Should Your "Career Smoke Alarm" Be Going Off?

William Werksman

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Often times, even the most sophisticated senior level employees can miss the warning signals that would otherwise trigger your “career smoke alarm”. In the day to day struggle to keep your company goals and objectives in sight, it is easy to allow the batteries in your smoke alarm to go down. How often should you check them and when do you know the alarm should be ringing loudly? Here are a few questions to reflect upon that will assist in this analysis:

1. In the last quarter or at least in the past 6 months, has my supervisor or manager spoken to me about my goals and objectives as an employee? It is critical for your supervisor or department manager to take an active role in your development as a team member. Managers should make it their responsibility to take the initiative to make certain their team or department members know what is expected of them in the short term and long term. Goals and objectives for each member should be laid out in plain and easily understood pathways for you to follow. If these are not being provided by your current supervisor or manager, you need to have a heart to heart talk with that person to make certain you are on the same page. Not being on the same page should trigger the alarm bells.

2. Do I have all the resources to complete my work objectives and goals? Many times, in companies where times are starting to get VERY tough and business is on a major down turn, the resources for fully and successfully completing your work objectives become suddenly scarce or difficult to come by. If you start to sense that this is the case, make inquires to your boss or department head. Find out if it is simply an issue of poor allocation or something more dire for the company’s future. Should you be concerned that you were once able to fly out and meet clients for direct sales calls and business development and now each and every trip must be validated with a signed contract? Yes, because it takes money to make money and when things get so tight that standard business development trips are no longer in the budget, it time to start thinking about the root causes. If you, as a valued employee, do not have the resources or assistance of the company to complete the objectives outlined by your manager or group leader, then maybe it’s time to consider another career location.

3. Can I see a clear path to career advancement at this company? Take a look beyond the simple pay increase equation. Take a look at your co-workers and colleagues. Are they particularly interested in their careers or simply there punching the clock and taking the paycheck hoping their efforts are enough to keep them employed till retirement age. Do you see the company responding to the efforts you have made that are above and beyond the standard job description in your personnel file? Take a hard look at the company as an “outsider”? What would you see if you were interviewing there for the first time? Every person is responsible for making the decision to stay and flourish or simply be left behind. Make certain that you keep track of the comments and feedback received in your last review. Make certain you address the good and bad in those review and appraisals so that you are at the very least, on the same wavelength and making serious and meaningful strides towards accomplishing the goals and objectives set forth for yourself. If you do accomplish those you should rightfully see the reward, the advancement in both responsibility and salary. If you are unable to look at your boss and understand how he got there, them maybe you need to do some career evaluation. Career paths should be well defined inside a well oiled company. Each worker should be able to know the chances for career advancement as well as the risks for failure. While the latter is generally more obvious, the ability to clearly see the path for career advancement is something every professional should be keenly aware of.

4. Do I have a mentor/coach or someone else at the company that is interested in my development? Yes, this can be your immediate boss or supervisor but often times this is another person or even a co-worker that provides you with salient advice regarding your career and work activities. Sometimes, it is a person that is older and possibly more senior than you in terms of their tenure with the organization. Someone that you can go to on a confidential basis and talk with regarding all the uncertainties you have with your career and possible career options. A coach or mentor can provide you with a sounding board for concerns, for sharing the minor and major victories that are part of a successful career path. Be certain that you have someone like this at your office.

5. Are my opinions valued or ideas taken seriously by the organization? This is perhaps the loudest alarm that should be heard. If you are not being taken seriously at work or if your opinions or initiatives are consistently rejected or not even put forward for senior management, then it is definitely time for a career change. Every employee and contributing member of an organization should have the ability to have their voice heard and opinion addressed. Having your initiatives summarily dismissed or shelved for “another time” is unacceptable and at the very least should warrant a long discussion with your boss or immediate supervisor. If you are again summarily dismissed or pushed to the back corner, listen closely, the career smoke alarm is blaring, head for the exit sign.

These are some of the warning signs you should readily hear and recognize. Often times, they do not all come at once. Many times they are subtle and couched in passive addressed messages. But, have not doubt, if you find any of the prior points are part of your current work atmosphere, perhaps the career smoke alarm is already going off. Check those batteries frequently, or at the very least every six months. It’s always better to have fresh and alert batteries than be a victim.

Executive recruiter William Werksman is a frequent columnist to job boards including addressing both the candidate's and employer's perspective. Werksman's expertise has been featured in business magazines, national newspapers and television news segments. His firm, Resource Partners, is recognized as the leading source of specialized and executive talent in the Casino and Gaming industry. He manages a staff of recruiters out of his firm's Las Vegas, Nevada headquarters. He may be reached at:


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