How to Move Forward When There Is No Up

Let’s take a look at my inbox. A question from a reader is as follows:

My college is – literally – the only higher ed game in town. And so even though I work in a staff job that I generally enjoy, there’s no upward mobility. I’ve been here for 3 years and I’m really ready to take on more challenging assignments. I’m in my early 40s and at a place in my life where I just am not interested in getting another degree (already have 2 Master’s). I’m trying to be patient but I just don’t see it happening. The people who are the next level up from me have been here for at least 8 years. What would you recommend?


I can already hear many of my readers nodding their heads. I know I can relate. In my last organization, I put in 8 years and still wasn’t at the level I wanted to be at. And the people who were in the job title I wanted? They’d been there 10+ years. I had proven my abilities – I had excellent performance reviews and was clearly capable of the next level of responsibilities. There just wasn’t a job above me to be given to me. Ultimately, I wasn’t willing to wait it out yet another couple of years…so I left.

So that would be option one.

Moving on to another organization.

You should do this only after you’ve 1 – made clear your desires to your boss, and 2- made a strong case for your abilities to take on something new. Repeatedly. Because it’s not fair to duck out on a boss / organization if “but I want more challenging work, and I deserve the chance” would be news to them. You need to give them the chance to meet your demands.

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Flipping the Script: An Appreciative Inquiry-Based Approach to Career Planning

There are some interesting intersections in my (day job) as a Professional Development Manager and my career coaching. At work today, I was talking about appreciative inquiry theory. This is an approach to organizational and personal development in which we focus on strengths, possibilities, and a future-oriented vision. As you can imagine, it’s far more inspirational and motivating than focusing on problems, weaknesses, and gaps. And it made me think about how powerful that kind of approach could be for career planning, too.

If you think about where you want to get to, rather than how stuck – or miserable – you may currently be, then career planning can become more powerful. Thinking this way helps you think of and build a vision for your own future. And sometimes is what we all need – especially when they are mired in a job or career that stinks. What if you used your happy hour to think about where you could get to, rather than commiserate about how broken it is now?

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Trim the Fat: Get LEAN about your Career

Sometimes you come across or use concepts at work that could just as easily apply to your career. Working for a LEAN enterprise, I can definitely tell you that LEAN is one of them.

What is LEAN? The concept comes from manufacturing (I think?) but it’s all about eliminating what isn’t needed to improve workflow and efficiency. Making things simpler, easier to understand, and faster to do, basically. At my work what it means is to streamline our standard operating procedures to the degree possible so that we can provide the highest-quality services, and continuously update and improve our processes through a feedback loop.

What do I think that has to do with career planning, though? Actually a lot.

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Johns Hopkins Investing in PhD Career Planning

I’m always glad to hear about a win when it comes to career planning and training for grad students. Here is a big one. Johns Hopkins has announced a $1.5 M investment in PhD professional development initiatives. Woohoo! This goes a long way towards acknowledging the importance of alt-ac careers.

Hopkins will start collecting & tracking more data about where their students end up working. This will help facilitate networking connections, and more importantly, help students see the enormous range of possibilities ahead where there were “none” before. That’s huge! Imagine if your department were transparent about where its students landed, and you could see that not only are most of these people not failures in any sense of the word, but are actually thriving at a wide range of careers, and doing great work!

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A new core curriculum for grad students

I spend a lot of time thinking about what graduate school should look like these days, and I think know I’m not alone. There’s a lot of chatter and a growing movement that is gaining momentum that graduate school curricula must evolve and adapt, not just for its own good, but to address students’ needs, to adequately prepare them for the careers that lie ahead.

No more ifs, ands, or buts. Graduate school curricula MUST require professional develoment courses.

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Your Job is One Part of a Larger System

I work in Training (for my day job) and much of my work is really at its heart about change management – identifying the need for change, laying the groundwork for change, planning for change, communicating about change, and training people to implement the change. This requires a holistic perspective. Seeing how people, projects, workflow, and resources influence and affect one another. Seeing things as part of a system.

It makes me think about how you need to view your career as part of a system, too.

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