Is Your Career on the Right Track? 5 Ways to Know

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Whether you're relatively new to the workforce or are a seasoned employee, it's natural to have doubts about the trajectory of your career. Here's how to know if you're headed in the right direction.

1. You've been promoted, or your responsibilities have increased

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Though being promoted is a good sign that your career is on track, promotions aren't always easy to come by. Some companies, for example, have limited positions at the top of the chain, and so they're only able to give out promotions every few years, if that. But even if your title hasn't changed over time, you should, ideally, notice a difference in the work you're doing now versus several years ago. If your responsibilities have increased, and you're entrusted with more essential tasks, then it's a sign that your career is moving forward the way it should be. But if you're still doing the same work you did five years ago, then you're probably in a career-zapping dead-end job.

2. Your earnings have gone up over time

Though money isn't the only benchmark for measuring career success, it's still an important one. If your earnings have increased steadily over time, it's a sign that your performance has merited those boosts, and that you're being further compensated to account for your increased responsibilities. On the other hand, if you can't remember the last time you got a raise, it could be a sign that your career is going nowhere fast.

3. You've expanded your skill set

Some of us grow our work skills by taking classes or attending seminars. Others pick up additional knowledge on the job. No matter what steps you might have taken to boost your skill set, the fact that you know more today than you did when you first started out is a positive thing. On the flip side, if you can't say you've learned anything new since breaking into your field, it's a sign that your career has been at a standstill.

4. You're excited to go to work

Most jobs come with certain tasks we'd rather not be bogged down with. But if you're generally engaged at work and excited about what you're doing, it's a sign that your career is progressing appropriately. On the other hand, if you find that you're growing increasingly bored over time, it could be that you've chosen the wrong company or industry.

5. You know what you want to be doing in five years

Though it might seem like a cliche, having a vision for where your career is going is a sign that it's on the right track. Maybe you're aiming for an upper management role, or to start your own business within your field. Or, perhaps you'd like to stay at your current level, but expand your role to cover more ground. It doesn't matter exactly where you see yourself, as long as you have some goals in mind. If you don't, then your career is less likely to progress.

Getting back on track

If you realize that your career isn't moving forward the way you'd like, then it's time to reassess. First, think about your feelings toward your work. Is it possible that you'd be happier in a different position or field? If so, it's never too late to switch industries.

Next, identify gaps in your skill set and knowledge that may be holding you back. Is going back to school the answer? Or do you just need better training and more time in the workforce? Nailing down these questions will help you take a more active role in dictating your career path.

Finally, consider enlisting professional help if you truly feel lost. A trusted mentor or former boss might be a good sounding board, as would a professional career counselor. Granted, you'll pay for the latter, but it could be a worthwhile investment.

It's always a good idea to evaluate your career from time to time and ensure that you're on the right path. And if you're not, don't sweat it: There is plenty you can do to steer your career in a direction that ultimately rewards you.

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