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Does Your Career Path Feel like Ground Hog Day?

Last Thursday night I was at the Ottawa Business Achievement Awards and saw Halogen Software win Company of the Year.  I have known one of the company co-founders for probably fifteen years and they are a great company, focused in the HR/Talent Management space.  So I was happy to have one of their HR strategists write this guest blog …

Do you remember that old movie “Ground Hog Day” where they main character keeps reliving the same day over and over again until he learns the lessons he’s meant to learn?

Sometimes our careers can feel a bit like that. We keep finding ourselves in the same frustrating situation over and over again, with every new role or position. We keep trying to escape, but inevitably find ourselves making the same complaints about bad bosses, bad co-workers, or bad work environments.

Have you ever thought that maybe it’s you? Maybe there are things you need to learn and change about yourself and the way you work. Here are some tips for breaking the pattern and learning the vital lessons you need to learn so your career can progress.

Ask for feedback

There’s nothing like getting the perspective of others. They see things we don’t, will sometimes tell us stuff we don’t want to admit to ourselves, and have a different experience than we do. So ask your boss, your coworkers, even your social network for feedback. Ask them for their perspective on: What are you doing right? What things are holding you back? Where could you improve? You may be surprised by some of what you hear.

Ask for feedback often; there’s little value in waiting for your annual performance appraisal to find out what others think. It’s much more effective to ask for “just in time feedback” right after an interaction. You’ll get more accurate and specific information from people. Do it in informal settings. People will be more relaxed and honest with you. And ask about both your areas of strength and weakness. You need information and perspective on both to move your career forward.

Pay attention to the feedback you get

This is the second, perhaps harder part of the feedback loop. Don’t get defensive and discount the feedback you receive. Think of it all as helpful. You may not agree with everything you hear, but it’s worth considering every piece of feedback. While it may not initially ring true for you, it’s true for the person who gave it to you, so it matters. Ask them what you could do differently. Then work on implementing changes in the way you work. Remember, you’re trying to break a pattern here and acquire new knowledge/skills/experience/behaviors. Doing the same things over and over will likely continue to yield the same results in your work life.

Do an honest self-appraisal

It’s also important for you to stop and ask yourself the same questions: What are you doing right? What things are holding you back? Where could you improve? Think especially of the situations or circumstances where you feel you struggle or are unhappy, but also consider the times when you excel or feel engaged and satisfied. Look for patterns. Is there a certain kind of person, task or circumstance that you struggle to deal with. Are there important elements in a job that contribute to your high performance? Be brutally honest with yourself. Identify areas for change and growth. And if you can, check out your thoughts or conclusions with someone else that you trust.

Develop new skills

And the whole point of this is to effect change. The feedback you’ve gathered and self-appraisal you’ve done will likely identify areas where you need development. Do you need to acquire new knowledge, skills or experience? Or do you need to change a behavior or attitude? Whatever things you’ve identified as needing to change, start working on them. Create development plans for yourself that outline the specific learning activities you’ll undertake. There are myriad ways we learn new skills, and myriad resources available to us; don’t get stuck in the trap of thinking you have to take courses for everything. Read a book, watch a movie, participate in a webinar, ask someone with the skill you lack to coach or mentor you… Tackle things one at a time, but do tackle them.

Breaking the pattern to get unstuck

The one constant in all your jobs is you. If you feel like your career is stuck in Ground Hog Day, focus on changing the one thing you really can change – yourself.

Sean Conrad is a Certified Human Capital Strategist and Senior Product Analyst at Halogen Software. He writes about career development and management for Halogen’s Exploring talent management blog.

You can find out more about Ottawa’s 2012 Business of the Year here …Halogen Software!