Professional, Personal Goals Should Drive Your Career Path

Kristie GraySmith-JacksonBy Kristie GraySmith, Human Resources Director

I remember being in a meeting years ago, where an executive was sharing his story of how he moved up the ladder throughout his career. He had started on the production floor 30 years prior and made it up to the highest position within the Western Hemisphere for his company.

How had he done it? By working hard, keeping his head down and waiting to be recognized. That sounds like an easy enough formula to follow, and in theory, one that should work. But, does it really?

The current workplace is more fluid than in the past. We constantly hear how people are changing roles, and even careers, more frequently than prior generations. The people making up the workforce are more diverse than ever before—and I’m not talking about just race/gender/age, but how their career interfaces with the rest of their lives. We live in an individualized society where you can customize any experience. In the 70s, Burger King told us we could “have it your way,” and that has morphed into almost every aspect of our lives today—even the workplace.

Associates don’t fit one mold, and neither do their schedules, workspace setup, or responsibilities within their teams. Many organizations, like Jackson, are intentionally collaborative and lean on the different strengths of individuals to make a stronger whole. Career paths are different than years prior, yet can lead to the same place they did decades ago.

So how does one stand out? Move up? Find their niche?

You start by taking ownership of your career and deciding YOUR goals and priorities. What is the destination you want for your career path? Is your desire to move up the ladder, over to a new path or even out?

career-choices-1Talk to yourself. You must be willing to have a very honest conversation with yourself about your professional and personal goals. Do those goals align with each other? What are your priorities for your desired lifestyle? Do you want a large house and a fast car? Do you want to make sure you never miss an event for your child? Or that you’re able to get an advanced degree?

Prioritize. Your personal and professional goals need to fit together. Some goals are not attainable in conjunction with other priorities. If your professional goal requires you to travel 50% of the time and your personal priority is to have dinner with your family every night, those do not align. You must be willing to be open and honest with yourself that you can’t accomplish both at the same time. Once acknowledged, you must decide your leading priority—which may be just for this season of life or ongoing. Then, adjust your goals based on your priorities.

Develop. Once you have established your goals and priorities, you need to evaluate your skills and do a gap assessment. What do your goals require that you don’t have? Here at Jackson, we offer free online training for our associates through LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform. Associates have access to more than 6,000 courses in soft skills, leadership, software, computer and even courses within specific disciplines (web development, branding, accounting, PR, and more). Use opportunities already available to you to develop new skills and polish weaker areas. Also, look for other training opportunities and don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. Ask for feedback from someone that works closely with you or knows the skills you’ll need for your goals. Know yourself and where you need to develop.

Volunteer. In addition to skills, you may need to broaden your exposure. Watch for ways you can work with new people or clients. Is there a new project coming up that you’re interested in? Don’t wait to be asked. Ask if there is a way you can be involved. Or suggest a way you can help. Is there a new or junior associate on your team that could use a mentor? Share your knowledge and help them grow—and your leadership skills will grow too. Stepping up for a new project or helping a budding teammate bloom will add to your plate, but you will gain valuable experience and will increase your network with people that now know what you can do.

Communicate. Engage with others. Look for the best instead of the easiest way and speak up. Share with leadership what your goals are and how you’d like to be involved in the future. Don’t assume that they know what you want to do or where you want to go.
And beyond the words coming out of your mouth, think about what your unspoken communication says about you. Are you a good corporate citizen? Do you participate in activities in the office? Do you clean up after yourself in the kitchen? Here at Jackson, we are a casual atmosphere, but even in the most casual environment, casual does not mean sloppy or dirty. You should always be neat—in your attire, your workspace and how you care about common spaces we share.

Reevaluate. This process must be continuous. Life changes. Priorities shift. And that’s okay. But the cost to a customized career path is no one else can effectively manage it for you. You must take ownership and responsibility for getting to the destination you choose.

No one else can tell you what you want. What drives you at your innermost core. Keep talking to yourself—and listen to your answers.