Career Quiz: Look Around, Are You in Siberia?

An assessment of your colleagues should yield a good sense of where your career is headed.

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One of the most important things you can do for your career is to look around.

I don't mean gazing at the horizon and fantasizing about that dream job you hope to land some day. I mean the foreground, which is often less pleasant and where you may be find career warning signals.

If you see a team of highly competent and upwardly mobile folks, then that's a good sign. If you see a collection of characters who will never be promoted and who have been dumped into their jobs from elsewhere, then you should scramble to a dog sled—for you are in Siberia.

Siberia is not reserved for fools or losers. It often contains very talented people who, at some point, crossed a person who could exercise the power to exile. Regardless of the reasons behind the presence of any of its inhabitants, Siberia is career-confining. There is an unwritten understanding within the organization that the Siberians (and this apparently includes you) aren't going anywhere.

. . .

Now you can stay and try to transform the reputation of the place. There are probably plenty of things to improve and occasionally, someone powerful may notice your fine work. Unfortunately, in most cases your efforts will only build you a nicer cabin . . . in Siberia. So the answer is simple: flee.

This is not easy. I've known some exiled souls who took years to escape—and yet they do escape. They don't accept relegation to obscurity as a natural state and they never get too comfortable with their circumstances. They quietly make plans, take classes to bolster their chances with other employers, establish contacts, apply for jobs, and then one bright and crisp day—poof— they're gone.

The best of them, once they've landed in a sunnier place, remember how painful it was to have one's abilities disregarded.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.

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