I often am asked to help friends and network contacts develop their careers. Here’s what I know: Career growth is not something you can achieve on a wing and a prayer. If you want to move up in your career, you must take action. You need a plan, and then you need to follow it.
Do some hard thinking
Your first step for this journey is self-awareness. Ask yourself tough questions about your status and your future. Are you passionate about your work? Do you have the education and skills to move up? Most importantly, do you have the drive to reach your destination?
Look down the road
To develop your career within your current workplace, your analysis must encompass the organization’s needs as well. Your manager can provide invaluable insight in this area and also guide you so you’re prepared when opportunities develop. Many organizations pay for continuing education and encourage managers to serve as mentors or “job coaches” to promising employees. Take advantage of all these benefits; if they aren’t available, then find your own route. Ultimately, you alone have control over your career.
Think of yourself as a new “brand” on the market. You may be the best thing since the invention of cell phones, but unless people know about you, you aren’t going anywhere.
Look beyond your job description for opportunities to get in front of executives and organizational leadership and show them what you’ve got. Joining committees, getting involved in your organization’s community outreach efforts, or coordinating volunteer activities will enable you to promote your leadership abilities.
This isn’t an effort for the faint-of-heart, because it means you have to put yourself out there. You must take advantage of every opportunity to network with people who hold leadership positions. Be genuine – tell them about your desire to advance and ask some open-ended questions about their backgrounds, both academic and professional. You’ll gain some insight, and those executives will be more likely to remember you down the road.
Remember the obvious
Notable work achievements speak volumes about your abilities. This is true even if you seek opportunities outside your current workplace — the higher you try to go, the more tightly knit the executive network becomes. Those whom you impress will be your best references.
You put in the work and made the next career move…don’t stop there! Be diligent about opportunities to continue your progress. Every step should be ongoing; develop yourself constantly and re-evaluate continuously, because a satisfying career doesn’t end with one good position. It’s what Covey called, “sharpening the saw,” – this journey of continuous self-improvement – and it’s more important today than ever before.