January 14, 2013

3 steps to move your career forward: reassess, imagine and retool

The beginning of the year is always a time for reflection and consideration for what will make us better in our personal, spiritual, family and work lives. Perhaps you are considering a job or industry change or want to enhance your current skill set to prepare for career advancement. To steer you in the right direction, I encourage you to reassess, imagine and retool.

I spend a considerable amount of time speaking with prospective and current students as well as professionals about career transition. Their decision to attend graduate school or perhaps make a career or organizational change often stems from the desire to accelerate their career path as a result of what they have learned they like and don’t like, and/or to be in a position to make an impact in both their organization and their communities. In some instances, this may involve taking on the role of a leader. Some share nightmares about previous managers and bosses and their inability to communicate, develop others or make impactful decisions. They want to avoid being perceived the same way, and therefore are eager to learn how to lead. The ability to effectively communicate, motivate and develop others—what I call the “harder skill set”—is often easier said than done, especially when you are charged to lead the organization at a much higher and more visible level. Whatever is motivating you to move forward, maintain the momentum and take the time to reassess, imagine and retool ...

So you want to make a change, and perhaps a leadership role is something you wish to consider. In either or both cases, it is important to re-evaluate your vision and goals alongside your authentic self. What do you value? What is most important to you? What motivates you? What are your core strengths and competencies? Understanding who you are as a person will go a long way with informing your career path and determining your capacity and willingness to lead. You will find that when you reacquaint yourself with who you are and embrace it, you gain a sense of purpose and focus. In turn, your career choices will be better informed and the positions you apply for, or create, will be in alignment with the person you are and want to become.

Weatherhead School of Management's Senior Admissions Director Deb Bibb with students
Author of this post: Deb Bibb, Senior Admissions Director

Once you have re-evaluated and identified where you want to be, imagine the possibilities. It may sound a bit confusing when someone suggests that you be focused and at the same time be flexible. How can you say you want to be an engineer, but become a teacher, and be happy? Well, in fact, it is possible. Understanding who you are serves as a guide to your path, but does not limit it. For instance, you might discover that at the core of who you are is someone who enjoys anything to do with creating or problem-solving. This opens up a world of possibilities and options…perhaps a role that is entrepreneurial, or working in research and development, or product design. Each of these requires similar skill sets, and you may be open to pursuing any one of them. In being flexible, it is important to remember that the job title itself (Director of XYZ Division or Business Owner) does not define who you are, but rather what excited you about the role in the first place. When you understand this, you can imagine a lot of opportunities that may have otherwise have been dismissed.


Becoming focused, gaining a purpose and being open-minded are key ingredients to moving forward. The final one is being adequately prepared. In evaluating your strengths and abilities and gaining focus, you must determine if you have the skills necessary to pursue the career path you ultimately want. Identifying the gaps in your skills and abilities is important so that you may begin to address those which are relevant to the success of your career. Addressing the gaps may require you to retool your skill set. Perhaps you should request more responsibility, earn a professional certification or advance your education. And if the skill development is related to your current role, your manager or supervisor may be willing to support you. This does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposal. Perhaps you are able to negotiate support by making a financial commitment as well. But if you are not successful in gaining support, or you wish for your plans to remain confidential, it is imperative that you are willing to invest in you.

Whatever your next move on this chessboard of life, I want to reiterate that you are your most valuable asset. And any asset depreciates if you do not actively maintain it. You must take the time to get to know who you are and be willing to invest in you!

Deb Bibb

Senior Admissions Director