Close this search box.

7 Career Growth Tips for Mid-Career Professionals

Are you ready to take the next leap in your professional journey? 

Whether you’re seeking to advance in your career, redefine your path, or simply explore new avenues, continue reading the blog since the actionable insights highlighted here can act as your compass and help you navigate the intricate world of career development and reach your goals.

In this blog, we’ll start by delving into the modern interpretation of a career and deciphering the essence of growth within this context. Then, we’ll unveil five invaluable recommendations that have proven successful for numerous professionals in their journey to leadership roles.

Key Takeaways:

  • A career is more than just a job; it’s a long-term journey characterized by continuous growth and meaningful progression.
  • In this blog, we will explore how to advance in our career, and focus on being a growth leader who fosters innovation, desirability, and viability in your organization.
  • Here we will also delve into why instead of merely collecting credentials, we should focus on applying our knowledge and showcasing our skills.
In this article
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    What is a Career?

    A career, as articulated by Edgar Shine and an esteemed group of MIT researchers who conducted seminal research on career anchors, encompasses an occupation that spans a significant portion of an individual’s life. It distinguishes itself by offering continuous opportunities for growth and advancement. 

    This pivotal distinction sets it apart from a mere job, which may lack enduring significance and ongoing prospects for progression. If your current employment does provide both significance and a clear pathway for personal advancement, you’re likely on the right track, aligning your job with your career. However, remember that a career is fundamentally a long-term endeavor, and the twin pillars of ongoing growth and meaningful progression are vital components that this definition highlights.

    What is Growth?

    Growth, a concept universally understood, entails the process of increasing various aspects, with the term ‘importance’ being a key element of this definition. While it may initially revolve around monetary gains, particularly in the context of early career stages, it evolves into a broader concept as one progresses. For seasoned professionals, financial rewards remain significant but are complemented by a deeper focus on one’s importance within an organization. This includes factors such as growing influence, the ability to engage in strategic initiatives, decision-making capacity, and overall personal development. Notably, financial rewards tend to follow when these essential aspects of growth are actively nurtured.

    With these core definitions in mind, we can dive straight into our seven tips. But before that let’s visualize and comprehend the distinct landscape of the mid-career phase.

    What Does the Mid-Career Landscape Entail?

    Navigating mid-career is a nuanced journey that doesn’t adhere to a straightforward, linear path. Unlike an easily charted course with a clear cause-and-effect relationship, mid-career growth resembles the high-stakes maneuvering of an individual amid an airborne pursuit. Picture yourself as the seasoned professional planning your trajectory; you’re already aboard a plane, striving to catch an even higher-altitude flight, which promises greater opportunities. However, you find yourself during this ascent, without the luxury of descending to assess your surroundings or identifying the next significant opportunity before taking off again. This in-flight evolution adds complexity and unpredictability to the process, making it both challenging and, at times, perilous.

    Seven Insights Related to Career for Mid-Career Professionals

    Let’s delve into our seven valuable insights.

    Insight #1: Understand the New Definition of Managing

    Our first and perhaps most pivotal insight revolves around the term “management.” In today’s dynamic business landscape, we all must pause and reflect on what “management” truly signifies. As the corporate world undergoes profound transformations in technology, hiring practices, and leadership paradigms, the traditional understanding of this term requires a fresh perspective.

    How many accomplished professionals who have ascended in their career journeys have taken a moment to reevaluate the concept of “management”? At its core, it’s about answering fundamental questions: 

    Where should I direct my focus, and what does success truly entail?

    Financial well-being remains an important aspect of success, but it’s no longer the sole measure. In the modern era, success extends beyond monetary gains to include the expansion of influence. This shift challenges the conventional belief that successful management solely revolves around overseeing large teams. Today, the focus is on managing projects, critical processes, products, services, and even the entire business ecosystem.

