A career in software engineering or IT can sometimes feel like high-stakes gambling. New technologies and languages are always emerging and evolving, and new opportunities often involve taking risks and choosing between startups that could experience tremendous success – or flame out within months.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only made things more treacherous. While many use moments of crisis to consider major life and career changes, a recent article from Harvard Business Review points out that in reality, “threatening situations prompt us to behave more conservatively,” leading to potentially stalled careers.
The pandemic has had an even more acute effect on women in the workplace. According to a poll from CNBC and Survey Monkey, 22 percent of women have experienced a career setback within the past 12 months.
[ Want more advice? Read also: IT careers: 10 critical skills to master in 2021 and How to improve your LinkedIn profile. ]
Realizing that your career has stalled or that you aren’t on track to reach your goals can lead to feelings of disappointment, dread, and anxiety. However, there is a positive for those working in tech: The same volatility that can make career development feel like a run at the blackjack table also provides a constant source of opportunity. Reinventing yourself and getting out of a rut may be as simple as learning a new coding language or reaching out to a fast-growing startup in your area.
IT career path advice: 5 ways to move past stalls
Do you feel like your IT career needs a jolt of adrenaline? Here are five tips to get things moving again:
1. Recognize the danger in comfort
Feeling stalled in your current position most likely means that you have mastered your current responsibilities. While we should always strive to excel at our work, it’s important to recognize when we’ve become too comfortable. It can feel great to perform our jobs with ease and have time to exhale, but comfort can easily lead to stagnation, followed by boredom and resentment.
Take personal growth into your own hands. When your job has become too easy, take a survey of the technologies being widely adopted throughout your industry. Trends like containerization and Kubernetes are likely to shape the next decade of jobs in IT and software development. Getting in on the ground floor of a transformational software tool will put you in a smart position.
2. Find the barrier-free path
A stalled career isn’t always the result of complacency. In some cases, a small or struggling company will not have the headcount to offer you opportunities to advance internally. If you can’t identify a clear path to advancement in your current position, don’t wait for something to open – stagnation won’t get better with time.
Many job seekers look for their next opportunity with the mindset that they must find a higher-level opportunity; to these people, a lateral move to a different company feels like a step backward. These positions need to be looked at in the context of the broader enterprise. If a larger company offers a broad range of possibilities in terms of promotions, skill-building, and professional development, a lateral move could be hugely beneficial for long-term growth.
3. Look beyond yourself
There is a common debate in sports when considering who should win the Most Valuable Player award. If the best player in the league plays on a losing team, can they truly be considered the most valuable? The same principle can be applied to career development. If you believe that you’re being passed over for promotion, look around and consider your team’s performance.
Success breeds success, and your exceptional work is more likely to be recognized if it happens in the context of a thriving team or a noteworthy project. Sometimes team performance will require you to focus less on individual excellence and consider how your work can support the broader mission. Your fate is tied closely to that of your team or division, so their priorities should become your priorities.
4. Identify and acquire the must-have skills
Today’s job seekers have more information at their disposal than at any point in history, with platforms like Glassdoor and LinkedIn offering a wealth of insights into job openings, position requirements, average salaries, and more. If you’re struggling to land your dream job, these sites should become key weapons in your arsenal.
A quick Google search for your target position should turn up hundreds of examples of past and present job listings, in addition to resumes or portfolios from those who have found success. This collection of information should enable you to make a list of the most common skills required for your role.
[ Which IT certifications and skillsets pay off most? Read also: 15 highest-paying IT certifications in 2021. ]
Even if you’re not able to apply at the moment, or if there’s not a relevant opening in your area, you can use these listings as a to-do list for upskilling that can guide the immediate next steps in your professional development. As you acquire and hone these skills over time, you’ll become a slam-dunk candidate for the next opening that meets your needs.
5. Seek out a mentor
For better or worse, career advancement is often tied to networking and advocacy, finding people in high places who will vouch for your talent and are invested in your advancement.
If you don’t feel like you have people in your corner, try to find a mentor. This isn’t just a Machiavellian hunt for the right reference on your CV. A good mentor can do everything from helping you to identify the skills you’re missing for advancement to providing you with inside tips on how to stand out in an interview. Just remember to pay it forward once your career is soaring and provide mentorship to the next generation.
While these five tips offer specific advice on how to restart a stalled career, there is a common thread running through each of them: Your future is in your hands. Don’t wait for career advancement to happen to you – do what it takes to help yourself and ensure you’re at the front of the pack for the next big opportunity.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
What to read next
Subscribe to our newsletter.
Keep up with the latest advice and insights from CIOs and IT leaders.