Driving Your Career to the Fast Lane

Often employees at organizations expect their managers to take sole responsibility for their careers, by developing, motivating, creating career paths and even identifying the employee’s next career opportunity.  All of these are important factors and best–in–class employers do offer development opportunities, develop career progression plans and create environments where employees are valued, motivated and engaged.  However, employees also own a significant portion of the responsibility for their careers.  You can steer your career by taking a few simple steps:

  • Assess – Start by conducting a self-audit.  Be honest with yourself and identify your strengths, experience gaps and opportunities for improvement.
  • Create a Plan – After conducting your self-audit create a personal development plan, which includes steps to help you to capitalize on your strengths and improve your experience gaps and opportunities.
  • Explore – While building your personal development plan, explore alternate methods to develop additional skills.  For example:
    • Teamwork – Cross-functional teams are an excellent way to demonstrate your ability to work cross functionally.  Request to participate on a cross-functional team.
    • Leadership Skills – If you desire to move into a leadership role, consider requesting to lead a team or project.  Keep in mind that it is important to have current acceptable performance before you can expect to be assigned to cross-functional teams or special projects.
    • Project Management/Organization Skills – Let your manager know you are interested in special projects to build your project management skills.  Organizing events such as off site meetings are also a great way to demonstrate organizational skills.
    • Communication skills – Offer to lead a meeting or to present on a specific topic.  If you need to further develop your platform skills or presentation skills, there are external organizations such as Toastmaster’s International that you can join.  Toastmaster’s is an organization that offers a structured forum to help individuals develop a comfort level with public speaking.  To enhance written communication skills consider or taking responsibility of  creating internal reports, white papers, or even meeting minutes.
    • Education – Explore the curriculum at a local colleges or universities.  Most schools offer continuing education courses aimed at working professionals. Take advantage of your company’s tuition assistance program and if available, internal development programs or external professional development seminars.
    • Volunteer Opportunities – If you have time outside of work, there are many organizations that you can contact to volunteer.  Volunteer experiences are also part of skill building.  You can be philanthropic and build skills at the same time. Volunteering can be organized around your schedule whether you have one hour per month to give or twenty hours. Check out this site to look for local volunteer opportunities http://www.volunteermatch.org.
    • Board Opportunities with Non-profits – Participating on local boards is a great way to build and demonstrate leadership skills.   There are many local and national non-profits that are seeking professionals with specific expertise to participate on their boards.  For example, some boards may seek individuals with accounting, marketing or fundraising expertise.  Others are just looking for people willing to volunteer their time for a worthy cause.  Board opportunities can range from a local private school, to an association, to an arts organization.  The opportunities to volunteer your time are fairly extensive.  Before you commit, gain a solid understanding of the time commitment and expectations to ensure it fits into your schedule.  Boards may meet monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly, and depending upon the organization there is often additional work that may be required outside of the regular board meetings.  Depending upon the organization, there may also be a financial commitment to contribute or fundraise.  Check out http://www.boardnetusa.org to see a sampling of the types of opportunities that are available.
  • Communicate – Talk to your manager about your strengths, opportunities and career goals.  Don’t assume your manager is aware of your goals and aspirations.  Ideally discussions can take place at anytime throughout the year, however, most organizations have an annual or bi-annual employee performance review process.  If you have not had the discussion already, your performance review meeting is an ideal opportunity to have this discussion with your manager.
  • Ask for Input – Do not create your plan in a vacuum, a key part of your self-audit will be to ask for feedback from your manager.  He/she will provide input on your self-audit and plan. Make sure you are an active participant in these discussions.
  • Coaching – If you are not certain how to have these discussions with your manager, or you are not sure of how to self-audit, reach out to your Human Resources Representative or someone else that you respect for coaching and feedback.  Your HR Representative can provide valuable coaching in these areas.

  • Find a Mentor – If your organization has a formal mentoring program, take advantage of it.  If your organization does not have a formal mentoring program, seek an informal mentor.  Typically a mentor is someone that you respect professionally and may connect with personally.  A good mentor is willing to listen, coach and provide feedback and support when needed. If you mentally survey your existing relationships, you may find that you already have an informal mentor.

  • Consider Lateral Job Moves – When you are ready, look for internal opportunities within your organization.  Consider internal or external moves to gain additional skills.  Do this in addition to, applying for positions with more responsibility.  The more intellectual capital that you have, the more valuable you will be to your current employer and to any potential employer.   A lateral career move can be more valuable than staying stagnant in a role that is not providing additional skills.

  • Build Your Networks –Build your internal and external networks.  Internal networks will help you within an organization and external networks are valuable to find business opportunities outside of an organization.  As you build your networks, create a system to organize and keep track of your contacts.  Electronic tracking system can range from an Outlook contact list, to a social networking site. A good example of a professional networking site that is easy to use to manage contacts is www.Linkedin.com.

Even if you happen to be one of the fortunate few that have already found their dream job, a periodic self-audit is still highly recommended.  The world is changing rapidly and yesterday’s hot new technology is quickly old tomorrow.  In order to keep your intellectual capital current, it is critical to continue to evolve with the ever-changing dynamics of a global workforce.

Happy Driving & Happy New Year!

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