We all want to see our work rewarded. It’s only natural to feel good when a boss says good job or be told that you’ve earned a raise. Accolades or financial awards are nice, but we as humans need to feel like we’re getting somewhere and making progress in our work-lives. Many people desire advancement, but they don’t follow a specific plan in order to achieve this goal. To meet your long-term goals, it takes more than on-the-job initiative or great performance – it requires a diligent and formulaic approach to career strategy.
You want to see your career progress (more duties, job title change, management, etc…), but how can it be done? One way is to seek advice from a career advisor. The career advisor is a professional who can go over your goals with you and help you prepare yourself for advancement. They will need plenty of input from you. Tell the advisor what job you have and where that job can lead. The employer might detail or graph out a job ladder or lattice that describes in detail what positions there are and what skills are needed to advance to the next level. Advisors are also helpful in outlining a whole career track and showing you what you will need for more career advancement down the road.
You may seek advice from a formally trained career advisor, or instead seek out help from an industry trained and experienced mentor. No matter who helps you, the most important aspect of the relationship is what you bring to the conversation. A detailed understanding of your own background, functional and technical skills, as well as your specific career goals will make the conversation most productive. Each position in your chosen field will have specific skills required for the next level of position or management. It’s important to understand each competency as an individual accomplishment – for example, in order to be a director over 100 people, you must manage a department of 10 people. You need to formulate a specific plan of action to management 10 people. It is helpful not only to map out the action items needed to achieve this responsibility, but also an anticipated timeline.
The advisor can also give you an aptitude test or just discuss your skills with you in general and compare those to the skills needed for your career advancement. If you need improvement in general computer skills or in very specific software applications for example, classes are available in a variety of places including business schools or industry specific professional certification programs. You may even be able to have your employer pay for them as some employers do offer class reimbursement and taking the initiative by signing up can be another way to stand out in the crowd.
If in your research you see the chance for advancement with your current employer is slight, you can make plans to go to another employer with more positions and better chances at promotion or in order to achieve the specific responsibilities that you have mapped out. You must of course tailor your resume to the position applied for, but if you are specifically applying to a new position to progress your job and career, make them aware of that – it’s a strength, not a detriment to your application. Make an effort to know what they are looking for at that company and emphasize the similar skills for that job that you demonstrated in your former job – but don’t shy away from your deficiencies. When applying for a “reach position,” pinpoint experience that you don’t have and actually bring them up during the interview. If the areas are precise, narrow, and well defined and you approach learning these new functions with enthusiasm, the prospective employer will not think worse of you for them.
Of course, when applying for a new position either externally or internally inside your company, the best source for what the position requires comes from those who already have the position. If possible, talk to someone who works there now. If outside the company, get to know if career advancement is something the company fosters or if they are the kind of place that hires from the outside (as they are necessarily trying to hire from the outside due to them having an open position that you are interested in.) In general, you want to hear that companies value their existing employees, have low turnover, and usually promote from within.
When it comes to career advancement at your current employer, look at the people who are in the job you want to be considered for. You may hear someone is leaving and you should seek them out and ask them about the job to find out what it really entails. Forge relationships with the supervisors in that area so they will be thinking of you when that job opens up. Be sure to let them know about the skills you have acquired and the homework you put in to get to know the position ahead of time, and you’ll be the one considered for that job. It’s important to think of your progress not as a solitary act of advancement, but as a steady progression of small milestones. Make sure that you are constantly updating your skills, and be sure that information and your achievement “trickles up” to the right people.
It’s a common belief that people advance in their careers out of luck, circumstance, education, or personal relationships. However, none of these alone will help you. None of these, without the addition of a well thought out and researched plan will make you succeed. Career advancement must be a planned adherence to a long term strategy, with a well crafted set of goals that are aligned with your interests and talents. If you don’t plan your career in this way, make today the day you start.