Editor’s note: Each blog post in this “Career Pathways in L&D” series shares a learning leader’s story and ends with his or her tips and advice for training professionals.

Looking back at my career path, I sometimes wonder how I ended up where I am today. I’ve been all over the map industry-wise, from human resources to retail management and print marketing, mortgage and insurance industries to higher education. I don’t know if I’ve really had a career path or more of a career adventure.

The biggest change was going from retail management, where I had 13 years of experience, to the mortgage industry, where I had no experience. There are regulations in the retail industry, but they don’t approach the volume of regulations in the mortgage industry. It was a shock to me from a learning standpoint. I was starting from ground zero, and it was scary. I knew how the train people, but suddenly, I was being asked questions to which I had no answers. I questioned my decision to take this job many times during the first six months. However, it all worked out in the end, and even better, I have done the same thing in the two positions I took after leaving the mortgage industry.

Based on my career journey, here’s some advice for newer training professionals:

Don’t take everything personally. Early in my career, when a leader or co-worker was critical of my work, I felt like it was a personal attack. The personal way I took criticism far often impacted my work and my relationship with leaders and co-workers. As I grew older and advanced in my career, I realized that what my leaders and co-workers were doing was asking me to think outside the silo I placed myself in. Now, as a leader, my goal is to explain my decisions to my team members in this way: “Here are my observations on how your work can be better” or, “This is why we do things in this manner.”

Be a risk-taker with a plan. It is easy to blend in and go with the flow on a daily basis, but what happens when you take risks? Early in my career, I took risks but didn’t understand their consequences or how they impacted the organization. I thought I was being a trendsetter, but after having several of risks fall through, I swallowed my pride and asked my leader what I was doing wrong. My leader said to me, “I appreciate your willingness to take risks, but you are failing to understand how they impact the organization. If you are going to take a risk, have a plan.” I then understood that I could take risks, but I needed to have plan in place and see the big picture. Having a plan made taking risks easier and made selling my risks to leadership easier, too, because they could see the potential outcomes.

Be a goal-setter. In every job I’ve had, developing goals has been part of it. When I worked in retail, my goals often evolved around sales increases, stronger profit margins and smart use of labor. When I moved into training, goals became more about getting people up to speed as soon as possible and looking for smarter ways to train people. These goals are great, and I still have production-based goals, but I had to look at what I wanted to do for me. When I became a training leader, I set three career goals for myself:

  • Successfully manage a department that is high-performing, and maintain that level of performance.
  • Take a department that was trending downward and revitalize it.
  • Start a training department from scratch.

So far, I have accomplished two out of three of my goals.

As a training professional, being credible is key. In my last three roles, I came into the position with a strong training background but no professional experience in the field I was working. To overcome this challenge, I immersed myself in learning. In the mortgage industry, it meant learning about processing and closing mortgage loans and how a loan was originated. This task was a challenge, especially since I was working in the mortgage industry during the 2008-2009 recession. However, I gained the skills and knowledge to become the backup supervisor for the processing and closing department and the subject matter expert for Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Affairs loans in our company.

From the mortgage company, I transitioned to agribusiness insurance, where I was starting from scratch all over again. Again, I jumped in head-first and went to work. I asked a lot of questions, I listened, I asked more questions and I found similarities to previous roles. For three years, I learned something new every day, which gave me the opportunity to advance my career from a training specialist to a learning and performance manager when I left the organization.

Today, my team develops compliance training for the largest public university in Iowa. I took the role with no experience in environmental health and safety, so once again, I was back at square one. Five years later, I still love what I do, and I still take challenges head-on.

One last thing…

You are never too old to learn! Three years ago, I made the choice to work toward my Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM™) credential. I thought I knew a lot about the training industry, but the CPTM online courses and practicum opened my eyes to more. As a training manager, those four letters after my signature add relevance to what I do every day. After I passed my exam, one of our senior leaders said to me, “Your designation truly adds relevance to you position and solidifies why our department places a premium on training.” I am proud to be a CPTM and part of a community that places such a high value on training.

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