Your Game Plan: Use mentors to avoid falling into a career rut

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If you’re like most people, you probably happened into your first job. Very few of us actually choose our first positions. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you realize why you are working at that job and what you can get out of it. The trouble comes when you stay too long. You can be seduced into a situation that isn’t in your best interests and, in a matter of months, what seemed like a good idea at the time can begin to feel like a trap.

But let’s assume you have the job that you want—or have taken the steps to get it. You still have to have some sort of game plan if you’re going to wind up doing the work you want and the work that will most satisfy you. Robert J. McGovern, founder of CareerBuilder.com and author of Bring Your “A” Game, argues that the first 10 years of your career are very important. They determine how successful you will be in your profession and how high up the corporate ladder you will climb. You’ve got to be aware of the stumbling blocks that can occur early in your career, he says. “In most organizations, there are far more people getting passed over than getting ahead,” he says. “They come to work every day and they pour their hearts into their work, but others are receiving the promotions, bonuses and accolades.”

Most promotions usually come down to one of two leading contenders, even though there may be 30 or 40 people doing the same job. McGovern compares the in-house promotion to shopping for a used car. Basically, your superiors are thinking this one has lousy paint, this one looks like it’s been driven hard, this one is loud and noisy. Ah, this one is in mint condition (and ready for a promotion).

The Others Get Left Behind
The real tragedy in this is that your manager might not have enough patience, concern or courage to tell you why you failed to get the promotion. Most supervisors fail to address our flaws, so we have little chance of fixing them.

If you are consistently losing out on promotions, McGovern suggests you take stock of your current situation. If your current job is starting to feel like a career job, you probably are at that threshold where your career will require a jump start. When important meetings take place and you’re left out, it’s probably a sign that your career is stalled. Or, if you’ve lost one or more jobs and really don’t understand why, it’s probably a sign that you need a nudge.
“One of the challenges we have is that we don’t have the ability to see ourselves as we go through life. The view out our eyes is different from the one seen by others,” McGovern says.

For that reason, he suggests that each of us look for someone who can give us a candid assessment of our skills and what things are standing in the way of winning that promotion when it comes up. Ideally, that would come from a supervisor who is most in tune with how we approach our jobs. Or it could come from an outside consultant who understands workplace dynamics. But we need to discover those things in some manner, or we’ll find ourselves locked out of the best assignments, the best jobs and the best career opportunities. If you never realize your need for a candid assessment, you will undermine your chances for a successful career. Just consider it a basic duty of self-awareness.

Bear in mind that companies value employees who not only have the technical expertise required for their jobs, but also exhibit a commitment to their profession. Accountemps’s national poll of 150 senior executives found that 86 percent of hiring managers cited involvement in industry or trade associations as beneficial to an employee’s career.