Picture it—you sit down at Thanksgiving dinner, and you're excited to dig into a plate loaded with delicious turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Your aunt smiles at you and says, "Oh, I hear you got a new job! Tell me everything."
That's where you have a choice. You can mumble something about answering phones or you can share the truth: You're a support professional, and it's going to set you up for a career path you're excited to explore. Do you know where it'll take you in ten or even five years? Nope. And that's great.
It's a mindset
You've probably thought about this scenario before (maybe minus the food part), but have you thought about its roots? So many people get into support because they're just looking for a job. Then, they forget to readjust their mindset once they find out how many parts of the role they really excel at and love. It’s important to frame or reframe your career as one that is foundational and offers real opportunity for growth.
You can mumble something about answering phones or you can share the truth: You're a support professional, and it's going to set you up for a career path you're excited to explore.
There are tons of professionals out there sheepishly representing their career in a negative way when they should be shouting it from the rooftops. Because support is not just answering phones, answering emails, and handling angry customers—it's a whole world of solutions development, intuition, empathy, brand management, time management, and a lot more. Starting a career in support is the best way to build the skills you'll need for a lot of next-level roles. These aren't just those standard resume skills, either. They include the soft skills that help connect people to one another and create trust.
[Related read: Changing the narrative on careers in customer service]
Squashing the stigma
I've experienced this firsthand, from my start in an entry-level support role to my current position as chief brand officer at Tymeshift. In between, I explored many different roles, including process development, project management, and account management. I learned a lot and, most of all, had a lot of questions. You know the type: "What am I going to do with my life?" The lack of clear direction carries an external stigma that can quickly change into something even heavier—a stigma that you apply to yourself. It's not that you're not ambitious; it's just that the pathways aren't always clear.
As time went by, I learned I wasn't alone in that process and most of the people I met in the customer experience (CX) field actually had some overlapping similarities with my story. Without much experience in the field (seems to be a recurring theme for me), I decided to co-write a book about the topic, called Undefined World, coming out in March 2020.
Because my story isn't just an isolated case, I thought it'd be worth also covering other peoples' career paths in CX. Almost every person I talked to shared that they took on a support role because they needed work and it seemed good enough. So, how did the people I interviewed change how they thought about support? It varied a lot, but everyone found that a certain slice of their support role piqued their interest. After a while in their jobs, everyone began to arrive at the same conclusion: there were parts of the job they really and truly enjoyed.
[Related read: 4 ways customer support agents can make a career pivot]
Then, they used that knowledge to take their careers in new directions. Some stepped into management, which I also learned is the most obvious next step. Yet, that didn't prevent other folks I talked with to move into other areas such as product, workforce management, quality assurance, partnerships, and many more! Each one of those avenues had a shiny new job attached to it—a position they never planned for when they got their start in support.
Each one of those avenues had a shiny new job attached to it—a position they never planned for when they got their start in support.
Choosing your direction
Whether you're feeling that urge to grow in your career or you're just considering a job in support, there's always going to be hesitation. That's a common feeling within all of us. Don't let it stop you from finding the support career that's going to make you happy.
Here are some steps you can take to start uncovering where you really want your support career to take you:
- Think about the parts of the job you HATE. Now, write them down as things to avoid.
- Think about the parts of the job that you always want to tackle first. You know, the things you volunteer for or really like doing. Write those down, too.
- Think about your work strengths and write them down. What does your team rely on you for, and what do you get compliments on? That's important because it'll help you identify success areas.
Now, you have three lists. List 2 and 3 will help you identify roles that you should explore, and list 1 will show you roles to avoid. The point is, roles you will enjoy absolutely exist. You don't need to feel boxed in; the career moves you can make out of a support role are infinite and worth exploring. It just takes some curiosity.
You'll need allies
If you’re feeling self-doubt, or wondering whether you can improve in areas that you enjoy so that you can eventually excel in them, you may need help overcoming your blind spots about your own strengths.
And that’s okay—and why it’s important to have allies (aka mentors).
When the curiosity about new roles sets in, you'll find yourself needing someone you trust to shed light on your thoughts and provide guidance on your next steps. Finding that person isn't always as straightforward as it might seem, but the value of doing so cannot be measured. Mentors, just like parental figures, are key to our survival and happiness.
When the curiosity about new roles sets in, you'll find yourself needing someone you trust to shed light on your thoughts and provide guidance on your next steps.
In the same way, parental figures are not necessarily mom or dad; a mentor doesn't need to be your manager or boss. A mentor can be found in a friend that doesn't even understand the inner workings of a support org; it’s about connecting with someone that inspires you, a team member you share roles with, or maybe looking in a place where you least expect to find a mentor, being open to asking for support from someone you never before imagined asking.
Once you start looking for roles that will make you happy and help you grow in your career, you'll find options. Some won't be 100 percent what you're looking for right now, but each role helps you grow in new directions. Some might even sound scary and stressful. Hell, you might wonder if you can even do it.
Do not let that stop you. Every step of the journey matters, even if you are not always taking steps in the same direction each time.
This isn't necessarily new advice; taking pride in your career has always been important. My point is that finding a career out of a support role starts with you embracing the field and understanding its depth and possibilities. Because once you do, the world is your oyster.
Elisa Reggiardo is Chief Brand Officer at Tymeshift, a global workforce management solution that is transforming the way support teams operate. After getting her start as a support agent, Elisa found her passion for assembling international teams of experts, building strong processes, and smashing through assertions that, “This is just how we’ve always done it.” She currently lives in Lisbon with her incomparable wife, superhero daughter, and cats that allow her to love them.