The truth is most people don't have their career mapped out that clearly and for those that do, there are plenty of challenges and opportunities that arise over the course of those five years that change the trajectory, role and even the industry.
I've worked at small start ups and publicly traded companies in a number of different roles and experienced firsthand the stress and uncertainty that comes with trying to figure out how to advance your career in the right ways.
While it can be challenging to execute to a five year plan exactly, I've learned that there are five specific ways to move your career forward and create opportunities that are often far beyond what was originally envisioned:
1. Synthesize ideas.
It's common for companies to have multiple offerings, products, and features. It's less common to find an employee with the ability to synthesize those disparate pieces and offer them to customers as one exciting opportunity or understand how the current offering leads to a more integrated product or business idea.
To get ahead, regularly ask yourself "how does what I am working on align with other aspects of the company or future opportunities?" Learn how to connect the dots between information and opportunities you have available.
Instead of just delivering on an idea handed to you by leadership, deliver something of larger consequence than what was originally considered, in a way that's clear and impactful. This shows that you're willing and able to go above and beyond what's asked of you.
2. Get involved with hiring.
Regardless of your title, you should take an active role in the hiring process for your team. Start off by learning best practices for hiring, doing reference checks, thinking of questions to ask that will deliver insights about the candidate's character and who they are as a person, and even reach out to your personal network to help grow the team organically.
The earlier you understand how to interview and identify the right kinds of people to work with, the better -- these are invaluable skills you need as a manager. "A" players hire "A+" people. That idea can be challenging early on, when you might want to outshine others on the team, but the earlier in your career that you work with great people, the more you'll learn and shine yourself.
3. Ask execs out to coffee.
It's always a safe bet to find a good coach early on, and the easiest way to do that is to ask executives at your current company out to lunch or coffee. Just making the request already helps you practice initiative, and in most instances, anyone you ask is going to feel compelled to say yes.
Getting to know people who are senior, and asking them engaging questions about their careers, shows that you're interested and passionate about pursuing your own career. And, because they're more senior, they'll pay for the coffee (sometimes).
4. Learn other parts of the company.
While it might seem counterintuitive to focus on other parts of the company, it's actually crucial for any role to understand how different parts of the company function. Every team works cross-functionally, whether it's Product working with Marketing on an upcoming launch or Customer Success working with Engineering to solve customer support tickets.
These collaborations are essential, and being proactive about projects outside of your job description and learning about other parts of the company shows initiative and value. Do so without stepping on other's territory or ignoring your core areas of focus, of course. For starters, volunteer for a Customer Support rotation or simply sit in on other team meetings. By understanding different parts of the company, your own work becomes even stronger.
5. Share, share, share.
Don't underestimate the value of the things you're learning and seeing, even -- and especially -- if you're just starting out in your career. When I worked for The Economist in my early 20s, I was surrounded by seasoned veterans with years of experience at Fortune 500 companies.
I had only two years of working experience, but I also attended conferences where executives talked about challenges, solutions, and ideas that I took back and shared with my colleagues. These ideas proved valuable and innovative to those with whom I shared them and helped me grow in my role and career. There's always opportunities in the workplace to share ideas, great books you're reading, conferences you've attended, and more, so spark up a conversation and see where it takes you!
More than anything, be aware. Look for ways to learn and then share those learnings with others.