Dear Pat,

I have been thinking a lot about my career lately, and I was so excited to see your column. I hope you can help give me some insight.

I am a 30-year-old PR professional. About four years ago, I was laid off from a large public relations firm, where I was an Account Executive. I was unemployed for about six months—which wasn't uncommon at the time—before getting a job as an Account Supervisor at a small boutique firm, where I have been ever since. I really love my job, my clients, and the people I work with.

But, I've been thinking lately that perhaps my "good" job is stalling my career track. I've always pictured myself going back to a big firm at some point, becoming a VP, and leading a large team. The experience I'm getting at my current job is good—I manage two pretty big accounts—but I don't manage other people because our team is so small. And there's not any room for growth because the owners don't really want the firm to grow much bigger. 

I don't necessarily want to leave, because I like my job so much, but I think it might be the right move for my career. But on the other hand, I've been looking for jobs at big firms again, and I don't think I would qualify for Account Supervisor roles because I haven't managed other people. I'd have to take a step back and be an AE or SAE. Will that look terrible on my resume? 

Dear Reader,

First and foremost, you must reset your perspective that there is only one “right” career path. Let’s start with this piece of your concerns, given that it requires a big shift in thinking.

As with most things in life, there are multiple options and approaches to attaining career fulfillment. I have found over the years that executives do not place enough emphasis on happiness and having day-to-day job fulfillment and satisfaction. Rather, they focus on the hierarchical career path and approach, likened to “rungs on a ladder.” Instead, I recommend that people evaluate their career success and path based on “building blocks.”

In your specific case, while you may not be managing a staff in your current role, you are most likely obtaining a broader base of experiences and also gaining highly useful knowledge in an entrepreneurial environment. You are working on large accounts, doing good work, and thereby developing solid client management expertise. These are all positive attributes in today’s business world. In addition, your current role demonstrates your ability to “roll up your sleeves” and get into the trenches, a valuable skill that will help your professional reputation as your career progresses.

When potential employers look at your resume, they are not just looking for career trajectory. They are looking for your applicable and transferable skills and experiences. If you have solid recommendations and references and a respectful relationship with superiors and peers, that also means a lot to hiring companies. If you have these relationships, and you are able to clearly articulate your skills and accomplishments, I believe you’d have a lot to offer any company.

But, that doesn’t mean you have to leave. You will know when the time is right to make a career change because your position will no longer fulfill you and you will have most likely stopped learning. A good barometer when evaluating fit with any job is to assess your learning curve.

From what you wrote, I’m guessing you have an open dialogue with your boss. Never underestimate your manager’s ability to understand you and accommodate a stellar employee, especially a boss that you have a good relationship with. Have you been candid with your employer that you would like to oversee people and potentially move to the next level? If not, I recommend that you discuss your career openly and ask your boss for career advice. The ideal boss is also a mentor, so use him or her in this way.

I also have found that many times people value what they don’t have more than what they do have in a job—the classic “grass is greener” syndrome. I can assure you that many people at large companies wish they were at smaller companies today, especially given the common structures that create bureaucracy and cumbersome decision making processes. So, my advice is to get very clear on the pros and cons for each situation as you evaluate opportunities.

If you do decide to move on from your current role, you must be clear on what you need out of your next career move. Then, you need to assess the likelihood of accomplishing those goals in the roles you consider. The one and only reason you should leave your current “good” job is for growth, right? So, you should only join another company if it offers you that growth. Since you want to make a change for very specific needs, I would be clear during the interview process that you have to fulfill those needs, or at the very least, have a timeline guarantee for when you will. Never make a decision of this nature with broad sweeping promises—and, if needed, get some commitments from your new employer in writing.

In the end, clear communication with your current boss and any future boss is the best way to figure out your next career move with a win-win approach in mind.

Pat

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