8 tips for getting your IT career back on track

Most of us are trying get ahead in this world, but occasionally we find ourselves in the unenviable career rut. Maybe you realize your current position doesn't align with your long-term goals. Perhaps you received a poor performance review, or were passed over for promotion, and feel like your career has gone off the road.

Now what? You've got to get your career back on track -- and fast.

Charles R. Swindoll once said, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." He may be referring to times like this. Swindoll believed in the power of hard work and a positive attitude. Both traits are necessary to finding the path to your long-term career goals.

No one's going to hand anything to you, so you need to get your head in the game. But where do you start? Thankfully, we did the leg work for you. CIO.com spoke with hiring managers and career professionals; together they provide 8 tips to help you get through these trying times while still pushing forward.

Know the Warning Signs

It's not always clear as a bell that your career has gone off the rails. Sometimes, you have to identify the warning signs yourself. Our experts suggest the following signs that your career's in hot water.

You are no longer being invited to meetings or conversations relevant to your area of responsibility, warns Ed Nathanson, senior director of global talent acquisition with Rapid7.

Being excluded from future planning sessions is another red flag.

Your leadership team no longer trusts you with the important client, project, and/or technical team.

You hearing explicit or implied criticism of your performance, dedication, willingness to change, or other catch phrases. "It's a good sign that you've been identified, rightly or wrongly, as a potential problem," says Stephen Van Vreede, executive solutions architect at IT Tech Exec, a career management, resume and job search solutions firm.

People who used to be strong advocates for you aren't as enthusiastic as they used to be.

You've lost your passion. "If you're just not passionate about what you're doing, a change is required," Van Vreede says. "It may simply be a recharge of your batteries, a commitment to expand your learning, or something else. However, more drastic action may be required."

You're too comfortable in your role. "When tasks start feeling automatic, in this comfort stage, many professionals begin to lose their creativity," says Bill Ellermeyer, the founder of Ellermeyer Connect, an executive career coaching firm. "However, innovation is fostered from challenge and passion. You've got to remain engaged with the latest trends and proficiencies within the tech industry."

Request More Frequent Feedback

"The reality is that many technology professionals truly don't know how the leadership team views their performance, strengths, abilities, promotability and so on," Van Vreede says.

If you work in an environment where you only get feedback once a year, or not at all, then talk to your supervisor. "State the importance of receiving honest feedback and how critical it is to growth, both in your career and for your company," Nathanson says. "If you emphasize the importance of wanting to learn and grow in your conversation, the result will be positive."

You should also ask coworkers you trust to give you feedback. Ask them how others feel about the way you interact and behave.

Blow Your Own Horn

No one likes over-the-top self-promotion, but it's important that the right people know about your successes and what value you provide. After all, people may not fully understand your role. "Act as your own champion internally," Nathanson says, without being aggressive or self-aggrandizing. "Ensure that the right people know what you're working on and the successes you're enjoying. A little well-played 'self-PR' can go a long way."

Participate in Company Events

Many people in IT lean toward the introverted side and find social interaction difficult, but making appearances at company events matters if you're dedicated to building your professional relationships. "Show passion for the company and its mission," Nathanson says.

Volunteer For Difficult or Unwanted Tasks

Volunteering shows that you're a team player who can tackle a difficult assignment outside of your comfort zone. "Being willing to work outside of your given responsibilities shows that you are passionate about your job, the company and the industry itself," Ellermeyer says. "In today's digital age, it's become increasingly important for IT professionals to be ready and willing to wear multiple hats, as technology can and often does replace human manpower."

The only caveat: Don't over-extend yourself by volunteering for something that will have a negative impact on your core responsibilities.

Increase Your Depth of Industry Knowledge

This process can take many forms -- a CIO attending industry trade shows to stay on top of new technologies, for example, or a lead developer participating in open source initiatives to stay sharp and fuel their passion. For others still, it means going back to school to get a BA. This "learned knowledge," Ellermeyer says, gives professionals the confidence to offer the type of insight that pushes businesses forward as a result of their leadership.

Join a Professional Group

Ellermeyer advises clients to join at least one professional organization, such as the Data Processing Management Association or the Association of Information Technology Professionals. These organizations can help you better network within your industry as well as help you learn about industry trends.

Consider Greener Pastures

The grass isn't always greener. Even the best workplaces are imperfect, Van Vreede says. No matter the setting, you as an individual can begin to change the culture -- it just requires a positive outlook on your part. That said, he adds, some company cultures just aren't the right fit. "In those cases, finding another opportunity is warranted."

Career setbacks happen to everyone. Every great leader has experienced failure, from Steve Jobs to Michael Jordan, but the key is to learn and evolve from those failures. Don't get caught in the quagmire of inaction. Identify your goals, create a plan to develop and refine your talent, and execute. You'll be back on your feet before you know it.

This story, "8 tips for getting your IT career back on track" was originally published by CIO.

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