vision of where I wanted to be

·      I took multiple interviews to both screen companies and hone interview skills.

·      Patience played a major role in my search.

·      I gathered market knowledge before making my final decision.

·      I sold the company on myself and pursued the final offer like it was my day job.

 

Best of luck as you move through career changes... let me know if you ever need a second set of eyes or ears on anything!

-KDTW