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8 reasons your career has stalled

By Jacqueline Mahugu | November 4th 2020
By Jacqueline Mahugu | November 4th 2020

You might be harbouring dreams of rising through the ranks, but are you actually doing what you need to do? Jane Mutisya (pictured), Managing Director at Career Management Centre, shares what, in her experience, many overlook as they seek to climb that ladder.

 1. You play solo

The best football players in the world are very good with the ball but have coaches. Our own David Rudisha has a coach. The most successful people in the world have coaches. A coach or a mentor helps you see things you assume you know but don’t. That would be someone already ahead of you in the journey that you want to take. I personally have had over ten mentors in my life. When I go to someone as a mentor, it means I like what they do and I have some goals in mind and lessons I want to learn. So I structure it, for instance by asking if we can meet maybe once a month, let them know what I want to learn. In the first meeting I may want to understand their journey, how to proceed with something and so forth. The more people you learn from, the more you grow.

Most people don’t look for mentors. You find that you are working in an organisation and you want to be a finance manager, but the only finance manager you know is your boss. Your boss can’t be your coach. They are always giving you feedback when you are working but you may not always be on good terms. So is better to get one outside of your workplace.

 2. You assume that your work speaks for itself

We have many professionals doing great work, but few people notice and their bosses take credit for it. At the same time, there are people who downplay their contribution because they want to appear modest. That won’t do you any favours. Learn to celebrate your successes. Learn how to speak positively about the value you deliver. People who matter have to know you and the contribution that you make in your organisation. You can’t just say your work will speak for itself. No, you have to know how to be seen.

During performance reviews, be very deliberate to show what your contribution has been. Your reports should focus on facts and tangible results you have actually delivered.

 3. You don’t think of career development as a project

Most people just focus on getting a job the minute they finish school. They don’t think about it as a long term investment that they should keep building. But career development is actually a project. When you view it that way, you actually plan for it. When you have a plan, you know what you want to do every step of the way. Not thinking of career development as a project kills ambition for most people. Some people have been in the same position for 10 years. They just keep working until they day they are fired or retire. They are comfortable even when being paid peanuts because they have a job, but no ambition.

Regularly stop and evaluate what you are doing. Do a skills audit. A skills audit helps you understand what you need to do to go to the next level, and if your employer is not providing it, how you will have to go out of your way to achieve that skill.

 How have you grown career-wise? You can only know the answer to that if there was somewhere you had planned to be by this time. Otherwise it means that every day you go to work just to finish the day’s job and go home. You need to keep evaluating if you are actually achieving the things you had planned to, and also to understand if there are any new developments in the market that are changing the original plan that you had.

4. You are stuck in a career you hate

I studied Biochemistry in university and when I finished changed to Human Resource (HR). Now I am doing Law. I realised if I back up the kind of HR I am doing with law, it will be something more. You can completely change your career at any point as long as you have done your planning all through and you understand why you are making that particular change. The mistake I see often is that when most people go to an organisation, instead of thinking of their experience from a global perspective, they get stuck in such a rut and if that specific company fired them, they would struggle getting a job elsewhere. Don’t think in a silo, so that even if you choose to change your career after 10 years to something different, you can. You have to be very creative. Are you only relying on your current employer to give you a chance or do you have other ways in which you can work?

Ask yourself: If I changed from this, where would I work? What are the chances of me measuring up? How do I start building my experience now? Because by the time you are changing careers you are advanced in age and you probably won’t be able to start as an intern.

 6. You don’t care about your professional reputation

Your reputation is everything. It determines how people treat you and what opportunities they afford you. They will give you reference checks when you leave and even while you are there, if they think lowly of you they will not give you those promotions. To get ahead in your career, you need strong supporters – people who know, like, trust and can say good things about you. If others don’t see your value, they will not support your professional endeavours and can even work against you when others try to. The perception of people you work with on a regular basis matters a lot. Work on behaviour that demonstrates positive perceptions.

  7. You are networking, but the wrong way

For most people, especially women, the only network they have is the people that they work with and all they talk about is office matters – much of which is not constructive, yet you are the average of the five people that you spend most time with. What are you talking about with the five people? You probably aren’t learning much.

Network internally in terms of career planning. Volunteer for things across departments. When you go for meetings, don’t sit with the same people you always work with. Sit with a new person. Sit with someone different in the cafeteria. Join your professional bodies with a purpose to get to know 10 more people before you go home.

When you join professional bodies on social media platforms, don’t just be a silent follower. Participate and contribute. If people raise questions and you have the capacity to help them, go research. You should be able to give people solutions and use both traditional and unique ways for people to know that you exist. Expand your networks by getting to know people outside your professional field.

 8. You have ignored your emotional intelligence (EQ)

As you go up your career, it is less about the technical skills and more about the soft skills you have. I call it emotional hijacking – if you’re the one having outbursts in the office, not talking to people, you’re the one no one wants to give anything because you’re not a team player – it will work against you. You may think that because you have good technical skills, you shouldn’t be bothered about how you relate with people. So you ignore how you communicate, collaborate and listen – all the soft skills that come with the job. You may be a brilliant engineer best at fixing machines or the best finance person able to balance reports very fast, and so forth – but you are hurting everyone in the process. Your career will stall.

When is the right time to switch jobs?

Three years in one job is ideal. It is long enough for you to have contributed and grown in the organisation. And if there is no more upward mobility, move from that company. As you go up the ladder, you can increase the time to five years. The more you move, the more you grow in terms of challenges, work and money. Always purpose to add value while there and when you leave, leave without burning bridges.


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