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.
I studied sociology in college. I was interested in helping others and thought that I’d work in public health or mental health. My first full-time job was at a social services agency, where I counseled and trained recovering addicts returning to the workforce. It was tough, exhausting work. I began to meet with experienced leaders at local companies to discuss my goals and how to match them with potential jobs. This path led me to the field of training and professional development.
Midway into my career, I was laid off from a job due to the “dot-bomb” situation. I assessed my goals and decided that the high-tech industry was going through too much uncertainty for my comfort. My personal life was changing, too. I wanted to start a family and work smarter, not longer. I found a position at a growing organization that wanted me to build the learning function.
During my first eight years in the L&D industry I had positions working on the design, development, implementation and delivery of learning programs. Then, I was ready for more. My boss said, “Opportunities rarely come to you; you must seek them out.” So, I began expanding my skill set to include performance improvement, leadership development, change management and talent retention.
Over time, my work became administrative, and several mergers altered the overall corporate culture and my role at the company where I worked. I was no longer meeting clients, training and facilitating; I was behind the computer too often. I felt apathy toward my role and started to be more active outside of work to fill the void. I wrote articles, led webinars and served on panels. I was a thought leader at several conferences.
After some personal issues and a desire to change my work, I made the decision to take time off. I lost my mother to a terminal illness, and shortly afterward, my mother-in-law passed away too. I had worked full-time for 16 years while managing a home, supporting a husband, having two children and volunteering regularly. I lost a stepfather to cancer, and I supported my dying mother during her final years of life.
I made the decision to stop everything, rest and reconnect. I read contemporary fiction. I met with mentors to ask for their feedback on where they thought I’d be most successful in my future. I watched Netflix, Ellen and the morning shows and learned to drink my coffee slowly and mindfully. I enjoyed the summer off with my children. I had lunch with friends and peers. At the seven-month mark, I reassessed. I realized I wanted to work, and I knew what my strengths were. I took the next step in my career.
Today, I lead the enterprise learning function in a smaller organization. I have a seat at the table and the ear of leadership. I lead performance improvement and talent development. I provide thought leadership in identifying, designing, implementing and facilitating developmental opportunities. I’m excited about this new role and happy to use my expertise every day.
Based on my career journey, here’s some advice I’d tell my former self:
- Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, or you’re not comfortable, stop, listen and make a change.
- Keep your resume current, even when you are not actively looking for work. Take an interview; it’s a great ego boost that reminds you what you bring to the table. Maybe something better will come along when you least expect it.
- Establish and maintain professional contacts, and stay in touch regularly.
- Write, publish and present when you can. It can lead to opportunities and connections.
- Stay abreast of new developments in the L&D industry and your company’s industry. Attend workshops and seminars regularly, read publications, and seek out subscriptions and industry memberships.
- Pursue formal and informal education to remain competitive in the marketplace. If your job won’t pay for it, look for scholarships. If neither option is available, consider whether you’re at the right place. If your job isn’t willing to help you grow and develop, then maybe it’s not the best job for you.
- Maintain balance! Give much-needed time to your family, friends and health. Never give more time to your job than to yourself. If you’re not healthy and happy, then you cannot convincingly sell it at work. Your personal success is your corporate success, too.
And, here’s some advice for newer training professionals:
- Explore career paths in case opportunities in your preferred one aren’t the right fit.
- Regularly reassess your goals.
- Promote yourself. Write down your achievements, key projects, initiatives and positive feedback.
- Ask for more work and do it well!
- Build a “board of directors” for your career – a group of people who support you, including:
- A mentor who knows your heart and soul and can help you make life decisions.
- A sponsor at work who will stand up for you, put himself or herself on the line for you and pitch you for specific opportunities.
- A coach who will give you constructive feedback and encourage you to work on gaps (Coaches pull you off the field when it’s necessary and motivate you to “get back out there” when you’re ready).
- A role model who once was in your shoes, whom you can aspire to be like.
Download the free e-book “Career Pathways in Learning and Development: Perspectives and Strategies for Your Training Career”: