Moving Up or Treading Water—Where’s Your Career Going?

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When there’s no wind in your sails and you’re going nowhere fast, sailors say you’re “in irons.” If that’s what your career trajectory feels like, you’re not alone. Many grads who finally found a job a few years ago are in the same boat. Sure, you’re bringing home a paycheck, paying back your student loan and making the payments on that new subcompact. But, you’re still stuck in the newbie cubicle, doing the same grunt work new grads fresh out of college are doing. So what’s up?

You’re Not Proactive Enough

Managing your career takes conscious effort and most people get into a rut working the job and meeting daily or weekly deadlines. They just don’t take the added time and effort to do those little extras to take their skills to the next level or that get their manager’s attention. J.T. O'Donnell, Founder & CEO of, suggests you take online courses and webinars to enhance your core expertise in your field. She notes that if you’re frustrated with your career trajectory, you should identify a “board of advisors” in your field, then set up quarterly meetings with them--to hold yourself accountable in developing your skills. In addition, you should meet 10 experts in a field that’s identical or similar to yours and pump them for information. She also suggests that you place your current resume or LinkedIn profile text into and create a word cloud of your expertise to determine the most popular keywords, and whether or not these skills will be in demand in 5 years.

Key Tactics of Upward Career Mobility

Kirsty Lee, games industry recruiter for has a number of tactics for accelerating your upward career trajectory. These include:

  • Go Lateral. If your company is growing too slowly or cutting back, a sideways move can enhance your core skills and knowledge across different functional areas of your organization. It also enables you to expand your network of contacts.
  • Enrich. Here, your position and title remain the same, but you add more responsibility and a broader array of tasks. You sign up for any training programs you feel would expand your repertoire of skills and capabilities.
  • Explore. If you’re unsure about your career choices, you’ll need to do some research to identify other jobs that require your skills, interests and values. One way to do this is through short-term job assignments, temporary task force participation or informational interviews. Knowing the career options inside or outside of your organization can help you decide whether you should move up or out.
  • One step back, two steps forward. This may sound counterintuitive, but in some cases, Lee suggests you step-down into a post that provides a faster upward track. Many tech types who moved up the rung to an overworked management post, regret the move. If this is you, and you’re more comfortable on the “hands on” tech side, one step back may lead to two steps forward as you become the go-to tech guru everyone appreciates. Sometimes less demanding, less stressful work in a faster growing part of the organization can present some new career opportunities.

If your career is “in irons,” take some of the pro-active steps mentioned above to step up your career trajectory.

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