By Andrea Ellis (MA ’04), Assistant Vice President of Innovation at Wake Forest University

Research continues to inform us that jobs and careers abound with the average worker expected to hold ten different jobs before 40.  If you are just beginning your career, that number increases to 12-15 jobs before 40.  Are you ready for your next step?

In a workforce that is ever changing, it is important to prepare yourself with a mixture of reflection, planning, and action. Below are some guidelines to help you.

  1. Mo’ money, mo’ money?

Ask yourself why you want the promotion.  What are you seeking by attaining this goal?  Is it money, a new challenge, recognition? It is important to understand the desired outcome as this will impact your approach.  Promotions may or may not come with money, but sometimes new experiences, skill sets, and exposure to other people can be priceless.  There are times in your career that it is easier to chase experience and other times where money is the bigger factor. If you are a young professional, this is the time to find yourself and learn what motivates you.  As you get more “seasoned,” your pliability may waiver (this is often follows a big life event/change such as a getting a mortgage, having a baby, needing teen car insurance, etc.).

  1. Understand your organization

Does the organization have a history of promoting internally?  When has this happened and how?  Understanding the culture of the organization is critical and will help you assess the best strategy.

  1. Consult your “Board of Directors”

It is important to have different mentors for different aspects of your life (i.e. career, relationships, spiritual, parenting).  This particular mentor should help you think through possibilities. S/he should know about your background and interests to help direct you throughout the process (i.e. job search, internal promotion).

  1. Think of your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder

The next step in your career may not be upwards.  Career moves can be lateral and other times they can be backwards in order to eventually move forward.  It is important to keep a longer-term vision in mind.  If you are changing industries, you may have to take a step back.  If you are trying to gain new experience, it could be lateral.  All experience is good experience, it just depends on how you market it.

  1. Grow from each experience

Whatever job you are in, work hard.  If you are not challenged, find challenges elsewhere, but work hard in your current job that could likely be a reference for you.  If you dislike your boss, challenge yourself to learn new tactics or ways to work with him or her.  These can be invaluable skills that you will use throughout your career.

  1. Be proactive

Do not wait until you are at wits’ end to look for a job.  It is common for people to wait to the point of frustration, boredom, or financial stress before starting a job search, which may lead to a desperate or emotional decision.  Job seeking should remain an active responsibility in your career.  If you have a long-term dream job, do the research now.  What does it take to get there (i.e. education, skill set)?  What are the commonalities you find in job descriptions for your desired career?  Who can you talk to that has similar experience?  How do you need to prepare yourself to be ready for the next opportunity?  Yes, sometimes new opportunities come our way because of hard work.  However, do you want your career to be determined by someone else and on their time frame?

  1. Keep the dust from collecting on your resume

Constantly update your resume by reviewing for content and format.  When the dream job appears, you don’t want to be delayed in applying for it or be overlooked because you haven’t touched your resume since graduation.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance

Perhaps this is not your mentor, but a colleague or person who has a job you eventually want to do.  Ask them to lunch or for a meeting to learn about their experiences, career paths, etc.  People, more often than not, enjoy sharing their career stories and experience.  Additionally, it is a networking opportunity that could potentially lead to more discussions or opportunities. Relationships are critical in many facets of your life.  Your career is certainly one of them.

  1. Be seen as hungry, but not starved or impatient

Leaders like to see employees who are driven and excited to learn.  They want to see the potential in employees who care, who are team players, and willing to work hard to accomplish a goal.  If the promotion doesn’t come as quickly as you would like, try to be patient.  If you can’t be patient and it may jeopardize the reputation you are trying to build, you may want to expedite your job search.  Remember, you may need your current employer as a reference.  Do not burn any bridges.

  1. Don’t let fear dictate your career

You may be in a job, on a team, or in an organization that you really love, but you are bored and looking for new challenges. Yet, the thought of leaving the comfort of that job is scary.  What if you don’t like the new job?  What if the boss is horrible?  There is always a risk when leaving for new opportunities.  Be courageous and believe in yourself.  If the new job isn’t what you want… Proceed back to #1 and start the process again.

  1. Live in the moment

Preparation in your career is important.  Looking ahead can be very valuable, but don’t forget to live in the moment.  Don’t get consumed with chasing the next step or rung that you don’t enjoy where you are.  Anticipate, be proactive, but live in today, while preparing for tomorrow.