How to figure out the next step in your career
We are all responsible for navigating our careers. In a fast-changing job environment, traditional guidance became either nonexistent or of dubious quality. In my experience, we cannot hope that we will get a viable career plan from:
- traditional universities,
- a company’s development plan, or
- family (especially parents) advice.
In this article, I’ll show you how you can analyze your career options and create a well-informed plan.
Note! I mean this as an exercise that will take a few hours of thinking about your career, and making real notes that you can review later.
List your long-term options
The first step will be to write a list of options you are considering. Someone entering the tech industry could consider technical jobs such as:
- programming—a common end goal of the transition to IT,
- quality assurance (testing), or
- data science.
Or you might be considering non-technical roles—as a stepping stone toward tech roles or a goal in itself:
- project or product management
- data visualization
- user experience (UX) design
- customer success specialist
As you can see, there are many options available, and many more I forgot about. Writing them down will help you keep them all in mind while analyzing your career steps.
The goal of writing this list is to make it explicit what possibilities you are considering and what possibilities you reject (and why). At the same time, the list will show what options you are not aware of. This will be very helpful later on when looking for external feedback on your plan.
Make a pros and cons list for your options
Once you know what options you are considering, let’s write down what you believe are their pros and cons. There are no good and bad answers here—the goal is to make it explicit what you believe waits for you on each path. You are planning to change your career for some reason, and having your reasoning stated explicitly will make it easy to catch any obvious mistakes or unrealistic expectations.
Get someone to validate your way of thinking
So, after making a list of options you're considering, and making a list of pros and cons for each of them, you are ready to get external help. What you wrote is a perfect launching pad for a very productive conversation with the right person—you can show them a page or two that shows what you’re considering, and what you expect. With that, they will be able to point out any obvious mistakes in your understanding of the career you’re thinking about, or options you could consider as well.
The perfect person would be someone working in the industry you are interested in, someone who is on one of the paths you consider—but a few years ahead of you. You want an insider’s knowledge, but you need to keep in mind that people will know primarily how it was back in their days.
What I described is career mentoring, and many experienced people do it as a pay-it-forward thing, or just for fun. Maybe you already have someone who could help you in your network—try asking around. Alternatively, you can try online platforms to find free mentoring, such as coadingcoach, or look for some paid help.
Write a plan
After getting feedback on your expectations, you should have much more clarity about which direction makes the most sense in your situation. This brings us to another writing exercise: creating a plan of action to achieve your goal. It could be something a simple as:
- learn git,
- follow X course on my framework of choice,
- make an example application with … features, unit tests, continues integration, etc.
To become testing specialist, I’ll
- follow a Y course on manual testing,
- learn Cypress from Z resource,
- list 5 companies I would like to apply to
The plan description doesn't have to be long, but it would be good to make it precise—including links to resources you want to learn from. This will make it easier to evaluate.
Evaluate your plan
When you are done with your plan, you are ready to have another productive talk with your mentor. Again, having a document makes it effortless to get up to speed on a lot of information on a complicated topic in a very short time. Half a page plus a few links to courses or books will be enough to cover a half a year of your career development. With this information, it will be easy for your mentor to catch some obvious mistakes. For example, forgetting about Git if you want to become a programmer, or including some tools that you are very unlikely to use together—like Cypress and Playwright for end-to-end testing.
Having a good plan is just preparation—now you have to follow through with it. Good mentoring should address your second-guessing of decisions. Your mentor should provide you with enough context for their recommendation that you have clarity on why you do what you do.
Not doubting your plans fixes some source of delays, but not all. In any project, you can expect two things:
- to underestimate the difficulty of the challenge
- to overestimate time you can dedicate to it
It’s normal to have a 1-month plan take a few months—especially if you plan to do it on top of a full-time job, keeping up with other responsibilities and a healthy sleep schedule.
If you are interested in analyzing your work plans with me, you can check the free mentoring page at my blog.