Navigating Your Career Path with Challenges and Supports

Navigating Your Career Path with Challenges and Supports

AIIM Community  |  Human Resources

I love information management! I love the information governance, records management, and data governance fields. Most of my family and friends think I’m crazy and I would agree with them. This work doesn’t excite everyone. I didn’t always use to be in this field though. Before entering the information management field, I spent 25 years in higher education. Working various roles at colleges and universities across the state of NY was what I loved at the time. I even went to school for it, earning a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration.

Eventually, I decided it was time to try something really different and I decided to look for a new role outside of the industry I had spent so much time in. One thing I took with me when I decided to move on to another field was the concept of “Challenges and Supports.” 


Where Did This Whole "Challenges and Supports" Idea Come From? 

So where did the concept originate? The concept of "Challenges and Supports" has its roots in educational psychology, specifically in Alexander Astin's "Theory of Involvement" and Vincent Tinto's "Theory of Student Departure." Astin posited that student involvement in academic and extracurricular activities is directly proportional to the amount of student learning and personal development. He emphasized that institutions should focus on the "inputs" and "environments" to enhance student involvement, which can be viewed as challenges and supports in an educational setting. 

Vincent Tinto took it a step further with his "Theory of Student Departure," which focuses on the importance of academic and social integration. According to Tinto, students are more likely to persist and succeed in their educational journey if they experience a balance of academic and social challenges and supports. This theory has been widely applied in retention strategies across educational institutions, from orientation programs to mentorship initiatives. 

The beauty of these theories is their adaptability. They've been applied in various settings beyond education, including corporate training programs and community development projects. The core principle remains the same: a balanced ecosystem of challenges and supports leads to better outcomes. 


Applying Challenges and Supports to Your Career 

Personal Perspective 

Identifying your own challenges could range from skill gaps and limited networking opportunities to keeping up with job market trends or even juggling work-life balance. AIIM offers a range of education programs, networking events, and collaboration opportunities to help you find your supports. Self-care is also crucial, so don't overlook flexible work arrangements if they're available. 


Job Hunting Perspective: A Deeper Dive 

When you're scouting for a new job, the concept of Challenges and Supports can be your secret weapon. Start by dissecting the job description. Does it mention responsibilities that excite you but also push your boundaries? That's your challenge right there. Next, during the interview process, don't just answer questions – ask them. Inquire about the company culture, professional development opportunities, and how the organization handles project difficulties. These can be your supports. 

Don't stop at the interview. Do your own research. Look for employee testimonials or reviews on platforms like Glassdoor. What are current or past employees saying about the work environment? Are there mentions of supportive management, learning opportunities, or team collaboration? These are indicators of organizational supports that can help you meet your challenges head-on. 


Practical Tips: Your Action Plan 

So, what are some ways that you can put all this into practice? You could start by creating a "Challenges and Supports Matrix." On one axis, list down the challenges you've identified, both personal and job-related. On the other, jot down the supports you've found or aim to find. This visual tool can be a constant reference, helping you maintain a balance. 

Once your matrix is ready, it's time for some strategic planning. For each challenge, map out the supports that can help you overcome it. Be specific. If one of your challenges is a skill gap in data analytics, don't just write "take a course." Specify which course, from where, and by when you plan to complete it. 

Lastly, set a date for a quarterly review of your matrix. Your challenges and supports will evolve, and your strategies should too. Use this review as a checkpoint to update your matrix and adjust your plans accordingly. 


Challenges and Supports in Practice 

If you look at my career, you would likely see that it’s been a lot of different things in different places. You might even look at it and think that there’s no cohesion. That’s probably true – but that’s also because I haven’t been driven by the need of moving up in one organization or one field.

When people ask me, “Chris, where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Chris, what would you like your next role to be?”, I call upon my challenges and supports model. I generally respond to these questions with the answer that if my current role continues to offer a balance of challenging projects and initiatives with the supports needed to accomplish those projects and initiatives, then I will stick around for a long time.

Similarly, any new role that I’m looking at needs to have that same balance. I left one job during my higher education career because the challenges weren’t there anymore. I had lots of support – but there was nothing I needed support with because I was just managing the status-quo. Conversely, I have left roles because the supports weren’t there anymore. This is more common today. Maybe I wasn’t getting the human resources I needed to meet the growing demands or maybe support in the way of professional development wasn’t there anymore. I am constantly evaluating this balance and as soon as I feel that one of these elements is too low, it’s time for a conversation with my supervisor. If we can’t find a way to bring the two elements back into balance, that’s my cue to move along.  


Wrapping Up 

Take Action: Identifying Your Career Challenges and Supports 

Now, let's turn theory into action. Take a proactive step in your career journey by actively identifying your current challenges and potential supports for each one. This template will help you apply the "Challenges and Supports" framework to your unique situation. 

Career Challenges Worksheet 

Challenge 1: [Insert Your Challenge Here] 

Possible Supports: [List Potential Supports] 


Challenge 2: [Insert Your Challenge Here] 

Possible Supports: [List Potential Supports] 


Challenge 3: [Insert Your Challenge Here] 

Possible Supports: [List Potential Supports] 


Challenge 4: [Insert Your Challenge Here] 

Possible Supports: [List Potential Supports] 


Challenge 5: [Insert Your Challenge Here] 

Possible Supports: [List Potential Supports] 


If you would like to get more granular and address the challenges and supports of specific areas of your career, you can use the guided prompts below: 

  1. Professional Growth: What are your career goals or aspirations? What challenges do you anticipate in achieving them? What supports do you believe are necessary to reach these goals? 
  2. Skills and Development: Assess your skills and competencies. Are there areas where you feel you lack skills or knowledge? What steps can you take to bridge these skill gaps? Who or what resources can support your learning? 
  3. Work-Life Balance: How would you rate your work-life balance? Do you face challenges in managing your personal life alongside your career? What supports could help you achieve a better balance? 
  4. Networking and Relationships: Consider your professional network. Are there challenges in building and maintaining valuable connections? How can you strengthen your network, and who can provide support in this regard? 
  5. Company Culture and Environment: Evaluate your current workplace. Are there challenges related to company culture, work environment, or leadership? What supports within or outside the organization can help address these challenges? 
  6. Market Trends: How well do you stay updated on industry trends and changes? Are there challenges in keeping up with the latest developments? What resources or strategies can support your knowledge in this area? 
  7. Personal Well-being: Reflect on your overall well-being and stress levels. Do you face challenges related to stress or burnout? What self-care practices and external supports can contribute to your well-being? 
  8. Long-Term Career Vision: Imagine your ideal career five or ten years from now. What challenges do you anticipate on this journey? How can you proactively prepare for them? Who can assist you in achieving your vision? 
  9. Feedback and Evaluation: Seek feedback from colleagues, mentors, or supervisors about your strengths and areas for improvement. How can their insights help you identify challenges and potential supports for your professional growth? 
These prompts can guide you in a comprehensive self-assessment of your career challenges and supports, leading to a more effective and proactive approach to career development. 

The concept of Challenges and Supports isn't just for students; it's a versatile tool that can help you navigate the twists and turns of your career. By identifying your challenges and seeking out supports, you're setting yourself up for success. So go ahead, apply the Challenges and Supports framework to your career. You're not just surviving; you're thriving. 


Browse Training Course Catalog

About Christopher Hockey, IGP

Chris is a seasoned expert in leadership, team development, and intelligent information management. He has served as a director of information governance and records for in law firms and academia.