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Your Career: Along for the Ride or Taking the Wheel?

I have two awesome kids; Kyle is seven and Sophia is five. Our entire extended family lives out of town, so road trips are a common occurrence. Generally speaking, the kids are good travelers. They are happy to get in the car and will sometimes ask, “Where are we going?”, but they never say “Turn left here!” or “Can we take Route 80 to grandma’s house?” They’re just along for the ride.

How many times have you been along for the ride? You show up at work, collaborate with co-workers, handle the day to day projects and take care of the fire drill du jour. Do you ever find yourself moving so fast that you can’t find time to think, let alone think strategically about your career? While many of us start out with good intentions, it’s easy to put career goals on hold when there is always another fire to put out. All of a sudden you realize that years have gone by, and you have nothing substantial to put on your resume. Either you accidentally made progress toward your goals or you haven’t had the experiences to move in the direction you intended.

Life sciences is a volatile and complex industry. The market’s dynamics, the pace of business and the importance of serving patients and customers keeps us on our toes. Working in this industry can be exciting and a bit frustrating, especially when trying to manage your career. If you’ve had an increase in your workload, had projects eliminated due to corporate changes, experienced a merger or acquisition or changed jobs intentionally or unintentionally, then you know what I mean. These situations challenge our character, resilience and dedication.

How can career goals be achieved given this challenging environment? Taking control of your career is like planning a road trip and taking the wheel. It’s a proactive decision, where YOU decide where you want to end up. Even if you aren’t sure exactly where you want to go as long as you have a general idea, you can take the wheel and start driving in the right direction. I figured out my own path in stages. Before getting into this industry, I knew that I was interested in teaching. After my first sales position, I moved into the training department. Over time, I realized I wanted to help people be more successful in their jobs. My progression through a number of challenging training roles and project assignments led me to the realization that not only did I want to be a leader in the learning space, I wanted to help others in similar situations figure out how to set their own paths. Serving on the LTEN Board has been a great opportunity to help me do just that.

So, how can you get there?

Before getting in the car for a road trip, there’s a mental checklist most of us have. Full tank of gas? Check. Packed the bags? Check. Program the address in the GPS? Check. This preparation helps minimize issues while ensuring a smooth ride. Taking control of your career is similar to prepping for a road trip in that it’s a good idea to start with a self-evaluation checklist to ensure you have everything needed to take the wheel and get to your destination.

Self Where do I want to go? What’s my brand? How strong is my network? Do I have a positive attitude or whine a lot? Be honest.

Existing Knowledge and Skills What roles have I had? What have I learned? What am I good at? Are there transferrable skills I need to acquire? If I want to stay in the learning space, have I mastered the key areas of expertise expected of a learning professional?

Strategic Capabilities What capabilities would set me apart? Am I a tactical executioner? Can I see the big picture and think strategically? Have I just “run six training new hire classes” or have I “overhauled new hire training for increased retention?” Have I led a project that has transformed how my team/group/organization does business?

Here are some value-adding ideas to consider:

• Launch a new LMS
• Overhaul an area of training
• Introduce performance support
• Start a community of practice
• Identify a critical capability for a key job role (DM, RML, NAM)
• Identify and lead a “pain point” project (e.g., revising the med/reg/legal review process)

Of course, the timing of these ideas need to align to your current organizational needs; I wouldn’t recommend any of them if they aren’t needed.

What’s the next part of the process?

1. Be curious. This inspires learning.
2. Nurture your network. Feed and water it on an ongoing basis; don’t wait until you’re in a bad situation to start building it.
3. Build the transferable skills you need.
4. Find a mentor, get a new mentor as you grow, be a mentor. They serve different needs at different times.
5. Be excellent. How you perform in your current role is usually what gets you the next one.
6. Think strategically, and if you don’t know how, find a great solution provider. They are really smart and usually have a broader view of the world.
7. Take risks!

Time will pass you by if you don’t pay attention. While it might sound silly, a sad day for me as a mom was when my kids outgrew their infant car seats and graduated to booster seats. It was also an exciting day, because my kids were growing up.

About five years ago, I figured out my ultimate goal was to run a learning business in which I could leverage my capabilities and experiences in an exciting new way to help learning professionals who serve others in the life sciences. To colleagues, this change in career was a shock and a surprise. How could I do something so risky? The reality is, it wasn’t a risk at all. I couldn’t be more excited, because I had planned and prepared all along for the goal.

Sue Iannone served as vice president of the LTEN Board of Directors and is now the vice president of Bull City Blue, a newly launched life sciences learning agency. Sue can be reached at

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LTEN Bonus Focus life science articles are written for the 1,750 worldwide members representing training professionals, leaders and training partners. Areas of focus include pharmaceutical sales training, commercial training and non-commerical, medical device sales training, healthcare compliance training and more.

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