Professional Development: Turning a Job into a Career

Story by Era Sundar, Editor in Chief

Graduation brings high expectations. Finding the perfect job, paying off student loans and even purchasing a new car may seem just within reach.

However, job hunts sometimes produce more disappointment than actual employment. Graduates may have to start in lower positions than anticipated or take jobs unrelated to their interests just to make ends meet.

This scenario is often described as settling for a job rather than embracing a career.

The challenge then, is to turn a potentially ho hum job into a satisfying career.

Dawn Allison, a counselor and associate professor of human development at ACC,  said thinking about  any job as a dead-end job can lead to missed opportunity. A job, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can help an employee develop valuable soft skills.

“Soft skills are not technical skills. They are about your ability to be successful in any business situations,” Allison said. “If an employee does really well in a position and the supervisor can say [he or she] was always on time, provided the best customer service and got along with co-workers, the employee is demonstrating skills that any employer would want.”

It’s also important to realize that most careers aren’t built overnight. They require years of effort and cultivation. Sometimes the best way to show interest is to actually tell supervisors you want to move up.

Allison gave the following example of what an employee could say to a supervisor: “I’m learning a lot at this position. What are some things that are needed to take it to the next level? If I wanted to lead a small team, what are some things that I could be doing?”

Researching areas into which the company plans to expand, taking time to learn the corporate culture and connecting with mentors are ways to show personal initiative and move toward career advancement.

Some companies have structured mentor programs. But if they don’t, professors, supervisors and admired professionals are valuable resources. Seeking the wisdom of others and actively participation in one’s own career growth are vital components of success.

“If you want to set yourself up as someone worthy of a raise, you need to demonstrate that,” Allison said.

Taking on more responsibility before you are paid to do so and coming up with suggestions for increased efficiency show readiness for promotion.

In “The Art of Negotiating a Raise, Promotion, Better Job Title, and Bonus,” posted on,  professional resume writer and career strategist Teena Rose said, “When you’ve come to the conclusion that you need more, start by building a master plan.”

Rose’s suggestions include:

  • Create a bulleted list of fresh achievements. Include numbers, percentages, and dollar amounts whenever possible. Examples of sales generated, projects finished before deadline and product or service improvements are helpful.

  • List added responsibilities that you’ve taken on in the last couple of years.

  • List recent training, credentials or degrees that you’ve earned.

  • Gather copies of letters and emails where clients, superiors and colleagues praise you.

  • Place the above items  in a decorative folder or binder to be used as part of a professional presentation outlining why you deserve a raise or promotion.

  • Keep company timelines in mind when deciding the right time to ask for a raise.

Erica Breedlove, manager of Employment and Outreach Services at ACC, said, “You can request various things at any given time, but [the annual performance review] is the most common time. It’s when management is already reviewing how employees are executing their duties and interacting with others.”

It’s also a good idea to research the average salary range of the position you hold or are applying for. This knowledge allows you to can make intelligent requests. Also research the company’s financial standing. Start-up companies and established companies going through hard economic times may be tight on money. However, they may be willing to make up for shortcomings in cash with benefit packages, extra vacation time or other consideration.

Economic conditions and other setbacks may cause career detours and disappointment, but these factors don’t need to halt overall progress. Learn and develop as many skills as you can in a starter job and keep looking for ways to move forward.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn,  motivational business speaker.

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