Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Oct 30, 2009

Career Path Stepping Stones

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Career path stepping stones can occur in expected places.  What is important to understand about the stepping stone metaphor is that the stones are already there.  You run into trouble when you try to carry them into the river with you.

If you have been following this story, you recall that 20 years into the world of work, Miss Bender is suddenly out of it -- but not for the first time. Planning the next move at times like this can be treacherous, especially when you have a poor track record of planning your next move. Top Recruiter Bob Beaudine, in his book The Power of Who (see carousel at right) reminds us that we can not make these decisions alone. He writes, "...If you're going to fulfill your destiny in life, you're going to need some wise friends and advisers to help you see a vision of your future that, perhaps, you can't see yourself."

It is only now, repackaging myself anew after all these years, that I can see the path those randomly placed stones laid out.

Stone 1:  Assistant Instructor for a state university
Found by: Contact at the university pointing it out to me.  This was a literal career path - step one of a graduate student's tenure track.
Led to: Institutional transfer.
I liked teaching more than I expected to, and the program was a good one, but I knew that I had not chosen it for myself and felt that I should conduct a more purposeful approach to graduate school goals if I was going to pursue them.  Left the school, state, time zone and started over.

Stone 2: Matriculated and Rejected
Found by: Mail.  And unfortunately after I had already moved away.  Accepted into the program as a student, but not as an instructor, which was to be my source of income.
Led to: Internal applications
My academic advisor tipped me off that employees were entitled to tuition reimbursement.  If I could get hired before the bill was due, I could stay.

Stone 3: Junior Secretary
Found by: Eye contact, Southern manners, and 65 wpm
Led to: Career A
It did pay for my purposely chosen graduate program -- the one I never once worked in -- and that valuable female accessory, the master's degree.

Stone 4/Career A: Student Affairs Officer
Found by: Opportunity + Credentials + Hard Campaigning
Led to: Career expansion
After nearly 4 years in that role, I began to evaluate my resume against others' in the field with an eye toward filling in those gaps.  With complete support of my manager, I waged an old-fashioned national search.

Stone 5: Student Affairs Officer
Found by:  Shoe leather and a box of Crane's.  In those days, in that industry, we cattle-called at national conventions.  After more than 30 interviews of various call-back levels, I managed to be hired by a school right across town.
Led to:  total collapse.  Famously described elsewhere.

Stone 6: Unemployment
Found by: Walking away.  Known in my circles as "selfish, immature, and unprofessional."  Until you understand what it led to.
Led to: Volunteer for life position, now in its 13th year.

Stone 7: Reader/Director, media access
Found by: Following a fantasy I had harbored for years.  The kind that in the movies have people opening a jam business or a bookstore.
Led to: Career B
With the experience, the connections, the references, and the confidence, I made the move into the best job-match I have ever known.

Stone 8/Career B: Audio Describer
("that's a job?"  "Yes, that's a job?"  "The words on screen thing?"  "No, that's captioning.")
Found by:  Synergy.  My father and I simultaneously, and miles apart, saw a demonstration of the service and got to talking about it.  With time on my hands, I was able to wage another campaign.
Led to:  Career C
Not directly, of course.  But what career B taught me was a new relationship with my work, and the things I needed to feel successful.  It also brought me out of the technological dark ages of 1990s higher ed and into a world of email, QuikConference, Meeting Manager, MS Office, and the Internet.

Stone 9/Career C: Internet Applications
The stones get very pebbly and the water rapid at this part of the stream.  There are a lot of zigzagging hops that can be broken down in another article.  2 Companies, 5 titles, lots of departments and managers, lots of steps back and mossy missteps.  But I want to get to a tidy 10, so I will put them together here as one rockfall.
Found by: It started with a colleague from Career A, and progressed with help of similar relationships and lots of encouragement, a few campaigns more cloaked than I had waged in the past.
Led to: Topping out.

Stone 10: Unemployment
So here we are again.  And a resume that a week ago looked like a Cheesecake Factory Menu now seems more like a progressive dinner.

The moral of the story?
You may feel like you are hastily jumping to the next little piece of high ground, without identifying the move that comes after it (and when you do spot it, it might feel very far away).  Remember that you are bringing yourself closer to the other side, and learning a lot more about river crossing as you do.

Related Posts:
First I was Afraid
Master's Degree Required...
Be the Chicken
Lady Executives
Common Pitfalls of the Internal Transfer

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