As a mentor to numerous engineers throughout my career, I have always marveled at the different approaches men and women take to mapping out their careers. In my initial mentoring sessions, I often ask, “Where do you see yourself in three years? In five years? In ten years?” In almost every case, the female mentees struggle with the question. They typically give vague answers, such as, “I want to be in a job where my work is valued,” or “I want to be recognized for my work.” In contrast, the men describe their career progressions in very specific terms; some have even stated that they wanted my job and asked my help in achieving that goal!
Setting specific goals with timelines to achieve them is an important step in moving your career forward. There are many articles about how to decide what you want out of your career and set goals that are “SMART” (specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely). But, in most of these articles, a critical piece of advice is missing: you can’t just know what you want; you have to let other people know what you want!
This sounds pretty obvious, but a surprising number of people, especially women, don’t communicate what they want. They assume that their management knows how hard they are working and will “take care of them.” Unfortunately, if your management doesn’t know where you want to go, they may be planning to move you somewhere else, or worse, feel you want to stay exactly where you are. Managers are not mind readers. Not just female employees, but female college students, too, fall prey to this behavior. One of my mentees thought she was in the running for a TA position simply because she had top grades. Meanwhile, no one in the university department was even aware of her interest!
Many women who are uncomfortable talking about career advancement choose instead to “drop hints.” For example, one female mentee actually thought that because she made a comment that a particular job sounded quite challenging, her manager understood that she wanted it! Goals need to be communicated clearly and specifically. If you haven’t had a conversation with your management about your goals, it’s time to schedule one. They need to hear from you what you want—and they should also know what you don’t want.
Another advantage of informing bosses and colleagues about your career goals is that they can be a good source of opportunities. The more people who know what kind of job you’re looking for, the more eyes and ears you have working for you. When they hear about something similar to what you have expressed interest in, they will either pass your name along or alert you. For example, a mentee who wanted a transfer to a specific location for personal reasons let others who worked in her office know about her interest. Within only a few days, she heard about three potential openings.
Setting goals, no matter how directed, measureable, or timely, is only part of the job. If you want to reach your goals, share them with the people who can help you achieve them.
About the Blogger
Renee Weisman, owner of Winning at Work Consulting, charted new territory as one of the first woman engineers, managers, executives and working mothers in the male-dominated semiconductor industry. Over her 40 years in education and industry, she learned to make gender differences work for her and teaches others how to do the same. Renee is the author of Winning in a Man’s World, and 5 Ways to Get a Man to Listen.
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