Five Tips To Uncovering Your Career Path
The year was 2015. I was finishing my computer engineering degree in India, and the hiring season was beginning at my undergraduate college. As a computer engineer, taking a Software Engineer role was my best option to step foot into the industry. As you can imagine, Software Engineer was the most sought-after role in my class. But even though I enjoyed coding, it did not seem to bring out my true personality and skills.
Since childhood, I've been actively involved in various leadership roles and have been someone who naturally brings people together to take a project to its finish line. So it made me think. Is coding the only job Software Engineers can do? Doesn’t the industry need any creative thinkers? Who comes up with the product ideas?
Back then, I didn’t have the answers to those questions nor any idea on how to find them. So with limited knowledge about opportunities, I took a Software Engineer role at SAP. At SAP, I discovered the decision about a product and features was made by one individual sitting in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whoa. While looking this person up in the company directory for more information, I read the job title – ‘Product Manager’ for the very first time.
I redefined my career goals with this new discovery because I then knew what I was looking for. I had a goal to obtain, and today I’m a Senior Product Manager at NextRoll. In the process of this career move, I learned five key lessons.
#1 Discover Yourself
Self-discovery is key. There is nobody who knows what you like and enjoy more than you do, so take a peek within yourself. Spend a silent evening just thinking and jotting down your interests, your strengths, and your dreams.
Here are a few steps to help you get started:
List the things you’re passionate about. It may sound basic, but it will lead you to understand your interests more. This could include your hobbies or tasks you do as part of your extracurriculars. Personally, I like to work closely with people, love using tech products, and whenever I plan a project – be it throwing a bachelorette party or launching my undergraduate school's yearbook – I love researching, brainstorming creative ideas, and getting people together to work on it.
List the things about your current job that you like and dislike. When I was a Software Engineer, I liked being in the tech industry, I liked being at a software product company, and I enjoyed the scale of working on global products.
My dislikes were I did not enjoy sitting behind my computer all day with minimal human interaction, just figuring out my code output. I didn’t like that I couldn’t brainstorm customer-facing ideas, and I didn’t enjoy working in a silo on the part of a product but not getting exposure to the full product. I wanted to be part of the discussion about the future of the project.
Look around and ask yourself, “Who’s doing their dream job?” At SAP, I quickly recognized the product manager on my team was doing my dream job. It’s also a question I continue to ask myself so that I am able to define the next role that I should work towards. If you don’t find anyone on your team doing your dream job, attend talks and conferences or find people on LinkedIn with interesting job profiles. Once you find them, send them an InMail with your questions.
Acknowledge your emotions because they are speaking to you. All the anxiety and frustration were probably lucky for me because it forced me to problem solve for myself and motivated me to move abroad, put myself out there for a role change, and switch companies.
To help us acknowledge my emotions, I use an old trick from the PM’s toolkit called the “5 Whys” method.
I’m feeling demotivated at work.
| Why could that be?
I don’t feel like I’m bringing my best self to work.
| Why is that?
It’s because my job doesn’t allow me to use my best skills – creativity, people management, and customer interaction.
My work is focused on completing the technical work of the product features, not interacting with cross-functional teams.
| Why not?
Because folks who work with multiple teams coordinating efforts and strategy are part of the product team.
| Why is that?
Because the product team is the decision-maker for the strategy, features, and direction the product should go.
Thinking through the “Whys” behind my emotions leads me to my answer: I should consider transitioning to a product role.
#2 Ask For Help
There are lots of people out there who have gone through a similar experience, and they have a lot to offer in terms of advice – a colleague, someone you connect with on LinkedIn, or someone you chat with at a conference. I often send out intentional InMails on LinkedIn to people I find interesting and who would be great to chat with. Of course, if you send out ten InMails, you may only get four or five replies, but those few interactions can help you gather more information to make your next move!
#3 Think Creatively
There is no unsolvable problem in your business or your career. Think outside the box to creatively convince people about your aspiration. Don’t be stuck doing what everybody else is doing. Your background or experience will not matter if you showcase yourself with the utmost passion.
After about eight months of working as a part-time product manager at Yahoo, the Head of Product called me to a meeting room. She asked me, “Would you like to move into a full-time product manager role?”
“Yes!” I said emphatically, “I definitely want to move into Product Management; that is where I see my career growth.”
#4 Open Mouths Get Fed
Putting yourself out there with your asks is not easy. It can even be embarrassing to ask for the same thing repeatedly. But consistency is what helped me achieve my ultimate goal of being offered the role with a raise.
Before my official move to Yahoo, I was incorrect in thinking that moving into the product would be a step down for me, and I would have to take a salary cut. I prepared for it because I knew my passion lay in the product, and that’s where I saw myself growing, but I knew I needed to do my own research and be comfortable negotiating my worth when the time came.
This brings me to the last lesson.
#5 Value Yourself
Don’t second guess yourself and think you’re lucky to get the opportunity. Prepare to negotiate and be paid for your value. We often shy away from telling our salaries to friends who might need help. Some of my friends were very transparent about their compensation, and it helped me understand what I was worth. As a woman, I try to help other women by sharing my experience, sharing information, and promoting and motivating them to get their best value.
Pivoting careers can be daunting, but it’s not nearly as impossible with some introspection as you might think. Taking the right steps to discover yourself and your emotions, asking for help, negotiating creatively, and advocating for yourself are sure to uncover a great career path.
Are you ready for a career that encourages your personal and professional growth and provides the resources to help you thrive? Learn more about how we support ambitious women on our Start Strong. Finish Stronger. site.