In business, everything starts small. Small businesses are the motor of the American economy and growing companies offer a wealth of opportunities to enterprising employees. Working at a small company offers multiple resume-enhancing experiences with an unending supply of tasks to tackle. But the draw that small businesses have to young workers eager to grow their careers is an inherent drawback to veteran members of the workforce—being small. If a business is not growing fast enough to keep pace with your development needs (e.g. there is no place to go when you are ready to move up the ranks) it’s time to make a choice: stay stagnant or find a position elsewhere that complements your career aspirations.
While there are certainly a number of reasons you may want to use your experiences at your small employer as a jumping off point for pursuing a position at a larger company, you may also find that you relate so well to your current employer’s culture or mission that you’d prefer staying where you are rather than striking out into the larger world of big business. Whatever your motivation for deciding to stay, be prepared to make your own path as a guide may not be available to nudge you in the right direction.
Structured career paths are largely found only within the domain of larger organizations, so it is most likely that you and you alone will be responsible for setting and reaching your performance goals. But rather than ignoring the opportunity to set high standards, use the situation to your advantage and be proactive about adding responsibilities and solving organizational problems that management may not yet realize exist. Once you take the time to look around and find areas of opportunity to suit your skills, you can move beyond your current functional area and expand your role in the direction you choose.
After identifying projects or areas for growth that you can take on in addition to your current task list, it is time to create objectives that follow your self-made career plan and discuss them with your supervisor as your position evolves. Once you have discovered how to measure your success, you gain the experience and self-confidence you need to develop your skills and prove to your boss that you are ready for an expanded role in the company. In order to keep your growth on the minds of the higher-ups, you must regularly reinforce your progress by supplying them relevant information (e.g. financial savings/gains you are bringing to the company) at the proper times.
Finally, be watchful for any opportunity to be mentored. Even if your company lacks a formal mentoring program, you can also look around for those who have been around for awhile and have already attained those goals that you wish to pursue. A mentor is someone in a position to see your company, its goals, and its future in a way that you can’t. He or she can help you identify potential opportunities or pitfalls within your organizations or share with you the traits that management really looks for in its successful employees.
Though the result of your efforts may be that you find your goals and your company’s are not aligned and you must consider moving on, you can only gain from taking the time and effort to become more valuable to your employer. So take initiative and carve out your own path to career advancement, even if the future doesn’t turn out quite the way you first expected.