When it comes to job advice, there’s a ton of stuff out there on how to land your first big job. After all, with how competitive the market is, there are many things you can and should do to make sure you secure that first real adult gig — internships, volunteer work, higher education, learning specific programs or skills. Sometimes it can take a lot just to get your foot in the door, and in the absence of experience, it takes a lot of maneuvering to find that entry-level position that will start your career, or at least help you start making money.
But people don’t talk as often about how to move on from that first job — what to do once you’ve gained some experience and want to move on to the next thing. Everyone talks about is how to get your foot in the door. But how do you make the most of the opportunity once it’s there? How do you find the next step in your career? How do you even know when to start looking? Here are some tips for finding your second job, beyond just getting applications and your resume out there:
1. Look at your industry and think about your future in it
Since you’ve managed to land that entry-level job and have put in the time gaining experience there, the natural progression would be to build on that experience and continue to work within that industry. Think about what the typical next position is and what it generally takes to get there. Have you put in the appropriate amount of time? Are there certain skills you need to gain to get to that next level? Is the industry going through any changes where certain knowledge or approaches will make you stand out? These are good things to keep in mind to build your resume to be something competitive for those higher-level positions.
It can also help to look at your role in the industry from a bigger-picture perspective. Do you want to stay on the typical career track for that industry? Are you unhappy in your current role and want to find something different from what you started in? If this is the case, you should start considering what other roles or types of job might interest you more and see if your current role can give you any skills or experience that would be of interest to those other industries.
2. Evaluate opportunities at your current company
Similar to building on your experience within your industry, it is often ideal to build on your entry-level experience by moving up within that same company. Working towards a promotion allows you to continue working in a familiar environment with people and projects you are (hopefully) enthusiastic about. If staying at your current company is something you’re interested in, look at coworkers who have been promoted and observe how they may have advocated for themselves to move up the corporate ladder. Communicate with your supervisor about your interest in moving up, and see if together you can set benchmarks to help justify a higher position. Also, keep an eye on any internal job listings, in case something comes up outside of your immediate department.
Taking a good look at how promotions happen and whether or not there are opportunities for you to get promoted is important because sometimes companies are structured in a way that does not allow for easy upward mobility. Sometimes companies have great opportunities for gaining experience but are very limited in terms of actual positions to ascend to. Sometimes companies don’t have the budgets to give you the promotions you deserve. And sometimes, unfortunately, poor management just doesn’t allow for the recognition you deserve. In these cases, it can be frustrating that you are not getting what you need, but it’s also helpful to at least know that you need to look outside your current company if you want to grow.
3. Prioritize what you value in your work
Moving on to a new job means potential new responsibilities, a new title, and a new salary. Because this is a big opportunity for change, this is also a good time to really look inward at what you want in a job and prioritize what you value most. What are you getting from your current job that fulfills your goals in life? It can be as simple as a higher salary, or more complex, like better work-life balance. What will set you up best for your future career? And what are your deal-breakers in a new job offer? Make a list if it helps you to organize your thoughts. You may end up having to compromise on some things when a job offer comes along, but this will help you decide whether or not it’s a good fit and can even help give you some leverage in negotiation.
4. Be flexible and open-minded as opportunities arise
Another reason why it can help to really establish what your priorities are job-wise is that you never know when or what kind of opportunities might come up. Sometimes sudden turnover can suddenly put your assistant-level position on a fast-track to management, or an intriguing job listing can pop up in an industry that you never even imagined yourself working in. Being aware of what you value in your work can help you recognize unusual opportunities as potentially good career moves, while also showing you red flags when openings might be less than appealing.
In general, though, it helps to have open ears and an open mind when it comes to jobs. You may have an idea of what your career trajectory looks like in an ideal world, but paths to success are rarely straight lines. I’ve known people who have left companies because there were no opportunities for advancement and have been able to come back to them years later in even higher, better-paid positions that they got to faster than they would have, had they stayed and waited for a promotion. I’ve known people who have taken jobs they weren’t sure about, only to really excel at them and become a superstar in an unexpected field. Put yourself out there and see what happens! You can always make an informed decision once you have more information and get an offer.
5. Network wherever you can
Because you never know where your next job might come from, you should feel out the market by networking with anyone you can. It definitely helps to talk to your bosses and colleagues, when and if you feel comfortable, to feel out what kinds of opportunities might be available at your current company or others in the industry. You can look at some of the leaders in your desired field and see if you can set up informational interviews or pick people’s brains over coffee. You can also see if there are volunteer, educational, industry mixer, or freelance opportunities where you can get some insight into a certain kind of industry or environment that you’re interested in. Don’t just talk about job openings, either — you can pick up a lot of other helpful information from these conversations, like salary expectations, resume tips, and even companies or people you might want to avoid.
But aside from the traditional networking tips and tricks, it can also help to think outside the box. Let friends and family know you’re in the market for a job and to pass on any listings or openings they might hear about. My second job actually came from a tip from a friend who forwarded me a listserv posting from the college summer program she had taken. There are also a lot of opportunities posted through social media; follow leaders in the industry that you admire or join a local group that posts job listings. You never know what next opportunity you might find — or what next opportunity might find you.
Kimberly Lew is a published playwright and writer whose articles have appeared on websites like Real Simple, The Washington Post, HelloGiggles, and The Billfold. Find her website here.
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