By Dennis Shiao published May 7, 2020 Est Read Time: 7 min

Actionable Tips to Map a New and Successful Career Path

Picture a street map. To get from point A to point B, you chart a course. You might take the main thoroughfare through town, make a right on Main Street, then find your destination on the right.

Now consider a career map. It might start with an undergraduate degree in communications, followed by a turn into an entry-level job at an advertising agency. Industry experience leads to a turn as director of marketing at a software company. After helping that company to a successful initial public offering, a new road as the chief marketing officer is built.

That was then. Now, the best-laid map for your original career may have been upended by furloughs and layoffs. With few official signals available to direct you, now is the time to create a new map.

Now is the time to create a new map for your #contentmarketing career, says @Dshiao via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Amy Higgins, director of content strategy at Salesforce, presented Charting the Course to a Career in Content Marketing at Content Marketing World 2019 that’s particularly relevant in this moment.

In this post, I detail some of the exercises Amy shared to help you take stock of your skills, test the waters, and uncover your gaps. Then I lend a few stories on how I applied similar tactics and strategies. Let’s consider techniques you can use to find your path and create your map.

Take stock of your skills

It’s hard to map a course without understanding your skills and interests. It would be like planning to navigate a city without knowing how you’ll be traveling (e.g., foot, bike, car).

Amy recommends building four lists:

  • 10 things you do well
  • 10 things you love doing
  • 10 things you can do, but you dislike
  • 10 things you would love to learn

Then, Amy says, think about how many industries you can apply those 40 things to. That way you don’t limit yourself to one industry niche.

#Career eval: What do you do well, love doing, can do but dislike, and would love to learn, says @AmyWHiggins via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

“I support the service cloud at Salesforce, but every one of (my) ‘10 things I love doing,’ I could also apply to the marketing cloud … Those same skills transfer directly to a travel advertising company,” Amy explains.

Earlier in my career, I used an understanding of “what I love doing” and “what I’d love to learn” to make a transition from information technology to marketing.

During the dot-com boom, I landed on a project with a new ventures group at a large company.

Though I was responsible for architecting the server infrastructure on the project, I participated in all of the business strategy meetings. As I received positive feedback on my product strategy, features, and messaging ideas, I quickly discovered a love for product management.

Years later, I applied for a product management opening with the new company. They gave me a chance and I had a lot of success building online media products. Without recognizing my love of product management, however, my transition from IT to marketing might never have happened.

Actionable tips

  • Create your four lists – 10 things you do well, 10 things you love doing, 10 things you can do but dislike, and 10 things you would like to learn.
  • Use those 40 things to identify new roles and responsibilities you hadn’t considered.
  • Decide if (and how) you can apply your skill set to new industries.
  • Find free or low-cost courses to take or simply start doing the 10 things you would like to learn.

Test the waters

Next, Amy recommends trying different things and allowing yourself to fail. While many think of failure as a setback, it can actually move things forward if you learn and adapt from the experience. Amy also suggests volunteering, partnering with others, and doing informational interviews.

Failure can actually move things forward if you learn and adapt from the experience, says @AmyWHiggins via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Amy says she can try different things to learn what works and what doesn’t in her volunteer role on the board of the San Francisco Opera’s youth professional group. As she manages its social media and marketing, she can test hypotheses and ask questions like, “What if we did this? What if we try that?”

I can appreciate that benefit of volunteer work. I lead publicity and communications for a parent-led group that supports a high school music program. I initially began administering the web page, but when the school changed content management systems, I needed to have a school administrator make the updates.

My volunteer job had just gotten a lot harder. I attempted to find a better solution. I created a Facebook page for the group. Building on the initial success, I created an Eventbrite account for handling online ticket sales, experimented with Facebook ads to promote our concert tickets to the wider community, and created an Instagram account.

These new channels significantly improved the music program’s ability to communicate with the community. Meanwhile, I could take the experience and apply it to my client work.

Actionable tips

  • Identify nonprofit volunteering opportunities that can expand your marketing skill set.
  • Reach out to companies where you see marketing gaps. Offer your services for free. (If you do a good job, they may want to hire you.)
  • Offer help to friends and colleagues (e.g., improving their LinkedIn profile). If they have marketing-related needs in the future, you’ll be the first person they think of.
Identify nonprofit volunteering opportunities that can expand your #marketing skill set, says @Dshiao via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Uncover your gaps

A healthy curiosity, Amy says, can help you identify the gaps in your skill set that you should fill to be more attractive to employers and clients. Take your nonexistent or novice-level skills and up your game to become fully proficient.

Amy offers her gap example. She was proficient at Adobe Analytics but not with Adobe’s design software. So, she took free Adobe classes to do hands-on learning with their suite of design tools. Now, when she is working on an infographic, she’ll sketch a concept using an Adobe tool to give the designer a visual representation of what she’s looking for.

While uncovering your gaps is a worthwhile exercise, remember you don’t have to fill every gap.

In Amy’s case, she wanted to be more proficient at design, but she left the heavy lifting to her professional designer colleague.

My gap was in marketing automation and email marketing systems. Those activities were outside of my wheelhouse, so I rolled up my sleeves to learn how to build landing pages and campaigns in email systems. As a result, when my clients ask, I can provide those services.

Actionable tips

  • Identify one skill you’re good at and figure out how to become great at it.
  • Say yes and learn. Take on whatever projects or roles are needed by your employer or clients, then get to learning.
  • Speak to friends and colleagues in different roles to better understand what they do. This can help you know what you don’t know.
Identify one skill you’re good at and figure out how to become great at it, says @Dshiao via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Set your course

Charting your course is easier said than done. It can be discouraging when what you think are the correct turns don’t lead to job or client opportunities. But by using these tactics and techniques to create your map, you can be more confident you’re taking the right steps to eventually get to where you want to go.

Here’s an excerpt from Amy’s talk:

You can watch some of the most popular Content Marketing World 2019 sessions for free. Check out the lineup here.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Dennis Shiao

Dennis is an independent marketing consultant who works with brands on content marketing, product messaging, and social media marketing. Formerly, Dennis led the content marketing function at DNN Software. Dennis curates an email newsletter called Content Corner and publishes marketing-related content on Medium. Feel free to reach out to Dennis on Twitter @dshiao

Other posts by Dennis Shiao

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