Silvia Van Dusen
HR Consultant, TracksGlobal Business Consulting & Executive CoachingFollow this author
In your early career, you are focused on developing technical and other knowledge, acquiring good work habits, learning about the workplace, building relationships, managing your time, completing projects and developing a reputation for performing your job well. In short, you’re beginning to build your career muscle. You learn what you excel in and what you enjoy doing.
In this early career stage, the opportunities for you to develop can be plentiful. Often organizations will provide professional development; however, if they don’t you can (and should) seek it out yourself. There are many avenues you can take for career development – from professional associations and conferences to online opportunities such as iTunes University and massive open online courses (MOOCs), to Toastmasters, university extension programs and more.
This is the time for YOU to invest in your career, so you may also want to seek out formal or informal mentors. A mentor is someone whom you want to emulate; who can help you build your technical expertise; who will challenge you to be better at your functional job. Ultimately, having more than one mentor can be beneficial because different people can offer different opportunities for learning.
Many Hispanics choose family members or close friends as mentors, which makes sense but may be limiting (Flores and Obasi, 2005)1. Expanding your circle of mentors may not be easy, but it can result in more rewarding, long-term results. As stated by Johnson and Ridley (2004)2, “People who have multiple sources of mentoring are more productive, successful, and content with their careers than those who have a single mentor.”
Having a mentor can help Latinos bridge career obstacles. In particular, mentors from other cultures may provide examples of acculturation and create opportunities for an enriched career experience (Fifolt, Matt, and Linda Searby, 2013).3 Mentors, not unlike coaches or personal trainers, help push you beyond what you thought was possible. Mentors are not necessarily your boss, although they could be; usually they are a neutral guide, someone who excels at a certain aspect of a job or who can guide you in organizational or other skills critical to career success, such as how to collaborate, handle relationships, or be more politically savvy. As you progress, they can also help you learn how to lead other people. You can find mentors in many different places: via your personal network, business contacts inside and outside of work, and by joining professional associations, non-profits or philanthropic organizations.
In the “building-muscle” early career stage, there is often an eagerness to move ahead on a vertical career path. It is important to recognize that a focus on horizontal growth and development during this stage will build a strong core. This phase is about gaining a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience. Pushing ahead before you are ready may place you at a disadvantage later and limit your growth. Getting promoted before you have developed multiple skill sets and gained valuable and diverse experience often creates a void and sometimes prevents you from developing qualifications to reach the next level and get to the next stage.
Be prepared to be patient; just because you have mastered your job does not mean you are ready for a promotion. Heed the advice of your mentors, they will be able to prepare you and let you know when you are truly ready to move to the next level. They may even push you to the next level because they realize sooner than you do when you are ready.
Your mid-career is your stretching stage – when endless opportunities turn into endless choices. In your mid-career, you stretch yourself and continue to maintain that strong core. You will have more challenges and may be faced with some hard ethical decisions; you will deal with a multitude of diverse issues where you need to stand tall and make the right decisions.
At this stage, you have reached the career maturity to know what industries you prefer and what you like to do. You know yourself better, what you are good at and where you want to go – for example, if you want to make a move towards management or remain a technical expert.
Regardless of those decisions, you want to stay career fit during this time. You will be busy doing your job, but you must remember to still work on your personal and professional development. Keeping your career in tip- top shape is not only about working hard, it is about maintaining your core – staying strong by lengthening, stretching, and toning your career muscles.
You will have some ups and some downs – you may get increased responsibility or be unfortunately affected by layoffs. No matter what happens, you need to be strong. One way to strengthen your career core is to maintain your professional network, while you can stretch it by being a regular contributor to your chosen profession (for example, through writing, speaking engagements, community outreach and other activities).
Core strength and stretching also play a critical role in balance – how you make career decisions and prioritize them as they intersect with your personal life. This may be especially true for those who want to start a family without impacting or giving up their careers.
Today, the mid-career level opportunities for work flexibility are increasing. Technology and telecommuting have created a perfect storm for men and women who need more flexible schedules so that they can take care of their families without putting their career development on hold. Workers who choose non-traditional schedules will have to develop core skills focused on self-discipline, project and time management. These job flexibility options were only a dream not too long ago. Today, they are a beautiful reality.
Another option during this mid-career stage may be to pursue or complete your education. The new job flexibility such as opportunities to work from home make it easier than ever to pursue higher education while working. This may open new paths for career growth – especially for Hispanics and others who made the choice to go into the workforce prior to completing their education (Harklau, Linda, 2013)4.
Late career is not a mellow walk to the finish line. Reaching the latter part of your career is not the time to become a couch potato. While you may have attained some of your career goals, at this stage you should be focused on cross-training – a combination of muscle strengthening, stretching and flexing, increasing balance and aerobic capacity. New technologies, improved processes, and new collaborations will require you to keep your career muscles strong.
During this time, many people may start a whole new second or even third career. These transitions require incredible learning agility, but are possible as long as you have stayed career fit. With advances in knowledge delivery and acquisition – such as audio learning, podcasts, and free university content online – you can create a transition plan with very little disruption. The core strength you built in prior years will carry you through your late career and keep you standing straight and strong as you look toward the horizon for more challenges.
This may also be a time to become a coach and a mentor yourself and help others who are just starting out in their own careers. For Hispanics, this is an opportunity to give back to the community, at a time when researchers say that women and minorities have less access to mentors than white males (Ragins and Kram, 2007). By becoming mentors, Hispanic leaders and professionals of today can influence the future of the Hispanic community. In fact, both U.S. born and immigrant Hispanics assimilate or acculturate better with a mentor (Knous and Moody, 2013)5. The rewards associated with transferring knowledge and helping others succeed can be as great and meaningful as one’s own career.
Denise Kirwan contributed to this article.
1 Flores, L. Y., and Obasi, E. M. (2005). Mentors’ influence on Mexican American students’ career and educational development. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 33, 146-164.
2 Johnson, W. B., & Ridley, C. R. (2004). The elements of mentoring. New York: Palgrave McMillan.
3 Fifolt, Matt, and Linda Searby. "Mentoring Latinos in STEM: Transforming Struggling Co-op Students into Savvy Professionals." www. ceiainc. org/journal (2013): 53.