Increasingly, with jobs and careers today, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it ♫. The career paradigm is changing from employment to employability security. It forces us to seek constant growth and professional re-development, aka lifewide and lifelong learning. These drivers apply to us all. Yet, some songs remain the same. This post explains four universal career stages that are independent of age. Which career stage are you at right now and where would you prefer to be?
What follows is drawn from a career profile questionnaire based on adult development theory and research by Ken Nowack of Envisia Learning. In life and work, we go through a series of overlapping and sequential stages. These stages are characterised by patterns of development, career interests, activities, values, needs, and behaviours that change over time. We can go through these overlapping stages many times.
Entry career stage
This stage occurs every time we start a new job, role, career, location etc. You know that feeling of beginning something new? You’re learning the ropes and orienting yourself to the new situation. It can be exciting, fresh, uncomfortable, frustrating. You may feel insecure, not your natural self or fully at ease. Inevitably, relationships take a while to form as you get to know each other. You bring with you a rich invisible history of experience, knowledge, skills, strengths, and talents that become visible over time. You’re keen to show what you can do.
This stage is about self-validation: Do I have what it takes? Where do I fit in? How do I become recognised and valued here?
Development career stage
This stage is about growth, being accepted, progressing and receiving increasingly more challenging responsibilities. You’re developing your professional expertise, networks, becoming visible and recognised by others. Essentially, you’re showing your worth and capabilities, exploring and realising your potential. I’d argue that it can feel like a permanent state of beta (to quote LinkedIn co-founder, Reid Hoffman) and is about your learnability.
This stage is about self-improvement:: What progress am I making? How can I grow? Where can I point my strengths and talents next?
Balance career stage
During this stage, you start to pause, acknowledging your successes and achievements, and re-assessing career and life goals. You consider what you will and won’t take on depending on the impact on your wellbeing. Your priorities may shift between work, family, children, play and interests outside of work.
I’d argue that, for some young people experiencing the so-called quarter-life crisis, this stage overlaps the Entry stage before the Development stage even occurs. In search of self-fulfillment, young professionals will walk from their employers if entry-level jobs lack meaning, there are limited opportunities to develop and progress, and their voices are not heard.
This stage is about self-fulfillment: What is most important to me in work and life now? How can I prioritise and integrate them? What activities, experiences, and achievements will fulfill me?
Exploration career stage
The exploration stage may be temporary or long-term and occur at any time in your career. In essence, it’s when you start to feel stuck. Your job or career is going nowhere. Maybe, you’ve hit a plateau or a ceiling. You don’t fit in the role or organisation anymore and feel a loss of identity. Often, relationships with colleagues are not the same and your boss is a nightmare.
Consequently, you’re not at your best because you can no longer use your strengths and experience. Trapped or dissatisfied, you may disengage and go through the motions. Unchecked, these feelings can lead to anger, helplessness, burnout, and depression. In response, you begin redefining your career options and looking at opportunities to re-stimulate your motivation.
This stage is about active self-exploration: What opportunities for personal fulfillment exist elsewhere? Where can I continue to develop personally and professionally? Who do I want to help with my unique talents and experience?
Currently, which stage(s) are you in? What makes you think or feel that? Does it feel right for you? If not, where would you like to be? If there’s a gap, what does it mean? What’s your next step?
Need coaching help? Get in touch for a no-obligation chat about your career stage and where you would like to be.