Hello class of 2015 (or thereabouts)! Right about now you might be getting antsy. You've been in your first (or second) gig for a while now, you are no longer a young spring chicken bright eyed and bushy tailed fresh off of campus. You now have experience. You know all the deep inner office workings like the right amount of pressure to apply when you slam the coffee maker lid shut. You have "your" bathroom stall. The zippy thing on your keycard dongle is a little frayed. There are interns and new hires coming in behind you, and you might be getting a bit bored actually. What's next for you? Where do you go from here? What are you even qualified for at this point? Here are the key considerations as you look to level up from entry to mid level jobs.
1. Take On More
There are two things that distinguish typically entry level roles from mid level or even management level positions.
Leadership: This is you stepping up to take initiative on something or to drive a process, project, program, product, or initiative. It can include identifying tasks, recommending actions, delegating, or managing or supervising as well. Leadership is seeing problems and opportunities, deciding what to do to address those, and making those things happen by orchestrating tasks or people. You can lead by yourself as well, you don't need people under you to demonstrate leadership.
Responsibility: This is the ownership you have over outcomes and results. It's your tush on the tarmac when someone asks "who's accountable?" in both good and bad situations or outcomes. When the numbers come in it's you who breathes a sigh of relief, dances a jig, or face palms, because those outcomes reflect on you. This responsibility and ownership piece is one of the biggest reasons that senior people get paid more, because it's their neck on the guillotine.
As you look to move up in your career, you'll need to demonstrate these traits before you can make the case that you deserve a higher level opportunity. The good news is that there are lots of ways you can do this even within the confines of an entry level job, by looking for things to take initiative on. Look for ways to take on new projects, and demonstrate both leadership and responsibility/ownership as you do that, to show you are ready to take on more in your role. You'll be rewarded with more of these things, and a title and pay to go along with them, but only after you prove that you can handle it.
2. Take stock of your learning and contributions
How are you different now that you've been working for a while? What do you now have proficiency or expertise in that you didn't before? Further, what have you contributed to your organization as a result of that expertise? This is an important item to reflect on if you'll be seeking a more advanced role either in your current company or somewhere else. We want to know what additional value you have brought to your organization, so that we can see evidence of your potential. I keep a running list of contributions in my jobs as things happen, so that I have a running list. When the list gets long enough, I know I'm safe to look for something else, because I've got a solid track record where I am.
3. Get a mentor
If you don't already have a mentor, you need one. If you already have one, add another one. Ideally you want a team of mentors (an advisory group, if you will), who will serve as sounding boards and sources of information, advice, and connections as you move up and through your career path. These people are absolutely invaluable as you make career changes or shifts, as they can connect you to new opportunities, provide you external feedback, and share insights that you may not have thought of or been exposed to otherwise.
4. Consider any changes you want to make
What are you looking to change in your next role? Is it just more money and more responsibility, or are there other areas you want to move into or away from as you take your next career step? I met with a young professional recently who wanted to move more into product management and away from his more technical role. In a case like that, you may need to build additional skills, move laterally, or conduct a career pivot as you make your next career move. Your existing role or company could help you do that, if you have a supportive manager or organization willing to provide or support training or new projects that expose you to areas you are interested in. Mentors can also help you identify ways to make any shifts or changes if you're stuck on how to get these different elements into your next job.
It's entirely expected for you to start thinking about your next move if you've been in your first/second/entry level role for a while. Before you go applying for mid-level roles however, make sure you've demonstrated your readiness through your actions, take some reflection time, and get some support, to make the next move the best one.
As always, if you're stuck, reach out to me!