    In this knowledge-driven age, management is not just about managing people; it encompasses a diverse array of assets and responsibilities. Aspiring managers should consider what facet of this evolving landscape they wish to oversee, whether it’s growth, innovation, product development, or the broader business trajectory. The crux of this insight lies in recognizing that contemporary leaders are primarily tasked with managing growth and assets beyond just people. While the term “management” may still carry traditional connotations, its essence has evolved significantly, and understanding this evolution is paramount to career growth.

    Insight #2: Plan to Become a Growth Leader

    Building upon our previous insight, we now delve into how you can proactively chart your course toward becoming a growth catalyst. To achieve this, we’ll define what it means to be a growth leader in three clear steps:

    1. Feasibility: The first step involves your ability to create, launch, or deliver something of innovative value within the business landscape. Can you conceive and execute initiatives that have a tangible impact on your industry or market?

    2. Desirability: Beyond feasibility, the desirability factor comes into play. Are the services, products, features, or capabilities you introduce met with enthusiastic demand and appreciation from your audience? Do people eagerly embrace what you offer?

    3. Viability: While creating desirability, it’s vital to ensure the sustainability and profitability of your endeavors. In essence, can you generate sufficient value, which may encompass financial returns, user growth, or engagement metrics, to sustain the organization? The specific metrics of viability may vary depending on your business model.

    A growth leader is someone who guides and manages the journey through these three dimensions, feasibility, desirability, and viability for a given business. This role involves orchestrating innovation and sustainable growth. There are three primary sets of internal skills that you need to cultivate in your journey toward becoming a well-rounded, three-dimensional leader, include:

    1. Leading Self: This involves cultivating qualities like authenticity, reliability, and mindfulness. It’s not just about how you perceive yourself, but how others perceive you. Are you consistent in your actions, true to your word, and aligned with your intentions?

    2. Leading Others: Emotional intelligence plays a pivotal role here. It’s not enough to excel in your functional skills; you must also have a high emotional quotient. Are you the person colleagues turn to for guidance and support during challenging times? Can you influence and lead without formal authority?

    3. Leading Innovation: To lead innovation effectively, you need a strong grasp of financial acumen, strategic thinking, and business acumen. You must be capable of making informed decisions about the long-term strategy, portfolio of capabilities, and services, considering both customer and business contexts.

    In the modern organizational landscape, achieving seniority is not solely tied to titles but rather to your ability to embody a three-dimensional leader. This framework applies across various domains, from IT to non-IT fields, as the expectation remains consistent: the capacity to make sound decisions and lead effectively in all three dimensions. Consider this an introduction to the competencies you should focus on as you embark on your journey to lead yourself, influence others, and drive innovation. These core skills will set the foundation for your growth leadership aspirations, regardless of your field or industry.

    Insight #3: Balancing Tactics vs. Strategy

    It’s all too common to become engrossed in the day-to-day demands of your current role, leaving little space for strategic thinking and innovative solutions. Many might argue that they lack the opportunity or authority to contribute at a higher level, believing they must attain a specific title before engaging in strategic endeavors. However, this is a misconception.

    You don’t have to hold a director-level position to think, execute, or advise like one. Rather than waiting for a formal title to validate your leadership capabilities, my recommendation is to initiate change from within your current role. Start by executing at a higher level, effectively taking your role to “plus one” while maintaining a long-term perspective. Even if your aspirations extend to becoming a CEO or CXO, which should ideally be a “yes” if you’re committed to career growth, it’s essential to consider how you can make a meaningful impact from your current vantage point.

    Transitioning your mindset is often as critical as developing your skill set. While individual excellence in executing specific tasks is valuable, there comes a point where you must shift towards creating solutions that can benefit many simultaneously a hallmark of strategic thinking.

    Mindset transition is often more important than skillset

    It’s not merely about the specific competencies you possess but also about your willingness to embrace a more expansive perspective. Moving from an “individual delight” mindset to a “market delight” mindset involves recognizing that your contributions can affect a broader audience. It’s a shift from project-focused skills to project-focused thinking.

    To help you navigate this journey, consider examining the skill map. Assess your existing competencies and acknowledge where you excel. From there, identify areas for growth and systematically work towards enhancing those skills. This balanced approach, encompassing both mindset and skill development, will empower you to strike the optimal equilibrium between tactical execution and strategic vision.

