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The Career Stagnation Trap, Written by Frank Ferrante

I know people who have been with a company twenty-five years and I also know people who have been with a company one year, twenty-five times.

What’s the difference?

Some people have matured and developed over time and others have stagnated – limiting their learning and experiences by not venturing beyond their comfort zone. They have been contributors and performed their jobs (else they would not have survived twenty-five years) but in the process have shortchanged themselves by a self-imposed limitation on their potential. Their career’s have been one long plateau.

How to avoid this career stagnation trap?

Those who have developed and grown over time have done some key things:

  1. Skills & Experience Portfolio. Twice a year, they review their skills and experience portfolio (much as an investor would review his/her investment portfolio, albeit more frequently). The questions they ask for the skills review are – what skills do I have, how have I taken them to new levels, what skills are in demand now, what skills will be in demand over the next three years, how do I acquire them, how do I use my skills in multiple settings, what feedback mechanisms do I have in place regarding the impact of my skills? A similar audit is performed for their experience portfolio, the questions asked – what is my current experience base, how do I add more experiences (global assignments, committee work, different business contacts), what is the level of my experiences (presenting to senior management, working with cross-cultural teams), what experiences are in demand now, in the future, how do I acquire them?
  2. A Strategic View. Much like a business strategy, these people constantly  explore how to distinguish themselves from the competition. They know what colleagues in their profession are doing at rival organizations, they keep in touch with the latest developments in their profession and bring those to their business colleagues, they belong to professional organizations and participate in social media and they take a long-term approach to their development knowing full well that few things are worse than being promoted to a position they’re not ready for.
  3. Balance Technical Skills with Interpersonal Skills. They know that being proficient and up to date in their profession is only one part of the equation. The other is how they interact with colleagues, how they present their ideas, deal with objections, reach consensus, be assertive without being aggressive. They know that how you do what you do is just as important as what you know, the skills you have and the experiences you’ve been through.

While fewer professionals are staying with a single organization for twenty-five years, the same principles apply. Moving from company to company only to do the same thing is hardly a growth strategy.

Whether it is twenty-five years or one year, the key is to make every year count so you can always look ahead to greater challenges and accomplishments.

Stagnation is not an option.