That moment may come in the first three months or the first anniversary of your first job. Maybe, if you’re thick-skinned, you don’t feel it until your second anniversary. It’s the moment you say to yourself, “This isn’t what I thought it would be.” Four years of college, tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, and the hard work to learn your skill now seem pointless. You push yourself out of bed and grind through another day. All the while, you’re contemplating how you missed the obvious: Your career is more than on the wrong path. It’s in the ditch. You’re ready to sell insurance or something.
Before your give into hopelessness, review this checklist. If any apply, you can turn everything around.
Not having a career plan
It’s entirely reasonable to believe that good things will happen because you did everything you were supposed to do. You worked hard in school, put together a portfolio, and even landed a couple of internships. On paper, you look very employable. If you don’t have a career plan, all that preparation is going to be wasted.
When I do a workshop, I ask college students where they want to work. One or two people will give me an answer. To which I ask, if that employer doesn’t have a position, where will they work? More times than not, the answer is, “Wherever I can get a job.” Think about the juxtaposition of those two options: Either work at the place of your dreams or for anyone that will give you a job. That's a plan for misery.
A career plan helps you know where you need to work because you know what you want to accomplish by the end of your career. Getting the right job launches your career on the right trajectory to reach your real career potential.
Working at the wrong place
The quickest way to prepare a target employer list uses your attraction to the work going on in your skill area. Note who did that work and research the company to see if they should be on your target employer list.
After you locate a dozen or so interesting companies, scour their websites. Learn about them from their perspective. For example, what culture does the information convey? What other work have they done that appeals to you? What is the background of the owners and partners?
Once you have a list of target employers, select a half dozen bullseye employers — the ones that you love. Now you’re ready for avoiding the next rookie mistake.
Giving up control
Remember that answer to the question, “Where will you work if the place where you want to work most doesn’t have a position?” If your reply is “anywhere,” you’re giving up control of your future. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than “anywhere” being the best place to start your career.
I receive a lot of communication from people who, a couple of years into their careers, are ready to give up. The reason their careers slid off the rails is that they haven’t taken control. They falsely believed that success happens by chance. There is no such thing as dumb luck. People who succeed make their luck. They know what they want. They determine the company that offers the opportunities to achieve their goal. They learn what they need to do to get a job offer at that target employer, and they do it.
If this article is hitting close to home, share the number one obstacle to reaching your true career potential in the ad industry.
Bart Cleveland spent over 30 years helping grow brands like Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, and CNN. Now, he guides creative professionals to plan and execute successful careers through his business, Job Propulsion Lab℠. He also helps both agencies and marketers nurture customers into advocates through a relationship development program he calls, ACES℠.
Bart launched Ad Age’s most popular blog, Small Agency Diary. He is also a contributing author of the book, The Get A Job Workshop, How To Find Your Way To A Creative Career In Advertising.