Measuring Career Growth – Final (career phases framework)

This is the last article in the series on Measuring Career Growth, which started off by talking about measures of success and implication of having multiple measures vis-à-vis time, and was followed by posts on financial and learning goals, followed by a post on job complexity and satisfaction. As I promised in the last post, I will try to provide some framework to handle these measures in some useful way when we engage in our career planning and review.

As I mentioned before, job complexity and job satisfaction are important measures, but difficult to quantify in any meaningful way; I have found them more useful in subjective reviews of the career plan. In this post, I have focused on Financial and learning measures and their interplays with time elapsed.

Assuming that you have defined your financial and learning measures that you want to achieve over a defined time period, following table describes various scenarios that may happen. I use a positive and negative signs to denote that actual value is more or less than planned value. This means that + is good in financial and learning column (achieved more than planned) but bad in time column (using more time than planned).


Financial Learning Time Career Phase Type
Too early to review career plan 0
+ Learning 1a
+ Earning 1b
+ + Shining 2
+ + Slowing 3a
+ + Stagnating 3b
+ Struggling 4
+ + + Too late to review career plan 5


The rows with all – and all + are not valid for this discussion since they signify that this is not the right time for doing a career plan review. Goal should be to do career reviews early, and often.

Here are the types of careers phases that arise out of above table:

  • Learning (T1a): This is the phase where more learning is happening than planned, but financial gains are not aligned with these learning gains. However, since this is also happening faster than planned, this is a good phase to be in. Typically, this happens at the start of a career (or after significant change in the career).
  • Earning (T1b): This is the phase where your financial gains are much more than planned, but learning is not happening that fast. This is not a good phase to be in at the start of a career (though it feels good to be in this phase!). In a good career curve, this should be a transient phase, soon to be taken over by Shining phase. Later in the career, this can be a good phase to be in since learning typically slows down anyway.
  • Shining (T2): This is the phase for a rising star, a career on a fast track, where all measures are exceeding expectations. However, it is unlikely to last long because expectations (both for employee and employer) change and goals keep getting harder and harder. This is a phase typically hit when your learning is proven to be useful to the organization, and hence it is important to continue to direct the learning to organization goals (not all learning is useful for organization). This phase eventually gives way to Slowing or Stagnating phase and it is good to be able to control which way it goes.
  • Slowing (T3a): This is the phase when your financial gains continue to meet your goals but learning slows down. This is typical for most organizations and careers, new learning becomes harder and harder (and organizations tend to reward depth of expertise rather than breadth). This is not necessarily bad in the middle/late part of the career, this depends on how important learning is for eventual career goal. Many careers stay in this phase for a long time, and many times they do not even realize they are out of Shining phase.
  • Stagnating (T3b): This is a phase where enough learning is happening but financial goals are not being met. This typically happens when the learning is not directly benefitting the organization you serve, or they do not appreciate this new learning. Either way, this is not a good phase to be in; goal should be to either change the type of learning to be more aligned to organization needs, or find an organization which appreciates your new learning.
  • Struggling (T4): This is an undesirable phase of the career, but an equilibrium which attracts every career. Neither financial nor learning goals are being met and you are losing time, this is the worst state to be in. However, in the middle/later part of a career, it is hard to get out of this phase. In early part of the career, this phase should be avoided at any cost. Most of the time, a significant change (which requires very different skills) is needed to get out of this phase.

This series of phases is cyclical. Any significant career beginning or change (if planned well) moves you to Learning (or Earning) phase and you progress through these phases from T1 to T4 and come back to equilibrium state which I call Struggling.

Above description is a simplistic way of looking at the impacts of various measurement ways to the career scenarios; it specifically doesn’t account for the extent of different between actual and planned, and it also doesn’t account for prioritization of goals that an individual may have made (financial goals may be 10x more important than learning for some). Encoding all these extra information and weights into the above analysis, one can come up with shorthand to create their own career goals, and those shorthand notations are nothing but career milestones.

To reiterate,

Career Milestones are goals defined by encoding more information and priorities in the phase scenarios.

I think these are enough thoughts on the topic for now. In some subsequent posts, I will take up some case studies of real people I have interacted with and explain some of their career choices and moves in this framework.

What do you think of the above categorization of career phases and definition of career milestones? What other phases do you think a career goes through which are not captured here? I am very interested in your thoughts and comments.



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