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Ask Yourself These Questions At Every Stage Of Your Career

Being satisfied in your career involves more than just having a job you love. You have to ask the right questions at every stage.

Ask Yourself These Questions At Every Stage Of Your Career
[Photo: jacoblund/iStock]

Moving forward in your career generally involves taking deliberate actions–some of which are less than obvious.  Earning a promotion involves more than doing good work. You have to excel at the right assignments, impress the right people, and in most instances, advocate for yourself.

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Careers are no longer linear. New jobs and fields are springing up, job hopping and career changes are no longer seen as a big deal. On the plus side, this has created lots of opportunities. The downside is, it can be difficult to know whether you are doing the right thing.

Which makes reflection and asking the right questions all the more crucial. Here are some of the questions you should periodically ask yourself to ensure that you’re moving forward in your career–in a way that you want to.


Related: Would You Pay $1,500 For A More Meaningful Career? 


Early Career

What Do I Want To Get Good At Doing? 

You’ve probably been told to “follow your passion” at some point in your life, and you probably also know that there are a lot of problems with asking the question, “What’s my passion?” As Code 2040’s director of marketing and communications Allison Jones previously wrote in Fast Company, this “career” advice reeks of elitism and ignores “the work aspect of work.” By asking yourself what you’re willing to work hard to get good at, you’re acknowledging the reality that building a career is not an overnight effort, and you’re probably going to encounter pain in the process.

Careers take a long time to build. Leadership consultant and former VP of HR at Walmart Angel Gomez told Fast Company that “we tend to hero worship those people that have a quick win,” and we often lie to ourselves about what it takes to build a successful career. “I think that folks want advancement very quickly, and sometimes you just need two to three cycles to get good at what you’re doing.”

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Related: Nine Simple Questions I Learned To Ask That Transformed My Career


What Kind Of Environment Allows Me To Be At My Best?

It’s not always easy to answer this question without trial and error, but different people thrive in different environments. As Morra Aarons-Mele previously wrote for Fast Company, “Some of us thrive on office life: the group projects, collegiality, the conference calls, the palace intrigue–but others need quiet space to work. That doesn’t mean they’re escaping work, just that they’re more easily overstimulated.”

Beyond noise and quiet, a company’s role and culture plays a large part in your happiness at work and tends to translate to your success and professional growth (or lack of). As Molly Petrilla previously wrote for Fast Company, “If you like chit-chat and a background hum, you probably won’t be happy in the tomb-silent office where you just interviewed. Or if you love coming up with new ideas and taking big risks, you may not like a place that doesn’t embrace change.”


Related: How To Tell If You’ll Fit Into A Company Culture Before You Take The Job 


How Can I Set Myself To Get The Best Experiences Possible?

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Gomez told Fast Company that early in your career, your focus should be on maximizing learning opportunities. When Gomez started his career as a young litigator, he deliberately sought out opportunities at smaller firms in order to get more time trying cases. In his instance, this choice presented him with plenty more hands-on experience early in his career than his peers working at big law firms might not have gotten.

Even in the most menial jobs, there are always things you can do to gain hands-on experience that would benefit you later in your career.  Rachel Bitte, chief people officer at Jobvite, previously told Fast Company that one way to do this is to “look for projects that are really meaty that some people might shy away from.”

Mid-Career

What Kinds Of Activities Give Me Strength And Energy, And What Kinds Of Activities Weaken Me?

As you are exposed to different jobs in your career, you’ll learn that there are certain tasks that invigorate you and things that “suck the energy out of you.” Gomez suggests thinking of a time where you go home energized at the end of a long day of work, and making sure that you choose to take jobs that involve those activities. Angela R. Howard, organizational psychologist and owner of talent and culture consulting firm ARH Clarity Consulting, LLC, told Fast Company that mid-career is a great time to reflect on whether you are happy in your current career trajectory.

Do I Want To Go Into Management Or Do I Want To Be An Individual Contributor?

In a corporation, “moving up” is often seen as stepping into a managerial role. But just as everyone is not suited to a specific office culture, Howard said that often, those early in their careers “always want to be the boss.” Then they get to mid-career and realize that they don’t want to manage people. Howard says that it’s important to answer this question honestly, and be okay with not wanting to go down the management track. This is a sentiment that Gomez echoes. He told Fast Company, “A lot of people don’t ask themselves this question.”

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Related: This Is how To Turn Procrastination Into A Management Technique


Senior Level

In What Ways Can I Still Make An Impact?

If you’ve made it to the top of your industry and don’t want to retire just yet, chances are that you’re still motivated to grow and challenge yourself. Howard told Fast Company that this is a good time to assess whether you’ve achieved the impact that you wanted to achieve in your career, and whether you can bring your skill sets and experience to another industry. In addition, it’s also worth thinking about the possibility of using your expertise to start a business, Howard says.

How Can I Use My Learnings To Give Back And Help People?

More importantly, this a great time to be thinking about how you can develop others, Howard says. You know why younger employees can benefit from having a mentor, but mentors also have a lot to gain by having mentees. As marketing and psychology professor Art Markman wrote for Fast Company, you’ll be able to gain a greater understanding of your work by having to teach or explain it to your mentee. More powerfully, it allows you to appreciate what you’ve accomplished in your career so far. Markman wrote, “It is hard to see your big contributions amid the cloud of daily tasks. As a mentor, you get to compare yourself to someone who is just starting out. That helps to bring the things you have accomplished into relief.”

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About the author

Anisa is the Assistant Editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She covers everything from productivity to the future of work

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