    Insight #4: What Got Me HERE is Not Going to Get Me THERE

    While many may acknowledge this notion on a surface level, few truly internalize and operationalize it in their professional journey. It’s crucial to recognize that the strategies, tools, and educational foundation that have propelled you to your current position may not be applicable as you ascend the corporate ladder. Moving from a director to a vice president, senior vice president, or even higher demands a shift in approach.

    Staying entrenched in the same tactics that brought you success up to this point can lead to stagnation, a situation we often refer to as being “stuck.” 

    What is being stuck?

    Being stuck implies that your value within your current organization exceeds your value in the broader job market. You may no longer find satisfaction in your current role, yet you can’t easily leave because other employers may not recognize your worth in terms of compensation, scope, or title.

    To avoid this predicament, it’s crucial to embrace change and adapt your strategies. Recognize that what got you here may not get you there. Institutionalizing this mindset shift is essential for your long-term growth and professional fulfillment.

    How can you escape the trap of being stuck? 

    The answer, while simple to understand, requires commitment and effort. You must start thinking differently, making decisions differently, and approaching problems with a fresh perspective. The goal is to transform into a cross-functional skill leader one who possesses both deep expertise in their current domain and a broad, cross-functional understanding.

    Insight #5: Transition From Accumulation to Application

    It’s time to shift from collecting credentials to connecting through practical application. While the string of certifications—CSP, ITIL, PMP, GPO are undoubtedly valuable, they represent just a fraction of the equation. What’s often forgotten is the most critical step that should follow, which is application. You have gained domain knowledge through workshops and certifications, but that’s merely the tip of the iceberg. The real value, the remaining 95 percent, lies in how you apply that knowledge.

    Knowledge is a collection of dots, application is the act of connecting those dots, that transforms you into an invaluable leader. Therefore, it’s crucial to resist premature celebration just because you’ve acquired a certification or degree. Instead, ask yourself, 

    How do I apply this knowledge effectively?

    Demonstrable skills weigh 80% more than resume skills

    In today’s landscape, traditional resume-based hiring is obsolete, hence relying solely on a resume won’t cut it, especially for senior positions. Having a well-crafted resume is essential, but don’t expect that simply sending it to online job boards will result in offers pouring in. The chances of success through this route are exceedingly slim.

    What holds more weight now are demonstrable skills and a portfolio that showcases your abilities. When you apply for a job, don’t just declare your competencies on a piece of paper; demonstrate why you are qualified for the role. A resume is essentially a self-declaration, listing what you know and what you’re good at. While having a degree from a prestigious institution is valuable, it’s only a starting point. What truly matters is your ability to showcase tangible assets and accomplishments, as this is what will truly set you apart.

    Insight #6 Career Trajectory, Map It, Accelerate It, Actively Work on It

    Many professionals find themselves adrift in their careers because they lack a clear destination. When you don’t know where you’re headed, any path can seem appealing, and every journey appears enjoyable. While this randomness might suit the casual traveler, it’s unsuitable for those aspiring to be growth leaders.

    To navigate your career successfully, you need to map your trajectory, accelerate your progress, and actively work towards your goals. This isn’t a journey that happens by chance or coincidence; it requires deliberate effort and strategic planning.

    What does a typical career trajectory look like? 

    Picture it as follows: On the left, you have your capabilities (or products, in the context of a services organization), and on the right, you oversee a cluster of capabilities or businesses. Along the vertical axis, you have operational tasks on the lower end and more strategic responsibilities on the upper end. Your career trajectory often follows a pattern, progressing from a product manager to a senior manager, group manager, director, senior director, VP, CXO, and ultimately, CEO. Every ambitious growth leader aiming for a three-dimensional leadership role should aspire to become a General Manager, Head of a business unit, or CEO. While the pace at which you reach this goal may vary, what’s essential is that you set your sights on it and actively work towards it.

    It’s worth noting that not everyone follows a linear path. Many growth leaders skip steps and even venture into entrepreneurship to become CEOs faster. In today’s dynamic corporate landscape, the journey can take various routes to reach the same destination.

    70% increase in CEOs coming from non-sales roles – CEO Council Survey Data 2014-2019

    One interesting trend to consider is that, over the past decade, there has been a 70% increase in CEOs emerging from non-sales roles. This marks a significant departure from the previous norm, where CEOs often had a sales background. It’s a testament to the changing dynamics of business, where sales roles are evolving due to digital transformations, direct-to-consumer approaches, and the growing importance of product and service creators. In this evolving landscape, your goal should be nothing less than aiming for the role of a CEO. Numerous examples, both within and outside the tech industry, validate the feasibility of this ambitious aspiration. So, map your career with purpose, work diligently to accelerate your progress, and actively steer your journey toward the pinnacle of leadership.

    Insight #7: Knowing ≠ Skill 

    It’s common to hear people say, “I know this” or “I’m already familiar with that.” Many individuals tout their certifications and claim to be natural in certain areas. However, there’s a substantial difference between knowing and possessing the skills required for a task. Let’s delve into this distinction and introduce some nuance to address cognitive biases—those blind spots we all have.

    Recognize that even if you believe you “know” something, such as finance, strategy, leadership, storytelling, or digital economy, you may not have the necessary depth of understanding for practical application. 

    Learning how to learn: Layers of Learning

    Knowing can be broken down into four distinct layers which include:

    1. Awareness: At the surface level, there’s awareness. This means you’ve attended webinars, read books, and interacted with people in the field. You may possess basic, buzzword-level knowledge and a rudimentary grasp of the topic. This is a starting point but not a skill.

    2. Literacy: Going deeper, you reach literacy. Here, you move beyond mere awareness and gain a comprehensive understanding of the frameworks, theories, and academic aspects of the subject. You become acquainted with best practices and have a strong theoretical foundation, which is valuable but still falls short of skill.

    3. Skill: The next layer, skill, involves applying those frameworks to real problems repeatedly. You can demonstrate your expertise through evidence. For example, if you’ve solved various pricing challenges numerous times, you can rightfully call yourself a pricing expert. Skill is honed through coaching, practice, and hands-on projects—a “learning by doing” approach. Merely reading or listening won’t lead to skill; it requires practical experience.

    4. Expertise: The highest level is expertise. At this stage, you not only know and possess the skills but also teach and coach others. You become the go-to authority within your organization, setting the standards for hiring and evaluation. Your influence extends beyond your company into the broader community. You may host webinars, appear in media interviews, and have a substantial following through blogs or publications.

    It’s important to acknowledge that you don’t have to aim for expertise in every area. It’s challenging to achieve expertise across multiple domains. Instead, consider focusing on gaining skills in a few key areas where you need them while maintaining awareness in others.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    A job is a specific position of employment that may be temporary or part of a longer-term plan. In contrast, a career is a long-term journey characterized by continuous growth and meaningful progression in an occupation that spans a significant portion of one’s life.

    In the modern context, career growth goes beyond financial gains and focuses on one’s importance within an organization. It encompasses factors such as growing influence, the ability to engage in strategic initiatives, decision-making capacity, and overall personal development.

    Mid-career phase is a complex journey that doesn’t follow a straightforward, linear path. It’s akin to being on an airborne pursuit, striving for higher-altitude opportunities while already in motion.

    To become a growth leader, you should focus on three dimensions: feasibility, desirability, and viability.

    You must embrace change and adapt your strategies as you progress, recognize that what got you to your current position may not be applicable as you climb the corporate ladder, transform your mindset, make decisions differently, and approach problems with fresh perspectives.

    Explore Our Programs

    Institute of Product Leadership is Asia’s First Business School providing accredited degree programs and certification courses exclusively in Product Management, Strategy, and Leadership.

    Talk to a counselor today and embark on your journey towards becoming an exceptional product manager.

    Whether you’re seeking advice on career paths, looking to enhance your skills, or facing challenges in your current role, our counselors are ready to provide valuable insights and actionable strategies.