Whether you experienced it in the past, are going through it now, or just heard about it from Linkedin or colleagues, almost everyone experiences a career rut at some point.
It’s not a decline in your abilities, it’s not a grudge someone holds against you (although it might be but not usually the case), it’s actually our ability to keep moving and learning, while the world is also moving at an incredible speed.
Can you keep up with the world or not?
This is what it comes down to in the end.
There are indeed fields where you might not need to level up, keep up with trends, learn new things all the time. You can clock in, clock out, and that’s it. You are still doing good.
But that’s a small percentage of jobs.
Doctors need to level up and refresh their knowledge, even though the body stays the same.
Builders need to level up and keep up with trends and new materials.
Software Engineers need to keep up, or what they know might become completely irrelevant.
Architects need to keep up with trends.
Whatever you do, chances are that you need to keep up.
With AI coming in, the biggest impact in my opinion is that the world will be evolving at a much faster speed than it was before. So we need to keep up.
Now, don’t take it as an alarming thing. There’s probably decades before we see any differences, but if you constantly level up, learn and adapt, you are ahead of the curve.
Why do people get stuck in their careers
When you just start in your career, there is a huge learning curve at the beginning. Everything is new, you are mentored by people with more experience, which is pretty much anyone that was already there.
As you move on, you gain more knowledge, get accustomed to techniques and practices, you start having more confidence and you become valuable.
This is where the problem arises:
You get good and comfortable with being good and others coming to you for advice. But where do you go when you are good?
Your technical skills and knowledge of the job will make you a valuable employee. You might have great performance, you will be considered a key employee, your word has value, but you just stay with that title and have no where to go.
There is only so far as you can go just by being good!
The skills that you need to level up massively and get unstuck
It doesn’t matter what you do, what’s the technical skills you master.
Once you reach this point of having no-where to grow technically, you need to focus on SOFT SKILLS.
These are the skills that are often overlooked because you don’t see them in the job adverts, you don’t see them in any list talking about your career.
However, look closely at the people climbing up the ladder and you will see them there.
Let me give you some examples of these skills:
- Good Communicator
- Giving Feedback clearly, nicely, and always give good feedback as well
- Helpful — especially outside your expectations
- Being able to understand the other people’s goals and feelings
- Thinking outside the box
Now, to properly understand all these, I’ll tell you a few stories of 4 different people that I encountered in my life.
The Forever Engineer
This guy was way older than me, admittedly, and working for 10 years already with the company that I joined as a very beginner.
He was one of the best engineers I have seen, got the biggest engineering title in the company, however, he was stuck at that title for a few years now, and started to feel not happy with his career.
He thought it might be the company, he thought it might be the work he was doing.
The actual problem was this:
- He was very unapproachable.
- He was not communicating nicely
- He was always giving harsh feedback and negative one, but never giving positive one
- He was sometimes passive aggressive in communication, with both other engineers and superiors
This lead to him not being able to level up and become a manager, a supervisor, which would have allowed him to choose more inspiring work for the team and himself.
The Leverage Master
This is another person I encountered in one of the companies I worked for.
This was a very smart person, a good engineer but not an amazing one like the first guy.
However, he knew he wanted to level up. He observed the other people who were leveling up, and he was smart enough to realize that he needed some sort of leverage to be promoted.
So, in his spare time, when not doing engineering, he came up with a business plan, an investment that the company can do, to make a lot of money and expand into new territory.
He perfected it and brought it to the attention of people that were very high up in the company, within the C-suite. It worked, and got him promoted directly to the C-suite.
The Communication Master
This was another person I encountered. He was an engineer as well, just came into the company, and was not a very good engineer.
However, he already had some very good soft skills.
He obsessively observed the higher-ups and how they got there. He had a very structured plan. He had a map of where he wanted to go, and most importantly, what people in the hierarchy can get him there.
And he started implementing a few things:
- Finding out what those people want to see in people to promote them
- He increased his visibility so those people can notice him
- He started interacting with those people when he had a chance and befriending them
- With his new visibility, and those people knowing his name, he started showcasing the qualities they wanted
And this way, without having necessarily good results, he was able to level up very fast within the company, all the way right under the C-suite, director level.
The sweet-spot engineer
This person was my mentor and thought me a lot of what I know.
He is an amazing engineer, probably better than all the other guys mentioned above.
One of the first things that helped him was the fact that he was extremely adaptable and was able to do anything that came across. This offered him the original recognition he needed as an engineer.
Once he was a great engineer, he showcased the soft skills needed to level up:
- Extremely approachable and very friendly
- Extremely helpful to everyone — and here is a great point. He was not only helpful to his team, or his supervisors, he was helpful to people outside his team, which got him a lot more exposure
- He increased his exposure and visibility.
- Once promoted to a manager, he stayed extremely helpful, such that he was still indispensable as an engineer, while also working on his management skills.
This helped him level up massively, and not only that, but he got bonuses, and extreme recognition from the C-suite, and is probably on his way to the C-suite.
I hope these stories highlighted the importance of the soft skills.
You can be technically excellent. But without the soft skills, you can’t be the right fit to level up.
Now a very important note:
You might not want to become a manager, or go up the corporate ladder, and that’s totally fine.
However, without these soft skills, you can’t excel in interviews, you might not get great references, and it might be harder for you to land a new great job.