Do You Really Know Where Your Career Is Headed?

Sometimes the career path we initially choose is not the path that ultimately leads us to success. If you would’ve told me when I started my career in the early ‘90s that I would be where I am today, I would’ve said you were crazy.

I was a shy young CAD technician with no college degree. I had just been laid off from the construction industry and was eager for a job in the area I had some training. I had two years of technical training in drafting and design from vocational school and wanted to get into that field. After several interviews, I found the right firm. At the time, the firm leaders weren’t going to hire me because they said, “I couldn’t do the job.” I guess you could say I wasn’t all that shy—or maybe I came out of my shell—because I asked them to just give me a chance to show what I could do.

Those leaders ultimately gave me that chance and nine years later, I became a firm principal charged with leading the firm’s marketing and business development efforts. I am now the executive VP and COO and also one of the largest shareholders. As a non-degreed, non-technical professional, and leader of an engineering company, what steps did I take to make sure I took the correct fork in the road and head down the right path?

First, I had to step out of my comfort zone and speak to those I didn’t know. I am very much an introvert. For many years, I was also a very shy person. I hated giving book reports in school because I didn’t want to get up in front of the class and speak. For my career as a firm leader and to be successful, I knew I had to do something that made me uncomfortable. The more I have done it, the more comfortable I’ve gotten.

Next, I chose a mentor inside the firm that was in a position of leadership I thought I could achieve. He took me under his wing and guided me down the right path. I also chose a few mentors outside the firm. I wanted someone I could share frustrations with and also someone who could provide me with honest feedback.

Lastly, I joined organizations such as SMPS. I wasn’t just a paying member. For me to get the most out of my membership, I had to serve on boards and committees. This really helped develop my leadership skills (i.e. delegating, listening, speaking), and I was able to transition those back to my firm.

Whenever we start our career, we often don’t know where it will lead. I hope by sharing my path to success, I have inspired you to look at yours. What steps will you take to make sure you choose the right path when you come to that fork in the road?


SMPS President Chris Rickman, FSMPS, CPSM, is executive VP and chief operating officer at ZFI Engineering in Oklahoma City, OK. He can be reached at

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