Advice, Software Engineer

Four Practical Steps To Finding Career Growth Opportunities

Finding career growth opportunities in the 21st century shouldn’t be hard. After all, we have seen and heard over and over again; many companies are in dire need of great talent. Research has shown us that it takes at least 6 months to successfully fill a role (this includes onboarding time). The technology landscape is moving so fast that new skills and knowledge are required. No longer can you stay relevant without continuously learning and upgrading your skillet.

So, why do we hear from employees that there are not enough career growth opportunities or that they don’t feel like they have experienced growth in their career recently? Lack of career growth opportunities is one of the most common detractors in an employee engagement survey.

Throughout my leadership career, I have witnessed many types of people who have different perspectives on career growth. While everyone is uniquely different, when I analyse their career goals and ambitions, I realise that most people belong to one of four groups. Unlike personality types, people can and will fall into different groups at different points in their careers.

The four common groups that I’ve identified are:

  • Group A: Those who know what they want and how to get it
  • Group B: Those who know what they want but don’t know how to get it
  • Group C: Those who don’t know what they want
  • Group D: Those who are just happy and content

Take this quiz to find out which group you belong to →

Just in the last decade, I was in all four categories, at different time, of course. At one point, I was happy to be a senior technical staff member, very content with my work while at the same time, feeling like I had been solving challenging technical problems. Then, I was attracted to more people-oriented roles but I didn’t know exactly what gaps I needed to close in order to become a people manager. Moving from individual contributor track to people manager track is not a straight forward exercise.

Unfortunately, there was also a time where I felt a little lost and didn’t know what I wanted for my career. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing, I wasn’t learning anything new, I didn’t feel like I was adding much value to my team, but I also didn’t know what I could have done. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. But then, there were also times in my career where I felt in control of my career, I had clear vision and goals, I had actions planned out, and I was in a good track to getting what I wanted. I was in Group A, and A is for awesome.

So when people say they don’t know how to find career growth opportunities, the underlying reason is that they don’t know what they want or they don’t know how to get what they want or both. They are definitely not in Group A nor Group D.

With that in mind, here are 4 steps that I’d like to recommend to you which will help you find career growth opportunities In 2020 and beyond.

Step 1: Identify Where You Want To Take Your Career To

The main problem with not finding career opportunities is that people don’t know what they are looking for. Therefore, this step is about doing a bit of soul searching. Ask yourself these questions:

What’s the most important thing to you? Common answers are money, fame and freedom.

Then ask yourself, when did you last have X. How did that feel? After asking yourself deep questions, you will be able to identify what are the main drivers in your life and career and you will be able to decide on a long term career goal for yourself.

You might be thinking, how is this relevant to finding career growth opportunities? Let me ask you this simple question, what kind of career growth opportunities are you looking for when you don’t have clarity on what you want to achieve in your career. Opportunities are everywhere and you must first believe that there is an abundance of growth opportunities no matter where you are and who you work for. But without knowing what you are seeking, you won’t get far.

Step 2: Speak To A Mentor Or A Career Coach From Your Industry

So now you have done some soul searching, possibly an analysis on yourself and your goals and hopefully, you already know what your strengths and weaknesses are. You have a better idea of where you want to take your career to. Some people may face uncertainty in what they want to achieve but at least, they have done the exercise of thinking about possible options. It’s now time to find a mentor or a coach who has got experience in the same industry that you’re in. The role of the coach is to help you see different opportunities, to crystallize your thinking and to suggest actions and activities that you’ll need to take in order to realize your career goals. An hour or two with a good coach will save you many months and even years because they can help you transform your wishes to a concrete plan of attack.

Step 3: Plan Your Career Roadmap With Milestones

Creativity is the key to finding opportunities. Before designing your roadmap, list down what options you currently have. A roadmap is a plan or strategy intended to achieve a particular goal. If you are looking to acquire a particular role, don’t just think about how to get that role, but also think about what other transferable skills that you could obtain that will support you in obtaining your desired role in the future.

For example, you are a product engineer and would like to become a product manager. Rather than applying for a product manager role straight away, you should think about what skills are essential in that role, for example conducting customer research. And then put a plan together on how you will obtain that skill, perhaps by shadowing and helping a product manager in their customer research. In this day and age where everyone’s plate is full at work, people are more than happy to get help if they know you will provide good value. It’s a win-win situation.

I call this process of putting together a plan of attack a roadmap because just like a roadmap, it’s a journey with milestones. The milestones are often self-contained but they only become more meaningful when you complete the entire roadmap. For example, if you think about a product roadmap of a new app, the first milestone might be to create a user interface design and the second milestone might be to add functionalities required for the app. Then the third milestone might be to integrate it with other apps for a richer experience. The app itself won’t be very useful unless all the milestones are completed. Likewise, your career roadmap will have many milestones which are actionable and achievable on their own but until you have completed all the milestones in your roadmap, your career goal will not be realised fully.

Each of your milestone should contain the followings:

The opportunity that you’re seeking.
For example; a new skill you’d like to obtain, an exposure to a different part of the business, a chance to practice a different skill set you have
The details of obtaining the opportunity
  • Where will you get it?
  • What exactly will you be doing?
  • How long will you need before you consider this milestone complete?
  • Who do you need help from? This could be your manager, your team or a colleague.
A few sentences on why you believe this opportunity will help you in your career goal
You can do this with the help of mentor or coach, but if don’t have one, you can self-coach yourself by asking questions, especially questions 7, 8, 9 and 10 in Self Assessment Worksheet that I’ve put together.

Once you have a roadmap, it’s time to put together an action plan. You can purchase my Personal Development Plan bundle or just create one by yourself using the following format.

Step 4: Review Your Milestones Regularly

What’s the point of having a roadmap if nothing comes out of it. In other words, how would you experience growth in your career if you don’t take action? The single difference between those who realize career growth opportunities and those who don’t is the fact that the first group of people take initiatives and are proactive in finding opportunities and the second group of people don’t. Put a reminder in your calendar to have a reflection and review time every 3 months at least. It’s too easy to forget about your own career growth when you’re busy with the day to day of your job. Sometimes you may be lucky and what you are doing day to day is directly aligned with your career growth but more often than not, if you like to obtain exceptional career growth, you have to put in the extra time and effort rather than merely completing what your current role requires. So remember to check on your milestones regularly and take action.

In conclusion

As you can see, the whole process of finding career growth opportunities is less about actually finding the opportunity, but more about understanding what you are looking for, taking actions consistently, monitoring the progress that you’re making and reflecting on our achievement. Because more often than not, you will notice an opportunity or better yet, be given an opportunity, but unless you treat it as a career growth opportunity and leverage it fully, nothing will change in your career and you will feel like your career is stagnant. In 2020, demand for skilled and motivated employees is higher than ever and the tech industry is actually facing a skills shortage. And yet, if you think that your career progress has stalled and you have been the same for the past few years, whether it’s about financial growth, skills growth or personal growth, then know that you can course-correct it immediately by following the steps outlined in this article.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
— C. S. Lewis

Career Guide for Software Developers