Its more than a “conversation starter.” It is the key question to determine how well someone has thought through their career trajectory and how well they have prepared for what they want to do next.

Every new role brings new challenges

When I am conducting a search for leadership talent, it is fairly common that I reach out to someone who I believe is a fit for the role based upon what could be the next step in their career.  What I can learn by using this probing question reveals how clear someone is about their career aspirations and uncovers their ambition for new and more difficult challenges.  Every new role, if an “upward” move, brings new unanticipated challenges that even though a person thinks they are prepared for, test their abilities in unexpected ways. Most commonly people making a move up to the next rung in management is the complexity of unforeseen challenges. This is of course new to any first time manager, but also true at every level. Sure they still only have one boss, but the complexity of their role and the number of variables outside their control can be confounding when it first sinks in. Making the transition from being an “individual Contributor” to a manager requires creativity unlike anything else previously known.  It requires one to find ways of helping other “individual contributors” find success. The problem for many is that they are promoted or recruited into these roles without ever being groomed for them.

Make deliberate efforts to prepare

So when I ask the question, “What is the next logical step in your career?” I want to know why you believe it makes sense and how you have been prepared for it. If you don’t have a clear answer, this is an area you may want to consider. If you aren’t being groomed by your manager for the next career step, perhaps you need to take matters into your own hands and start developing the necessary skills to make the move.  Sometimes you can take an intermediate step and find a mentor or change managers either by moving within your company or outside your company.  If you’re content with the status quo, then stick with what you’re doing. While there’s no harm in that, you may one day decide to be more proactive.

The “easiest job in the world” is your boss’ job

It is rare that in your current role, you’re being prepared for another role without concerted effort both by you and another more experienced person.  Thinking strategically about where you want to be in your career in five to ten years is only the beginning of the process of advancing your career. It is true that you may get promoted merely for doing a great job as an individual contributor. This happened to me 18 years ago when Stryker recruited me into a Branch Manager role. I believed that I could do a better job than my boss and was given the chance in a different company. Candidly, I wasn’t nearly as good in that role as I thought I would be.  There were aspects of the new role that was good at, but I could never have known how difficult it would be because no one ever groomed me for the role.  Not being exposed to the full picture of what to expect, I had to learn on the job. This is a legitimate strategy for some, but the people around me didn’t have the quality of leader they deserved. I was fortunate that the area I excelled in was recruiting talent, so despite my weaknesses, we had exceptional growth. As I look back, I see many small failures that were excused due to the numerical growth we had. Probably my greatest weakness is that I continued to think like a Sales Rep even though I had a lot more responsibility than a mere Rep.  I had difficulty assuming the responsibility of representing the company and instead lead the cause of the Sales Reps without the balance of corporate responsibility. It isn’t always doomed to fail when promoting someone before they should be, but it does have risks to the company. For that reason, I am far more cautious when recruiting talent to see not only what they believe is to be the next logical step in their career, but equally important, the“why?” Finding out why someone thinks they are ready for the next level and measuring it based upon verifiable examples and results is the key to vetting someone’s readiness. So next time someone asks you the question, “What is the Next Logical Step in Your Career,” be sure to have thought it through carefully and be ready to give a defense as to why.

 

If you have any career questions, please comment below.