How important is… my progression route?

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

This question always annoyed me because I could barely picture what I wanted from next week, let alone the distant future.

Even if you don’t know exactly where you want to be, it can still be helpful when considering a job to think about where it might take you. Have a look at the people five years ahead of you. Does that look like the kind of thing you might want to do one day?

If the answer is no, then it’s important to understand whether there is a set route of progression in the company. What’s the point in being forced down a route when you don’t like what’s at the end of it?

If you do want your manager’s job one day, then it’s important to make sure that there is a progression route set out, and you’re not working yourself into a dead-end.

Want to climb the corporate ladder?

Corporate jobs tend to have very structured progression routes. Most people are working hard to get that next promotion, or that bigger and better job. If you’re not motivated by things like increased salary and more responsibility, then this is not the type of job for you.

Careers such as management consulting have what is described as ‘up or out’ structures. You’re either progressing upwards through the ranks of the company, or you’re progressing towards the exit door.

You can expect to have your progress reviewed at regular checkpoints and be given clear direction about what is expected from you in the short and long term. Some people rise to these challenges, and this kind of pressure can be the motivation they need to excel in their career.

Maybe you’re using a job as a stepping stone to get to the position you really want, then make sure there is a clear route set out for you to get there. If the company you’re joining only has two of the positions you want, and they’ve been occupied by the same people for twenty years… then it doesn’t bode too well.

The corporate life isn’t for everyone…

For some, the constant evaluation and progression checkpoints can be anxiety-inducing. These kind of jobs are definitely not the career for coasting at the same level for a while and trying out a few different things. There is a feeling of perpetual movement through a set structure with these careers.

This is why these jobs are difficult to get by in when your heart isn’t really in them. I used to hate having to set my goals and targets… because deep down my true goal was leaving to find a career I found more fulfilling. I’m not a very good liar, which doesn’t help.

But a promotion is always a good thing, right?

What happens when forward momentum carries you into something you don’t enjoy though? People can sometimes find themselves moving upwards in a company and away from the actvities they enjoyed, towards responsibility and roles that they didn’t want.

If you find a job that you think you’ll love doing, it’s important to have a think about where you might be expected to be in a few years time. If you’re expected to be promoted in a couple of years, have a think about whether that new role has enough of what interested you in the first place.

Extra responsibility and pay does not always lead to extra happiness. People can find themselves railroaded into a progression route that they didn’t want, miles away from the things they used to enjoy doing at work.

How much responsibility do you really want?

This seems counterintuitive, as we can sometimes be led to believe that more responsibility is always a good thing. That we should always be striving for the next rung on the ladder.

As you progress through certain careers, and as your salary increases, increased responsibility naturally comes along with it. It can be stressful being at the top though, especially when you’re now responsible for others as well as yourself.

I know that I prefer working independently and don’t want to manage others – I don’t want other people’s work to be my responsibility. If you feel the same, be honest with yourself, and be wary of jobs where you will be expected to be managing others in maybe just a few years’ time.

Ambition can be the mastery of a skill

Not wanting a set progression route is not the same as lacking ambition. Most of us like to feel as though we’re learning, improving, and getting better at what we do. Maybe you want to master a skill, instead of being pushed through structured progression gates.

I like the idea of self-employment, because the harder I work and better I become at my craft the more I’ll get out of it. At least, that’s what I hope will happen. I may struggle to make that step-up in skill or earnings, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because of other aspects about freelancing I enjoy so much.

Some people would prefer their careers to have a bit more structure and security, and know that if I do ‘X’, my company will give me ‘Y’. If that’s the case, make sure you know what’s at the other end of the progression route they’re leading you down.

This series is looking at some important questions to ask yourself if you still haven’t got a clue what you want to do for a living. Check out my article about how answering these questions will help. I’ve already talked about the importance of salary, teams, managers, commuting, and work/life balance.