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Ask the Marketing Career Coach: How Do I Move My Career Forward?

In this series, certified coach and mono Director of Talent Julie Vessel is answering your questions about finding, keeping and loving your dream marketing job. A career strategist and architect, Julie has more than 20 years of experience helping Fortune 500 companies find their truth, position themselves and get their story into the world. Read her advice on starting a new job for success, rethinking your annual review, searching for work-life balance, overcoming your inner critic and taking control of your own learning.

Q: I’ve been in my current position for a while now, and want to start thinking about the path ahead for me. That said, my company doesn’t offer a lot of formal career development support. Are there ways for me to plot and plan my career path on my own?

A: “What’s my future?” It’s a question almost every professional wonders about. In fact, one of the top three reasons folks leave their jobs is because of a lack of career opportunity and growth. Employees want to know their path ahead, yet career development and career planning are still foreign concepts at a lot of marketing organizations and agencies.

In some ways, I’m glad this is the case. Because at the end of the day, you are the one who should be in charge of your own career. While it’s helpful to have folks to help you figure out what’s best for you and your career, no one has your best interest in mind like you do. So, don’t wait for someone else to point out your next opportunity and how to get there.

Because there are as many approaches to career development as there are careers, let’s start with a definition of what I mean when I say “career development plan.” To me, a career development plan is the very simple process of defining what’s important to you, what you want to accomplish professionally and how you can get there. At its best, it’s a very individual and customized plan. No two people are alike (even if they have the exact same title), and I believe a career development plan should reflect the uniqueness of the individual’s ambitions and goals.

Here are five steps to help you define and plot the career future you want.

Step 1: What do you want?

We’re often so focused on our day-to-day that we don’t stop to consider the bigger picture of where we’re going and what we want. It’s easy to let “surviving the day” or “getting through the project” become the end game. But beware, this is dangerous territory. If we never take time to think about the bigger picture, our careers will be defined for us based on whatever comes our way next.

The first step in defining a career development plan is to connect with your career ambitions. Create a vision of what you aspire to — and what inspires you — in your work life.

Try your best to suspend logic and pragmatic thinking. Don’t assume the future is limited to what’s happening today. Find a way to turn off any negative thinking that will block you from thinking big.

Start with the questions below. Give yourself time and space to think, wonder and kick ideas around. Put down on paper whatever feels true to you. It could be very specific (“I want to run a Fortune 500 company some day”) or more general (“I want to learn and be part of a new business”).

What’s success?

  • What does career success mean to you? How do you define it?

  • Are you achieving some level of success in your current job? If the answer is no, what would help you achieve a greater sense of success? If the answer is yes, what would greater success look like?

What do you want?

  • What do you want to do, accomplish, contribute to or impact in your career? Remember: Anything is possible!

  • If absolutely no obstacles stood in your way, what would you most like to attain in your career?

What’s next?

  • In the next 12 months, what do you want to do, accomplish, contribute to or impact?

  • What could bring you one step (or leap) closer to your definition of success?

Step 2: What do you need?

If Step 1 is about allowing yourself to dream big, then Step 2 is about being honest about the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

It’s important to be really honest about where you are. If your ambition is to work toward a promotion, use a job description for your dream position to understand the skills and experience you’ll need. It’s good to look at multiple job descriptions (perhaps one with your company and one with a competitor) to ensure you aren’t missing any key items during your analysis. Go through the job descriptions line by line and compare them with your current skills, education and experience.

Ask yourself where you stand.

What have you already accomplished?

  • What experience can you point to? What’s the track record you’ll be able to document to show you’re ready for the job?

What do you still need to learn?

  • What skills, education, or experience do you need to add to be fully qualified?

Who is in the sphere of influence?

  • Consider who will be most influential in helping you get where you want to go. Who are the people who can help you secure a promotion or new opportunity? And, be honest, what do these people know or think about you currently? Are you on their radar? Do you have a personal relationship with them?

Step 3: What’s your goal?

Top-level athletes, successful business people and achievers in all fields set goals. Setting goals gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation. It focuses your actions and helps you measure progress. Setting goals and creating a plan allows you to see forward movement in what might otherwise feel like a long, pointless grind.

Based on the answers from Steps 1 and 2, take time to articulate and write down your goals.

Your long term goal:

  • What big picture aspirations and goals do you have for your career?

Your short term goal:

  • What do you want to do, try, learn or accomplish in the year ahead?

What’s your why?

  • Why is this important to you?

  • Why do you want to work toward this?

How will you know when you’ve accomplished this?

  • What are the measures or tangible signs that you’ve accomplished your goal?

Step 4: What’s the plan?

The difference between dreams and reality is action. Now that you’ve identified what you want, it’s time to build the road toward it. Most goals don’t fail because of lack of desire — they fail because of lack of a realistic plan. While you might be excited and extremely motivated to conquer this newly articulated goal, scaling a mountain in a single bound is not the best plan to achieve it. When things feel to impossible, we tend to procrastinate or give up. Know that baby steps are as important, if not more important, than big leaps. The goal is to keep moving forward.

Make an action plan that includes:


  • What are small, specific, timely steps you can take to keep moving forward? What can you do today/this week to help move you closer to your goals?


  • What are the milestones along the way to help anchor your plan?

  • What are the successes along the way that can guide you and reinforce that you’re moving ahead? Be sure to include dates to ground you and keep you in action mode.


  • What do you need to learn, get exposure to, or get certified in?

  • What are the actions, both big and small, you can take to gain this learning?


  • What can your employer do to help support your goal? Could you ask for help with training, development opportunities, or job shadowing? What do you need from your team, manager or employer to help make your goal a reality?


  • Is there anything stopping you from achieving your goal?

  • What are the obstacles, and what are solutions to these obstacles?

Step 5: Share the plan.

Don’t keep the plan to yourself. Even if your company isn’t proactive in career development, you can start the conversation.

Sharing your career development plan creates automatic accountability. By putting it out there, you’re setting expectations that you’re on a mission to create action and progress for yourself. And by sharing it with others, you’ve now invited them to follow up and hold you accountable.

With that in mind, talk to your manager about ways you can stay connected. Create a way to follow-up and talk about your progress, struggles and evolving plan.

With a few simple steps, you can create a career development plan that puts you on the path to amazing success and opportunity.

It all starts with you.

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Antenna is a leader in delivering top marketing professionals to corporations of all sizes for project-based consulting, interim leadership assignments, and contract staffing engagements. With headquarters in Minneapolis, Antenna draws from its private community of experienced marketing talent to help clients balance the flexibility and expertise modern marketing organizations demand.