With tech pros changing jobs every few years, and companies devoting the bulk of their training expenditures to relatively few employees, there’s little doubt that you alone are responsible for your professional growth and development. Since few tech pros have the time or financial resources to make regular visits to a professional career coach, you may need to tackle that coaching yourself.
But do you have the skills to coach yourself? Where do you start? Here are some ways to be effective in your new role as a career “self-mentor”:
Get to Know Yourself
The first step is to identify your strengths and areas of improvement, specifically the technical abilities, soft skills, and education you need to remain relevant and progress in your career.
Self-awareness gives you the confidence to coach yourself, advised Dr. Alice Siu, co-founder of Cardiff Consulting. “Be very intentional and self-reflecting in creating your inventory,” she added. “Ask others how they perceive you and consider taking a free personality assessment and reviewing the results with colleagues to see if they are valid.”
Nicole Webb, career coach and founder of NK Webb Group, agreed with that concept. “Your views of your development needs must be realistic, not idealistic,” she explained. “Most of the time, that requires an outside perspective.”
Design Your Personal Career Plan
Next, explore your career interests and write down some specific, time-bound goals. For instance, do you want to move into project management within the next two years, or remain in software engineering (but work with emerging technologies such as virtual reality)?
Build in some flexibility, Siu advised. Be open to considering several career paths, as this may open the door to opportunities that you might not have considered.
Compare your goals to your skills and experience in order to identify the things you need to work on. By comparing the two, you can create a list of the skills you’re missing and the projects, coursework, or on-the-job experience you’ll need to master them. And here’s something important to keep in mind: Be very detailed and specific (and realistic!) when outlining your how-tos.
Success rests on execution. Small incremental activities and micro-goals are easier to integrate into your normal routine and are easier to track, measure and maintain. To be your own career coach, you need to be self-sufficient and self-motivated, Webb noted.
“Celebrating small wins and accomplishments will help sustain your motivation and keep you energized,” she added. “Progress is a process.”
Hold Yourself Accountable
Accountability is the litmus test for achieving professional growth on your own. “Consistent execution is key,” Webb noted. “Consider getting an accountability partner.”
Accountability partnerships work best when two colleagues who like and respect each other agree to share their goals and keep each other on track. The right partner can also serve as a co-mentor or sounding board by pointing out alternative career paths and development activities when you feel stuck.
Most importantly, be disciplined about reviewing your progress every three to six months, and honest in appraising your performance. If you’re not moving forward in your career, you’re really moving backwards; in light of that, one of the pitfalls that self-coaches need to avoid is complacency.
Build Your Network of External Advisors
Just because you’re acting as your own coach doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone. Build a network of diverse mentors and consultants who can give specific advice in areas where you’re struggling. Plus, everyone needs a steady stream of feedback to improve and move forward.
“Try to find someone who has successfully traveled the career path you want to follow,” Siu said. “In addition to offering technical expertise or career advice, he or she will know if your goals and plans are realistic and implementable.”
Become a Student of the Game
You can’t coach yourself (or anyone else, for that matter) unless you make a concerted effort to hone your craft. Fortunately, the internet is full of tips, how-to articles, videos and webinars from certified career coaches who are willing to show you the ropes.
Don’t be afraid to consult a professional counselor if you feel like your strategy isn’t working, or you encounter a major obstacle such as workplace conflict. Every tech pro can use an objective, outside perspective from time to time, especially when your career stalls or you’re facing a critical career choice.