Moving Up? Really? To be Sure, Try Self-Assessment

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By examining key areas and asking yourself the right questions, you can determine whether you're on the way up, or if it's time to consider a change.

While visions of becoming the next Steven Schwarzman might be your inspiration, the truth is only a handful advance beyond the hyper-caffeinated, seven-day work weeks of investment banking associates to rise into Wall Street's glitziest roles.

Still, achieving superstar status is an admirable goal. And there are ways to stay on track - or at least avoid getting caught in the muck of a stagnating career. Perhaps the most important tool at your disposal is in your own head: the ability to look at your work and your progress in a clear, unemotional way. By examining key areas and asking yourself the right questions, you can determine whether you're on the way up, or if it's time to consider a change.

Doug Rickart of Robert Half International says there are several areas everyone should examine.

Advancement

Have you been promoted as quickly as expected, based on your experience, education and skills? If not, that doesn't necessarily mean you aren't partner material. However, it should raise a flag. To address it, solicit feedback from your supervisor or other senior staff members on your performance on work projects, deliverables and client service. Consider your present level relative to other professionals with similar backgrounds.

Skills

Do you have the necessary expertise and skills to get where you want to go? If not, look for ways to refine them.

Try to determine whether someone else with whom you work will be promoted sooner than you. Peers tend to be a solid benchmark, Rickart says: Simply look around and, if others are passing you, consider your options.

Self-assessment is difficult, yet it may be the best way to determine where your deficiencies lie. The trick is to be absolutely honest with yourself and figure out where you need to improve. Sometimes coursework may help, but in other instances volunteering for new projects to gain hands-on experience can be the best strategy.

Weaknesses

Look, we know you're a go-getter, but you've got weaknesses. What are they? In particular, think about whether your shortcomings can be overcome. Some abilities, like quantitative skills, can be enhanced through education. Others, such as management skills, can only come with experience.

Figure out the extent to which your weaknesses will hold you back. Consult others about potential growth areas and ways you can enhance your talents. One way Rickart suggests is working with a mentor. Having an objective opinion can be invaluable, both in its guidance and the status check on where you are professionally.

Also, talk to your manager. Though it may seem counterintuitive to expose your weaknesses, your supervisor will have a clear idea of your strengths, areas for improvement and prospects for advancement. He also can help map out a path in the firm, or even help you determine a new direction.

Work Situations

Does your manager trust you to handle challenging situations? Whether it's a tight deadline, difficult project or handling sensitive information, are you known as someone that can be counted on to deliver under pressure? The degree to which you are consistently assigned to important deals, transactions or other projects is a powerful indicator of your potential for advancement.

Job Satisfaction

Do you like your job? Do you like the skills bankers require, such as the ability to put in long hours, thrive in a team environment, problem solve and interact with clients? It may sound basic, but you'll be most motivated to excel if you like what you do.

Again, gauging this requires you to look in the mirror. If you aren't happy, you probably won't seem happy and motivated to others.

Of course, not everyone is going to move up banking's food chain. If feel like your treading water, don't get down on yourself. Look at other possible career interests and assess your fit with them, including the skills you've gained that can be applied to other fields. The skills required in investment banking - interpersonal, communication and analytical - are highly prized in a number of other careers.

How honest are you when you look in the mirror? Post your thoughts below.

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