Career Development Tips + Resources
Career development is a catch-all term for what people do to achieve their professional goals. It includes everything from taking night classes to networking, career coaching and taking on new responsibilities in your current job. Since the list of potential steps you could take is virtually limitless, effective career development requires a thoughtful approach: decide on a career goal, then map out the experience, competencies and connections you’ll need to get there.
So you’ve decided to build a career for yourself in the tech industry. Now what?
Landing a job is an important first step, but odds are you don’t want to stay at the entry level forever. Moving up the career ladder is easier said than done, however, and you’re unlikely to just stumble into your dream job. You need to take a step back and think about what you like to do and what you’re good at. Do you want to manage people, or do you want to achieve excellence in your craft? Do you prefer to work at a small startup where you can experiment with responsibilities beyond your job description, or a big tech company with more structure and support systems?
Be sure to consider factors outside of work too. More responsibility often translates into more money, but it can also make work more stressful and your schedule less predictable. And if you love to travel or spend time outdoors when the weather is good, a decent job at a company that’s flexible about taking time off with short notice might be just as good as a more exciting, but all-consuming one.
Don’t overthink it though. Figuring out what you want might require some experimentation.
Once you decide on a path to pursue, it’s time to make a plan. What skills and competencies do people in your dream job have? How can you gain them? Can you talk to someone already doing the work about how they got there?
Some skills can be learned through classes or reading books, while others are best learned on the job. If you’re interested in moving into management, for example, a good first step would be to volunteer to lead a project with multiple stakeholders. It’s not the same thing as managing people full time, but it will give your boss an indication of your ability to balance competing priorities and coordinate with other people to get things done. If you do it well, promoting you into a first-time management role will feel like less of a gamble.
In reality, it’s all more complicated than that, of course. This section of our site offers in-depth advice on how to build your career, covering topics like the importance of interpersonal skills and finding the right mentor. It will also help you navigate the pivotal career moments that few of us face often enough to become good at: How should you quit your job? Follow up after an interview? Ask for a raise?
Read on to learn what you need to know to build a career that’s rewarding and in line with the kind of lifestyle you want.
Salary and Benefits
Finding a job that feels like more than a paycheck is good, but pay and benefits are important too. Effectively advocating for yourself can make a huge difference to your lifetime earnings — and doing that starts with understanding pay and benefits.
Don’t just sit around waiting for more money; ask for it. That might sound simple, but many of us leave money on the table because we’re too afraid to ask for raises. To negotiate effectively, you need to do some research to understand how much your peers at other companies make, as well as how your company’s salaries compare to broader market trends. That said, don’t think of these ranges as the cap of your earnings potential. If you’re good at what you do, you might be able to negotiate yourself to an above-market rate. [Read More]
Starting pay has major implications for earnings down the line, since many companies calculate raises based on a percentage of base salary. Making an effective counter offer requires some finesse, though, since you need to weigh getting what you want against the risk of alienating a potential employer. Common strategies for striking the right balance include asking for a company’s internal salary range, insisting on reviewing the written offer before accepting, and ensuring that you don’t tip your hand too much in the negotiation. [Read More]
Early stage startups can’t match corporate salaries, so they make up the difference with stock options. In short, stock options are contracts that let you buy part of a company at a set price in the future, giving you the chance to share in the upside of an IPO or an acquisition. How much you stand to make from an exit depends on a number of factors, including the company’s valuation, the number of shares you hold and your strike price — which is usually lower for longer-tenured employees. [Read More]
A severance package can lessen the blow of losing a job, but it isn’t free money, exactly. Packages can include weeks’ or months’ worth of your base salary, as well as extended healthcare benefits and help finding a new job. In exchange, you typically need to sign away the right to sue your former employer — and some agreements include non-disparagement, non-disclosure and non-compete clauses as well. You really should review it before you sign anything. [Read More]
The Career You Really Want
If you have specific goals, you need specific plans. If you’re lacking in either, these articles will help you kick off your career development journey.
