Building Bridges in your career path

(Note:  I first posted this in 2013; I thought it would be a good addition to my current themes)

A week ago I shared a post talking about how my career had taken a somewhat circuitous route from engineering physics to human resources and now to executive search and leadership consulting.  The journey has been a good one, but there have been potholes in the road along the way and occasionally I have need to find a way to get from point A to point B in more than one step.  This post will talk about how to build a career bridge to get you from one point to another, typically from one unique job or career to another.  I’ll cite my own examples in the post, but also draw upon other examples as I find appropriate.

Before we talk about career bridges, let me first talk about what a career pothole might be.  As a long-time driver I have hit more than my share of potholes and they can vary in size, both in diameter and depth.  The bigger the pothole, but more damage you might incur.  Career potholes can include the following:

  • having a bad boss
  • working for a failing company
  • being in the wrong job; one that doesn’t utilize your talents
  • personal issues

I could make a more exhaustive list, but I will cover that more in a future post.

We all hit potholes, but we would never consider driving over a cliff without some means of visible support.  The only example I can cite of driving over a cliff comes from “Thelma & Louise” a cult film from the 1980’s with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis.  Most of us don’t have the challenges those two ladies had in their lives that led to that momentous event.

Career bridges are needed when we find that the role, the career we are in no long is a viable path for the future.  This may be a forced choice or it may be a path taken.  In my case I chose to build a career bridge in 1994 when I entered the M.Ed. program at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.  Prior to this time and even while first in the program I had worked in both Quality Control and Operations in the manufacturing industry for almost 14 years.  My career was going well, but I saw an opportunity to do something that really drew upon my newly found talents in training and development.  My bridge consisted of two key spans:

  • my degree from Vanderbilt
  • an opportunity to start the Human Resources function for the YMCA of Middle Tennessee

When I was presented with this opportunity I chose to begin building the bridge with my entry into the degree program.  That two year period from 1994-1996 has forever changed the direction of my career and my life.  So many things that I do today would never have occurred had I not chosen to begin building that bridge.

You will quickly realize that education is one career bridge that you can build.  A second, less obvious bridge that I also built prior to this was an extended period of volunteer work with the YMCA.  From 1990-1994 I worked in a series of progressively more challenging roles as a volunteer with the Y.  My final volunteer role prior to becoming a staff member was being the Board Chair of a new YMCA in Springfield, TN.  The education and degree are obvious parts of my career bridge, but the volunteer work built a series of relationships that led to the Y offering me an opportunity to work for the organization in a paid role.

We have now identified two career bridge components.  They are:

  • additional education
  • volunteer activity

Another career bridge can be built by making a conscious effort to talk with others, both within and outside, of your current organization to share your interests and desires in comparison to your current role.  This would be a subset of networking.  This type of networking is more career focused and can include what I would designate as “informational interviews”.  These informational interviews are a great way to build relationships with other leaders and firms in a non-threatening way.  You first need to explain when you make contact that you have no interest in an immediate job.  Your interest is to learn more about the company, the role and the industry.  If you can effectively convey this you are in great shape.  I cannot remember how many people I know who have used this bridge to grow  and advance their career.

We have identified three career bridges in this post:

  • networking
  • education
  • volunteer activity

There are certainly other career bridges you can build, but I will save those for another time and not today.

What ditch or canyon stands between you and your dream job or career?

Which career bridge or bridges might you build to reach the other side?