It’s easy to have vague goals. It’s hard to define them.
But according to StumbleUpon CEO Mark Bartels, mapping out a concrete timeline for yourself should be one of the first things you do when you start a new gig.
“We talk about budgets, we talk about planning your finances,” he points out. “But what a lot of people don’t do is plan out the next 12 to 18 or 24 months of their careers.” That lack of planning can be costly, both professionally and existentially.
He’s seen it happen, he says: people join a company without an agenda, and “2 to 3 years go by, they come up for air, and they ask themselves, ‘well, what am I still doing here?'”
Having an agenda provides a metric for evaluating your success. “When I see seasoned execs join a company,” Bartels says, “a lot of times they have 12-month plan, and they’re constantly checking back in and saying ‘have I achieved what I set out to do?'”
That’s the other key: a plan only helps if you use it.
It’s not as simple as it sounds, and to figure out your own roadmap, Bartels recommends starting with the company’s. He encourages new hires to get information — a lot of information. “Ask for a redacted board deck, ask for a product roadmap, ask for a 24-month plan,” he says. That’s especially critical if you’re working in the startup world, he says, where financials aren’t public, and information tends to be tightly controlled.
“It’s at 60,000 feet,” he acknowledges, but that’s the point. Having a strong handle on the big picture is your first metric for figuring out how you’re going to contribute to that vision — and get what you want out of the job.
“I see a lot of people committing to 12 to 24 months, and after 36 months, they come back to me and say, ‘now I want to grow,'” Bartels says. That’s not wrong. The mistake is waiting 3 years to get started.
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