Your dream job might be something you lose yourself in entirely, and where you find yourself bursting with ideas and enjoying every moment. Or it might be more about negative space: a job that’s pretty good, but flexible, and that leaves plenty of room for whatever else you like to do with your time. If you don’t know what your dream job is, it might be time to start thinking about it. Otherwise, your career might pass by before you find out. [Read More]
Too often, we become laser focused on the next step on the career ladder, losing track entirely of the bigger picture. Taking a longer-term view is important, because chasing the next step can end up leading you astray. Do you want a high-powered career with lots of responsibility, or do you want to close your laptop at the same time every night to spend time with friends and family? Do you want to be responsible for other people, or do you prefer to focus on excellence as an individual contributor? The answers to these questions should shape your long-term career goals. [Read More]
Sometimes, it’s the short-term plan that is lacking. If you find yourself stuck in a rut without a clear path forward, a good first step is thinking about some short- to medium-term goals. These goals should feel fulfilling, yet also attainable. Think: “Mentor a colleague,” or “Lead a presentation for my team about best practices.” Don’t make it trivial, but don’t make it too hard, either. A quick win can do wonders for your self-esteem, and help you reach more ambitious goals in the future. [Read More]
Short-term goals need to be specific and measurable. For example, if you want to expand your professional network, “establishing two new contacts every month” is a better goal than “having a robust network by the end of the year.” Once you’ve established a goal, write it down and ask someone you trust to hold you accountable. [Read More]
Many companies reserve job shadowing for interns, but a chance to look ahead at what the future could hold can be valuable at any step in your career journey. Shadowing lets you look beyond job descriptions and get a sense of what the day-to-day work actually looks like. That’s important if you want a clear idea of what you’d like to do, or, perhaps equally importantly, what you don’t want to do. [Read More]
No one expects a new hire to know everything, but some things are more important to remember than others. The 30-60-90 day plan is designed to help new hires prioritize their time, laying out expectations for the first, second and third month, respectively. In most jobs, the first month is mostly about learning, while the second and third months are for experimenting and taking on real responsibilities. [Read More]
Building Your Network
A robust professional network isn’t built in a day. But if you put in the effort and offer up as much help as you receive, you might soon find that all roads in your chosen field lead back to you.
The right network can do wonders for your career, helping with everything from introductions to gut checks before important decisions. But although your network might grow naturally over the course of your career, you’re going to have to put in some time and effort in developing and maintaining connections. The best way to do that is to set aside some time every week for keeping up. [Read More]
Different people want different things from a mentor. Some people want a role model with a job they dream to hold. Others are looking for a successful peer with a shared professional or personal background. And while some turn to mentors for emotional support while things are tough, others want a trusted person who will tell them when they’re in the wrong. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s probably someone out there for you. Here’s what you should know before you start looking. [Read More]
The informational interview can be a powerful tool for anyone looking to break into a new specialization or industry. Usually initiated by the person looking to make inroads, these interviews are opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of what someone does and how they do it. Informational interviews do have the potential to help you land a job down the line, but you shouldn’t spend your contact’s precious time trying to sell yourself. Instead, do your research and ask thoughtful questions, and trust that your wits and curiosity will make an impression. Either way, the insights you gather are likely to help you do better in your next job interview. [Read More]
A coach will work with you over a set number of sessions to help you achieve specific goals or gain specific competencies. A mentor relationship is less formal, and mentors usually don’t charge money from their mentees. So which do you need? It depends. [Read More]
Developing New Skills
Traits like communication, confidence and ability to trust people play an outsize role for anyone aspiring to leadership of any kind. They may sound like nice-to-haves, but neglecting these so-called “soft skills” will derail even the best-laid career development plans.
Technical know-how might get you a foot in the door, but if you want to move up within an organization and do high-impact work, you’ll need strong interpersonal skills. Fortunately, you can work on those, just like you can any other skill. One important thing you can do is pay more attention to how you behave around others — do you interrupt often, for example? Other strategies include setting aside time for checking in with coworkers and asking for honest feedback about what it’s like to work with you. [Read More]
If you ever feel like you’re in over your head and about to get found out, you’re not alone. Imposter syndrome is extremely common in the tech industry — especially among women and members of other underrepresented groups. Fortunately, talking openly about these feelings can help, since it sheds light on how everyone struggles in one way or another. And if everyone feels like they’re falling short in some way, maybe we’re all just setting the bar too high for ourselves. [Read More]
If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’re not really listening. Some of us are better at hearing what others are saying than others, but active listening is a skill we could all stand to get better at. Some improvements will come easy, like disabling notifications when you step into a meeting. Others require a shift in mindset, away from troubleshooting a conversation partner’s problems in real time, and toward embracing moments of silence as you consider what to ask next. [Read More]
People will go on endlessly about the importance of soft skills, but which skills are they actually talking about? In tech, hiring managers tend to look for communication and listening skills, a collaborative mindset, friendliness, and openness to feedback. It might sound like a no-brainer, but developing these skills is easier said than done: hiring managers consistently report trouble finding candidates who possess them. [Read More]
The transition from individual contributor to manager can be tricky, in large part because it involves moving from doing something you’re good at to managing other people in the job you used to have. Oftentimes, that means you can fix problems your employees are stuck on in no time — but that doesn’t mean you should. Letting your employees learn how to solve their own problems is critical to their professional growth, and it’s going to make your own job easier in the long run. It can be painful at times, but it’s the right thing to do. [Read More]
Some hiring managers don’t care about follow-ups, while others think it speaks volumes about a candidate’s interest in the job. Since there’s no way of knowing which camp someone falls into, skipping the follow-up email can end up costing you the job. That said, be sure not to overwhelm the recipient. Keep it short, reiterate your interest and emphasize why you think you’re the right person for the role. [Read More]