How First-Gen Latinas Can Strategically Set Career Goals

As first-generation Latinas we're forging new inroads in spaces not built by or for those that look like us

first gen Latina careers

Photo: Unsplash/ Dollar Gill

For many Latinas, developing a career path presents unique challenges because we’re often the first in our families to graduate college and enter corporate America. Our families were necessarily focused on survival, while we strive to thrive and provide stability for future generations. But how do we thrive lacking familial career networks, mentors and guides that can help us navigate corporate ladders? As first-generation Latinas forging new inroads in spaces not built by or for those that look like us, it falls on our shoulders to pave the way not just for ourselves but for those coming behind us. One critical step on this path is intentionally setting both short and long-term career goals. We don’t have the luxury of biding time and waiting for someone to discover our talents while simultaneously battling systemic barriers that impede promotions and fair compensation at every turn. Instead, we must advocate for ourselves to get what we deserve – and strategic career mapping helps lead the way. Let’s explore initial steps to start charting your personalized career course as a Latina charting new territory.

Assess Your Interests and Values

Start by making two lists. First, document responsibilities and work activities that genuinely energize and engage you. Next, catalog tasks and projects that tend to drain you and sap your motivation. The goal is landing roles over the next 10-30+ years aligned to the former while minimizing the latter. Assess what types of deliverables and interactions incite curiosity, creativity and flow versus those that induce frustration, boredom or procrastination.

Here are some good questions to ask yourself to help you get started:

  • What work makes me excited?
  • Where do I find myself spending a lot of time because it’s easy for me?
  • What excites me but also is making me step out of my comfort zone?
  • What incites curiosity? 
  • What kind of work makes me procrastinate?
  • What type of work makes me feel drained?
  • What work/task makes me want to cry and pull my hair out?

For example, my lists would be:

Likes: Public speaking, collaborating with ambitious teams, developing business strategy, applying marketing psychology, personal development, guiding clients, surpassing measurable goals, earning six-figure compensation with progression trajectory

Dislikes: Data analysis, coding, technically-focused work, isolated roles lacking collaboration, extensive travel obligations, stagnant career progression, fuzzy or subjective goals without clear metrics

As you advance, carefully examine whether expanded responsibilities align to your interests or incorporate more draining tasks you’d be completing just for a title bump or modest raise.

Define Milestone Goals

Conduct online research into various career paths matching your passions, values and talents. Sites like Zippia allow you to view sample trajectories across fields with typical salaries. Assess whether you would feel creatively fulfilled, motivated and appropriately compensated working as a [X role] and earning [Y salary] after investing [Z years] attaining the proper credentials and experience. For instance, I realized I would not feel satisfied as a $180K hospital CEO needing a PhD or MD and delayed gratification for over a decade – so I crossed this path off early. Moving forward in the wrong direction can cost irreplaceable time and energy.

Once you identify two to three potential directions aligned to your interests, dive deeper into the associated day-to-day responsibilities. Study several job descriptions for each role varying by seniority. Do the required responsibilities incorporate more of the work you find engaging or tasks likely to drain you? If the latter outweigh the former as you progress through the ranks, you may want to reevaluate the career’s fit.

Next, examine the LinkedIn profiles of at least ten leaders currently thriving in your targeted field. Track their career progression, companies, roles, credentials, educational investments and tenure in each position. Look for consistent trends you can model to inform your own career blueprint. 

For example, you’re a Marketing Coordinator and after going through the exercise you aim to land a Sr. Director of Marketing role in the next 12 years. Search on Linkedin “Senior Director of Marketing” and in a spreadsheet include the following:

Name, LinkedIn URL, Current Title, List of Current & Past Companies, Current & Past Industries, Certifications, Advanced Degrees, Overview of each role with years & Notes.  

Revisit this personalized plan every six months to a year in case passions or priorities shift over time.

Plot Your Next Move

Referencing your fleshed out career map, determine the next logical role progression given your current experience level and capabilities. 

For individual contributors, aim to spend two to three years maximizing learning and impact in each position before considering advancing. 

Tenures likely extend to four to five years at the manager and director levels where honing complex skills like team leadership, operational excellence and cross-functional influence become critical. 

Executive roles often require a decade-plus commitment after proving comprehensive business mastery.

Review several job descriptions for this targeted next role or two, making note of the core competencies and foundation-level skills required that you can sharpen even prior to formally transitioning through courses, conferences, management experience gained externally (e.g. volunteer leadership) and internally (e.g. guiding summer interns). Construct a realistic upskilling timeline to methodically gain the credentials and capabilities most career mappings demand.

Remember, you don’t need to be an expert but have a solid foundation or understanding. If you lack management experience, try to attain experience externally and internally. For example, I would take a management course for first time managers, volunteer to manage a team/group/volunteers at my charity or church and ask my manager if I can train and onboard new employees.

Cultivate Accountability

Populate your calendar with quarterly or semi-annual deadlines to revisit and refresh your mapped goals and skill-building checkpoints. Link any online learning resources, workshops or seminars you intend to complete in service of advancement. Maintain momentum through self-doubt by keeping your tangible plan visibly posted across environments like your office workspace or mirror at home. Discuss desired growth areas and opportunities proactively with your manager to co-author a mutual path to your next role.

Ambitious first-generation Latinas, we hold the power to intentionally chart our career courses without relying on predecessors or societal permission. Though the terrain remains undeniably rocky, every step of clarity, conscious skill-building and courageous advocacy moves us closer to thriving futures worthy of our talents and hungry spirits. ¡Si se puede!

Claudia Miller is a Guatemalan American career coach focused on helping women move up in their career.

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Career career advancement career advice career coach Career Development Career Goals Career Growth career planning career strategies career woman goal setting latina
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