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4 questions to consider as you navigate your AEC career
Deb Wilson is the Vice President of Land Solutions within the Power and Energy market sector at Atwell. With more than 25 years in the industry, you may be surprised to know her career did not start in the AEC industry, nor is her degree in the field she serves today.
Wilson began her career working in finance at General Motors, but after a few years, she knew she was driven to pursue other opportunities. Despite the role’s job security, she chose to pursue her education at the University of Michigan, where she received a degree in Environmental Studies. After several twists and turns, having served in the Environmental industry and a decade in the Land Surveying field, she now leads the Land Solutions Right of Way group with the Power & Energy sector at Atwell, driving new client relationships and advocating for Atwell’s services. It’s because of her non-linear career experience that she’s passionate about career-path conversations.
Throughout her career, Wilson credits much of her success to her mindset and determination to maintain a positive perspective. Over the years, Wilson invested in herself, followed her intuition, and worked on her personal and professional development. She has always believed that her career was hers for the shaping and works to impart this advice upon her team.
“Any good career-path conversation must start with self-reflection,” Wilson says. “Anyone seeking career direction must ask themselves what they really want out of their career before they can gain truly helpful advice or direction from a conversation with a leader.”
The process of identifying goals, defining and evaluating priorities, and deciding what you’re willing to commit to are all part of a fruitful career-pathing conversation. Consider the following questions as you head into the new year and the next 12 months of your career:
1. What do you really want for yourself?
Knowing yourself well can be one of the first steps in evaluating the direction of your career. How much responsibility do you want? What activities give you a tremendous amount of satisfaction? What concerns you, and can you grow beyond those fears?
“When I’m in career conversations with my team, one of the first questions I ask is what their top priorities are, because it’s not my decision to make,” Wilson states. “In some roles, there’s an amount of commitment required and that can infringe on other priorities. My initial goal is to help people identify their priorities, then plan with those in mind. Life is alive with changes, and we may prioritize different goals at different times.”
Wilson emphasizes the importance of recognizing that your career is a journey, not a destination. People are ever evolving and growing, and priorities will change. Knowing what you want for yourself and recognizing that you can change your direction leaves room for opportunity.
2. How can you drive your personal career growth, and who can help?
Your career is one of the greatest personal investments you will ever make. Thinking of career growth as an investment is empowering, and the best person to promote your capabilities is you. Consistently exposing yourself to new skills, methodologies, and concepts gives you the ability to refine and improve your competencies at any level.
Additionally, career growth requires supporters who can mentor, coach, and advocate for you. Career advocates create opportunities for exposure, training, and education. Wilson states, “I attribute my career success to the many individuals who supported, believed, and trusted in me. Yes, I had to earn trust, but I don’t discount their contributions; without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Expose yourself to people you respect and recruit your career advocates to give yourself the best opportunity to drive the direction of your career.
3. How much responsibility do you really want?
Knowing how far you want to challenge yourself and understanding the amount of responsibility you’re seeking can help you set goals and expectations for yourself. If you want to be the one making the decisions, Wilson suggests you go on a track to a leadership position; however, if you’d rather have someone to whom you can defer decisions to, a director or vice president position may not be the ideal role for you.
Decisions don’t only exist within leadership roles, but when it comes to responsibility, leadership roles will meet your expectations if that’s what motivates you. “What I recommend, if you haven’t had autonomous responsibility before and want to try it out, is to identify areas of need in your work environment,” Wilson advises. “Then, talk with a decision-maker about solutions, and ask to lead the initiative all the way through execution. Well before I was in a leadership role, I remember being in these situations.”
The key for Wilson was offering to take responsibility for execution. “Those moments really moved my career,” she recalls, “but I recognized that if things didn’t go as planned, I owned it; I took responsibility.” Knowing the level of responsibility you’re seeking will allow you to be more concise in making career decisions.
4. What is your self-talk saying?
Your inner dialogue can tell you a lot about what you do or do not think is possible for your career; after all, it is the voice you listen to more than any other. Working on your inner dialogue can open doors for you simply because you made the choice to pursue a new position, rather than throwing up roadblocks of self-doubt that can prevent new opportunities.
“This is the one thing we always have access to,” affirms Wilson. “When you’re at your best and your self-dialogue is favorable, you’re in a good position to be successful. You’re more open to the possibilities around you.”
Regardless of where you are, no career path is going to be linear. With time, those twists and surprises will take you in directions you may never have thought of in those initial career conversations. While you can’t plan for surprises that may occur, you can get clarity on what matters most to you today and what you’re willing to commit to through effort, dedication, and the support of those around you.