Planning a Career Should Never Be PassiveI recently had a conversation with a friend who is a couple years into her first “big” job out of college.

She is a super smart woman who has excelled at most things in life, so far.

She was highly recruited for her current position after finishing her degree with honors.

She’s a motivated type A, high achiever.

While she’s been at her job she’s received a couple of raises and praise during performance reviews.

She’s done very, very well in a short amount of time.

Which is why I was surprised when she told me she was recently passed over for an opportunity to work on a new project that also came with the chance for a nice promotion if things went well.

She was frustrated and asked for advice.

Keep Being a Team Player

When she asked why she wasn’t selected for the job she was given responses such as “you have plenty of time” and “don’t worry, there will be other projects.”

No one suggested she wasn’t qualified or lacked key skills the position required.

She was encouraged to keep being a team player.

When she asked what “specifically” she could do (or could have done) she was met with smiles and assurances that she absolutely was doing great and just to keep it up.

In other words, don’t make a fuss, keep working hard, and eventually you’ll get your due.

The man who got the job?

He was hired a month later than her and had also recently graduated from college.

This was his first job, as well.

Now she’s asking if the fact that he’s a guy could have been a factor.

It’s literally the first time she’s ever thought that maybe being a woman has prevented her from an opportunity and, in her words, “I didn’t think this happened anymore.”

Find a Mentor

Her supervisor and HR aren’t telling her she needs to improve her skills, so she’s at a loss about what to do.

She’s always been able to “work” a solution.

Take another class, ace the test, shine at the interview, and work hard to get what she wanted.

She was completely unprepared for a no, but she was ready to take action and do something to be in a better position next time.

My advice?

Find a mentor.

Someone who works for the company and understands the culture and the way decisions are made.

Be proactive and ask someone in management for guidance.

I also told her she needs to speak up for herself when it’s appropriate.

Make sure her supervisor and manager both know she’s looking to move up and grow from her current position.

Like many of us in our first job, it hadn’t occurred to her that someone wouldn’t want to move up or that she’d need to make that clear.

After all, her work ethic and performance should be proof of her ambitions right?

She may never know why she didn’t get this job.

It may not even matter several years into her career if she continues to do well.

But she assured me this experience is going to make her a better communicator.

She also realized that she wasn’t owning her career path.

She had figured that she’d get moved up the ladder as a natural course of doing good work.

She admitted she hadn’t given much thought to what comes next or how to get there.

Don’t Be Passive

That has definitely changed.

The fact that a man got the gig?

Well, maybe that’s nothing more than it appears.

Perhaps her co-worker had additional skills that made him a better fit.

Maybe she didn’t interview as well or appear as committed to growing within the company.

One thing is certain: She’s no longer going to be passive about what she wants.

It’s Our Responsibility to Help Plan a Career

Employers tell us they value their people and want them to be happy.

When you have a superstar on your team, how do you help them plan their career?

Do you offer advice or a space to discuss long range plans?

Today’s generation of workers know they’ll likely work for five to seven employers (if not more) during their careers.

More than ever they also want to feel good about the work they do and their opportunities long-term.

When you have someone who’s motivated and working hard, are you eager to keep them where they are or do you see the potential and nurture it?

My friend will be just fine.

She’ll navigate the ups and downs of her career and I’ve no doubt she’ll be successful.

While I understand her disappointment, I’m also cheering for her to see it for what it is: One step of many and a chance to learn how to speak up for herself.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich