IT Career Traps to Avoid

I spend a lot of time working with managers and IT professionals talking about career management. Over the next few articles I’ll share these with you and how to beat them.

Career Trap #1: Believing that up is the only way.  When it comes to career progression, one of the common traps that we can fall into is believing that vertical career progression is the only way to success. Of course, if you’re just starting out in IT – like on a help desk -- up may seem to be the only way, but as you progress further in your career you may find plenty of opportunities where moving into a lateral position within your organization or taking a what might appear to be a step back may actually profit you more than moving directly vertically. There are also other times when the best thing for your career may be leaving the organization all together.

How to Beat It:  Map out where you want to be in five years. What experiences will you need in order to be qualified for that position? Now work backwards? How are you going to earn that experience? Do you need to broaden you exposure? Do you need to work with different technologies? Do you need more experience managing complex projects? Does the position you’re seeking require that you not only have knowledge of your current function but other functions as well? For example, if you’re a developer today and are seeking to one day be a manager over a development team, will you need project management or systems analysis experience? As you look at your five year goal, is it realistic to believe that you can achieve it within your current organization? Might you achieve it faster if you were part of a smaller organization?

Career  Trap #2: Thinking that a management career is the only path to success and a high salary in IT. This is another common trap for IT professionals. It’s pretty common in organizations where managers don’t spend enough time having career discussions with their people. If you’re only role model is your manager and you don’t talk about alternatives, then it’s easy to see how IT professionals fall into this trap.  What’s important to realize is that not everyone is cut out for management. There’s an astonishingly high rate of first time managers who fail in their first year – and the top reason why is because they weren’t cut out to be managers in the first place!

How to Beat It: Find out whether you’re cut out for management. Are you willing to leave your technical skills behind? Will you get just as much job satisfaction out of helping someone else succeed as you did from your own personal accomplishments? Read up on what it takes to be a manager but most importantly, ask yourself, why you want to get into management. If it’s just about the title and the money, there are easier ways to achieve these!

Career Trap #3: Just focusing on the technology. So if management isn’t for you does that mean that you can just develop your technical skills and you’ll be fine? NO! The reality is that the most sought after positions in IT today are part technical, part business. Positions like business systems analysts, relationship managers, and project managers are a hybrid of technology skills and people skills. What makes them sought after (and highly compensated) is that they bridge the gap between IT and the business and are critical for shaping the image of IT to the rest of the organizations. The help business users “get it” and they are highly rewarded for it.

How to Beat It: If you want to move ahead quicker make sure you develop not just your technical skills but your interpersonal and business skills. That means developing your ability to deliver a technical presentation to a business audience, facilitate a meeting, lead and collaborate on large project teams, building support for your ideas, understand the business and industry that you’re in, and be able to build a business case. There isn’t a set way of developing these skills. There are some courses that you can take but most of these come skills are developed as a part of the projects you work on. Make sure you are getting that exposure as a part of your long term plans.

What other career traps do you think that IT professionals fall into? Share those with us and your recommendations on how to avoid them.


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