How to Tell If Your Career Path is on Track

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Technology is a notoriously fast-moving industry. What was relevant in 2016 may be obsolete by the end of 2017.

Amidst all that change and innovation, how can you tell if your career plan is still on track?

Even the most prepared professionals with a well-defined career map need to make adjustments now and then. Whether evolving technology, layoffs, a company acquisition, new management, or relocation, your career is bound to face many variables. Here’s how you can adjust to those changes to stay on track—or blaze a new path altogether.

Are You Keeping Up with the Trends?

With each passing year, it seems like another tech sector blooms to full life. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and autonomous vehicles are currently front-of-mind for tech pros across the country, and others will doubtlessly rise before the decade is out. While you don’t have to jump on every trend, you should keep your skills and knowledge up to date for the job market.

“You have to be aware of what’s happening broadly, no matter where you are in the food chain,” said David Arnold, president of Arnold Partners, an executive search firm that works with tech companies. “I think you have to read and understand how the technology landscape at a macro level is changing, and then you need to drill down and think what does that mean for your personal career.”

There are several ways to stay on top of the changing landscape, such as continuing education opportunities within companies and taking part in relevant professional associations. Alternatively, you can go onto the market and see what employers most desire.

“I’ve advocated for my clients to go out and interview for jobs even when they’re very happily employed, because it’s a great way to field test your market viability by going out and meeting with headhunters and potential employers,” said Kevin Nourse, a former software developer who is now an executive coach. “It gives you a way to benchmark your skills on the market and find out what people think about them.”

Are You Prepared to Make a Pivot?

Sometimes industry changes can disrupt your plans; but at other times, you may find your career path is no longer fulfilling, which could be why the average company tenure for today’s worker is just 4.4 years.

Lynn Berger, a career coach in New York, suggests that professionals evaluate their career yearly. “If you feel like you’re stuck or you’re not learning, you’re not growing, you’re not excited to go to work, it’s draining you, then you should explore making a change,” she said. “Explore if it’s the environment or is it the role that’s holding you back.”

If you do anything long enough, Nourse said, you will eventually burn out, so you should always explore your latest interests and reinvent yourself. He should know: after starting out as a software developer, he eventually transitioned to roles as varied as computer trainer, financial analyst, human resources director, and, lately, executive coach.

“If you have new passions and interests, invest in those things,” he said. “It’s not just building more skill in the new area you want to focus on; you got to shift your reputation. The way to do that is find opportunities you can get involved in, ideally in your workplace, but maybe outside of it as well.”

How Do You Respond to Adversity?

Nothing can derail your career plans like a sudden job loss. Though unemployment is quite low in the tech industry, layoffs are always a reality, such as recent cuts at IBM and Oracle.

But sudden unemployment doesn’t have to be devastating—if you’re prepared. “Continually work and try to improve yourself to almost anticipate that layoff,” Arnold said. “The way you prepare is you don’t rely on luck. You prepare by having a good professional network, keeping your skills up to date, and taking care of yourself so that you’re a desirable asset when the next company needs to hire somebody.”

You can use a job loss as an opportunity to reinforce your strengths, Nourse suggested. Talk to people close to you who can remind you of what you do well, and emphasize those skills as you take the next step on your career path.

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