Take an active, hands-on role

To effectively direct your career, you don’t want to always trust “the universe” to provide an invisible hand that guides you. Yes, your boss may love your work and give you a boost when you need it, but what happens if that boss moves, transfers, or retires? Then you have to prove yourself all over again.

To maximize your professional development, you need to plan for the next phase of your career. I like to think of career development as a double funnel, because it provides a useful model. The idea behind the double-funnel is that there are a lot of different paths into a profession and, once you have a few years of experience, there are opportunities to continually re-invent your career.

This model holds true whether you are a graphic designer, web developer, technical writer, engineer, etc.

Consider the graphic below

On the left, the funnel points in, showing there are lots of different paths into a career. I’ll use a library career as the example. Put three librarians in a room and you might have three different paths into the profession: a volunteer, a teacher, or literary agent, for example, could each become a professional librarian.

Funnel #1

When you launch your career at the junior level, you’re in the pipeline and can reasonably expect to keep moving through the pipeline by taking on additional responsibility. There is a clear, discernible progression from Librarian I to Librarian II and III. Life is good. Early on, you are developing your substantive expertise, learning the ropes, and building your organizational muscle. You don’t have time for a lot of career angst as you are getting a grasp of  how the levers and pulleys of your profession work.

The good news is that after you’ve been employed in this progression for some time, you’ll have a deep understanding of the technical components of your job. You’ll understand how to be effective in your organization, and you’ll invariably have some wins under your belt. Eventually though, you’ll get a little restless, and anxious to move into new challenges. Remember how alive you felt when you were learning things every day and really pushed yourself?

Funnel #2

When you reach the middle of the pipeline, you’ll begin to see additional challenges that you could take on, with some additional effort. At the middle of the pipeline illustration, you’ll see three key words: training, school, or volunteer. These are the three classic ways to get the credentials you’ll need to emerge on the right side of the funnel into your new position. If you start early, you can make the change happen.

For example, do you need an MBA to become a manager in your organization? Go back to school and earn that degree. Need leadership experience? You could become active in in your professional organization and gain valuable networking and leadership expertise that way. Or, you could vacuum up every management training opportunity at your workplace. Personally, I took the route of volunteering in SLA and have benefited with a much wider perspective of my profession.

Maybe you want to be an entrepreneur? While you are in the pipeline, reach out for the networking, training, or education that would steer you there. Perhaps a mentor could help you pick the courses you need, or steer you to different experts that can help. You’ll definitely want to talk to the Small Business Administration.

Now, because of your vision and focus, you’ve graduated to the right side of the pipeline as a manager, director, business analyst, project manager, specialist, etc.

A new funnel

The power of the double-funnel model (patent pending!) is that you will find that you’ve graduated to the left side of another pipeline–that is that you are at the inception of another progression. And now you know what to do – dig in, learn the ropes, and expand your network!