Careers are like houses. Even a new home needs regular improvements to increase its value. Professional development isn’t much different. While you may be perfectly happy in the job you have right now, your career growth over the long term depends on your planning ahead. It means regularly evaluating if your career is on the right trajectory and recognizing when you should devote some time to advancing it. Depending on the employment situation, that can mean different kinds of investments. One thing’s for sure, though – successful people are willing to spend time and money today to receive payoffs tomorrow.
Think it might be time to invest in your career? Consider if you fall into one (or more) of these categories:
Chances are you were in a peer group when you joined your company, meaning you were part of a cadre of colleagues of similar age and with corresponding education, salary and responsibility levels. Are they getting promoted while you remain in the same position? If so, it’s time to make a plan.
Schedule a meeting with direct management to talk about your performance and career interests. Stay positive: the message should be that you want the organization to be more successful, and that you can contribute to this by using your valuable experience in a role of greater responsibility. Ask your manager what he or she sees as your strengths and weaknesses. Do they jibe with your own sense of reality? Together, work out the best way you can stand out as promotable by crafting a plan for improvement. Maybe the organization offers internal training classes or would be willing to pay for training courses outside the company. Offer to do a trial by taking the lead on a new project. Start an informal mentor-mentee setup by asking your boss to agree to regular meetings to talk about your development plan and to offer insights on your performance and decision-making over time.
And don’t neglect those peers who’ve already taken a step further than you. They can also provide worthwhile advice, if you’re open to it. What do they think were the most influential factors in their getting promoted? Compare their decision-making processes and work strategies to your own. You’ll learn something.
If internal resources are not offering the support you need, consider enlisting a career coach. Such an unbiased outsider can help you see the state of your career and professional development from a new angle. Plus, expert coaching can help you better assess your true strengths and interests, and work with you to build out a path from there.
If you’ve been out of school a while – say, 10 years or more – you may need some refresher courses in areas where there have been big changes. Training up makes sure you continue to grow in your current job while grooming yourself for the next. It’s also a big self-confidence booster. For instance, in industries affected by legal and regulatory shifts, you can bring a lot more to the table if you understand these changes and are able to develop strategies to deal with them. Furthermore, the digital economy has transformed many functions, like sales, marketing, customer service and logistics. Learning the latest business practices ensures that you don’t look “old” by not being able to talk today’s language and think along the samelines as leaders in these fields.
Freshening up your education does not necessarily mean acquiring another degree. In addition to one-off training programs, graduate certificate programs are a good option for many professionals who want to add a new education qualification to their resumes without investing huge amounts of time and money. Certificates are offered offline and online in countless community colleges, universities and stand-alone schools.
Organizational realignments stir up fear and uncertainty in many people. But they can also present huge opportunities for those who are prepared for them. If your company is merging with another, changing its business model, or expanding, invest some energy in getting ready for a potential new role. Talk to management, colleagues and the HR team about what the organizational structure is likely to look like and see if your skills line up with those needs. If not, consider taking some training classes or volunteering to take on some new tasks in your job to build out your experience.
In addition, you should take stock of your accomplishments and note them in your “brag sheet.” This will help you rework your resume quickly – and be able to talk yourself up legitimately -- when the right new leadership job becomes available.
Professionals tend to “forget” about their resumes once they’ve landed a job. That’s understandable, but it’s also a mistake not to see a resume as a living document, something that should be regularly updated as your career unfolds, even if you aren’t changing positions. It’s good practice to do a resume rewrite yourself or with the help of a professional resume writing expert on a regular basis. This serves three important purposes. First, it allows you to take stock of where you are on your career path so you can assess what steps you might need to line up next. Second, it ensures you’re ready to strike if you hear through a contact about a job opening that has your name written all over it. Or if you are suddenly laid off and face an immediate job search. And third, it provides the chance to add your latest accomplishments, training certificates, and other important milestones, details of which you might not be able to remember later on.
If you haven’t done anything in your job in a while that you could brag about on your resume or in an interview, you might want to take it as a sign you need to shake things up. Obviously, some specialties like sales and consulting lend themselves more easily to quantifying accomplishments than other fields. But every industry has its way of measuring achievements, for example, creating a program or initiative for the first time, training X new employees, streamlining a process for efficiency. So create a list of how accomplishments are tracked in your office and draft a plan of action for executing some of these. Again, training might be necessary to get you to that point, or asking to take the lead on a special project.
Once you recognize that it’s time to invest in your career, you’ll find ways to make it happen. While training, mentoring and resume/career coaching are the most common investments, there are other ways to increase your visibility and currency, which, in turn, can help propel you upwards. Consider writing articles for the company blog or relevant industry publications where you offer your unique perspective as a specialist. Give speeches or take part as a panel guest at a conference to show off your expertise. Just make sure that your choices are truly in line with your professional interests for the future. Only then will making it to the next level be rewarding.
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