Crap-Free Career Pathing: What’s Next When You’re Not Sure?

Regina Ramyata Rao

Climbing a pre-defined corporate ladder is out. Today, it’s on employees to write their own success stories, carving out a career path to achieve goals and aspirations. But that’s easier said than done — especially when most organizations lack structure and visibility around internal opportunities for mobility and development. 
 

Last week on Talent Experience Live, Phenom's Jonathan Dale (JD), VP of Marketing, and Jennifer Thomas, Manager, Content Marketing explored real ways employees can take control over their career paths: having tough conversations with managers, mapping out next steps and leveraging connections.
 

Catch the full episode below, or read on for the highlights!
 


What exactly is crap-free career pathing?


The title of this episode is, arguably, the most provocative in TXL history. 
 

The reason behind it? “If you’re in the working world, you’ve probably been told all your life that you need to take ownership of your career – that you need to look at your career path … but that’s a hard topic,” JD said. “We want to spend the day removing the BS, if you will.”


Start your story: Embrace tough conversations


Thinking of your career path as a story is a way to gain clarity and visualize next steps. So how do you begin?
 

To start, there needs to be open and honest communication between employees and managers. And the conversations may not always be comfortable.
 

In the no-BS spirit of this episode, JD shared his own defining career path moment, and brought on a guest for an additional perspective.


Is this really what you want to do for the rest of your life?


Early in his career, JD worked at a tech support call center. Demonstrating initiative and skill, he worked his way up to become a Level 2 Manager. “I felt good … I was making a difference, making an impact,” he said.
 


But when the department created a Director of Customer Support position – and brought someone else in to fill it – he felt like he was passed over for a promotion. 
 

So JD brought his concerns directly to his COO. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Is that what you want to do for the rest of your life – do you want to work in support?’ I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ And he said, ‘Then why are you even in my office?’”
 

It was tough to hear, but it ended up defining a new path. “That was a huge turning point in my entire career and my entire career path,” JD said.  


Do you feel your manager can help you get to the next step?


Jon Ryle, Sr. Graphic Designer, joined Phenom about two and a half years ago. (Full disclosure: JD is his manager!) 
 


One of the things he appreciates most about Phenom is the frequent and candid conversations between managers and employees about career happiness. 
 

While he enjoys the company and the work he does, Ryle shared he’s unsure what his next move could be. “After Sr. Designer, technically the next role for me might be Art Director or Creative Director, but there really isn’t anything like that here right now. So how does my career develop?”


Webinar: The Future of Employee Experience: Career Pathing & Internal Mobility


Ryle said that as a manager, JD has helped him build leadership skills, project management skills, and has encouraged him to push himself beyond the confines of his role. But Ryle feels he needs more regarding technical and creative development in the design field. 
 

JD agreed. “I know I fall short if my job is to get you to the next step in a specific skill set or discipline.”


Those were the stories — Now for the lessons


Although every person’s career path and story might play out differently, employees, managers, and HR need to step up and take ownership:
 

For employees: Challenge yourself to question what you really want to do. Then, find ways to connect with others and grow toward those goals. “Try to find avenues of transparency,” Ryle said. “Have conversations about the reality of what growth looks like.” 
 

For managers: When it comes to the manager’s role in employee development, you have to take proactive action. “If you find yourself in a situation where you have members of your team you can’t help anymore – you can’t figure out how to get them to the next step, how to progress their career path – you need to do something,” JD shared. 
 


For HR: An open culture is critical. HR should encourage ongoing communication between managers and employees about career paths and aspirations, as well as ways managers can help.


Connect with colleagues and mentors 


When Jenn Thomas managed Phenom’s marketing intern staff this year, one of the first things they were required to do was interview every person on the team regarding their career paths. 
 

“Getting other people’s stories and understanding them is such a big piece of figuring out your own story,” she said. 
 


And branch out beyond your own team to explore projects that will help demonstrate your value in areas you’re interested in. “Immerse yourself in what’s going on at the company… that hands-on experience, there’s no substitute for that.” 
 

Making these connections is foundational to finding mentors, who play a big role in helping employees define a career path. “Mentors help you verbalize your feelings and challenges. They help shape you, and the direction you want to go in,” JD said.
 

Strive to find mentors, and to be a mentor for others, he added.


Related: Elevate Employee Experience & Create Meaningful Connections at Scale with Phenom Mentoring


How AI helps employees start the conversation and visualize next steps 


So we’re thinking of the career path as a story, defined by the employee’s unique experience and skill set, unfolding based on career aspirations and goals. 
 


In many organizations, however, there’s often little-to-no infrastructure that organizes a variety of resources and programs that can help employees identify career paths, access learning and development, discover mentors, and apply to internal roles or gig projects. 
 

The right tech platform can bring structure and visibility, giving employees the tools they need to actually own their career paths, according to Jesus Latorre-Socas, Lead Product Manager at Phenom. 
 

“The journey isn’t always clear,” he said. “AI [integrated in an employee experience platform] can really play a crucial role in helping shed light to something that’s always been sort of an unknown,” Jesus said. 


Career pathing becomes transparent – and actionable 


By completing a user profile within a career pathing platform, employees “teach” its AI about their skill level, experience, and career goals. The platform also has data regarding the organization’s career architecture.
 


Using this mix of data, AI can help employees explore relevant opportunities and construct a step-by-step path. AI identifies skills gaps and recommends actions employees can take to close those gaps, providing curated learning plans, available gigs, and mentorships.


Related: What Is Career Progression Planning — And How Can It Help Your Employees Succeed?


The result? Employees get a clear timeline to meet goals, visibility into what’s available at the organization, and tailored actions they can take to control their career path. 


AI fit score is a good reality check


Aspiring to be hired into a new job role is one thing. But actually being qualified to take on the position is another. That’s where the AI-powered fit scores — which measures and ranks how well an employee matches with a desired role — can help.

“This can lend some reality for employees,” Jesus said.


Help your employees tell their career story.
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