Tactics for Career Development: Winning Strategies to Help You Up the Ladder

March 4th, 2020
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Where do you see yourself in five years? Everyone has been asked that groan-inducing question in an interview at one point or another in their careers.

It’s an extremely hard (and not very useful) question to answer when you don’t know the internal promotion structure of the company you’re interviewing with and the possible opportunities for growth and development, or lack thereof, that you’ll encounter if you get the job.

A better time for that question is when you’ve been on the job for a while and you’ve seen for yourself what it’s like to work for the company, who is getting promoted, what kinds of achievements and behaviors get rewarded, and how you might climb to the next rung on the ladder. Armed with that knowledge, you may look around and wonder, “Where do I see myself in five years? What about 15?” Do you want to move up internally? Strike out and find a new job? Stay in your field or branch out into new territory?

Career development — managing the next steps in your career, setting both short- and long-term goals, getting the training you need to master new skills and abilities, working with a career coach to help you do it, all with the goal of moving up the ladder — is a vital, yet sometimes overlooked, component of your 9-to-5. People can get caught up in just getting the job done, to the exclusion of casting an eye toward the future. That’s a mistake.

Some companies offer robust career development opportunities for their employees, nurturing growth, investing heavily in training, and helping employees map out a career path that perhaps they wouldn’t have otherwise seen. If you’re working for a company like that, congratulations! The companies that consistently top the Best Places to Work lists all focus on the career development of their employees. It’s a must, especially for millennials.

But not every company has that same focus. If you’re working for a company that doesn’t put a high emphasis on career development, you can still make it happen. You are the boss of your own career, whether your company is nurturing and developing you or not. You’re not at the mercy of circumstance, fate, or an uninterested manager. You can chart your own course. After all, you’re spending 40-plus hours each week working. You should be in the job you want, at the level you want, and with a path that will lead you into the future you want.

In this blog, we’ll look into some tactics you can deploy to develop your career.

Career development basics

Career development, at its core, is about setting goals and acquiring the skills to achieve those goals. Here are some ways to start doing that.

Self-reflect. Set aside some time to reflect on who you are, where you’ve been, and what you ultimately want from your working life. Are you happy with the path you’ve taken so far? Are you in the right industry and the right role? Our Seven Stories Exercise is a great place to find clarity about what you truly want. Knowing that is the first step to creating a path to get there.

Job shadow. Learn about the different types of jobs within your company by job shadowing to see what people are doing on any given day. This will broaden your understanding of how your company works, how things get done, and how you fit in. Find a mentor in a different department that seems like it might be a good fit for you.

Set short-term goals. Forget about where you see yourself in five years for the moment. Where do you see yourself in one year? What skills might you need to move up to the next rung of the ladder? Write down your goals and create a timeline for yourself to achieve them.

Get the training you need. If your company doesn’t offer it, find out who does. You could take a night class at a local community college or explore training online. Maybe it’s improving specific job skills. Maybe it’s focusing on soft skills, like leadership or creative thinking. Maybe it’s something totally outside your area of expertise. One smart idea: Work with a career coach to achieve a laser-sharp focus on the possibilities of the future.

Consider a lateral move. Maybe your next step isn’t “up.” Maybe it’s “over.” If you’re in sales, for example, and think you’d be happier in marketing instead, a lateral move could make that happen. To move up the ladder, you may have to veer off your current path. That means taking a good look at your current position and what opportunities it provides for advancing. In today’s business landscape, it’s sometimes necessary to make a lateral career move to better position yourself for an upward one.

Enlist your manager as an ally. Your boss can be a great asset to you. He or she can help pave the way for getting training dollars, create opportunities for job shadowing or lateral moves, and be your career development cheerleader.

Keep your network strong. Developing your network is essential to getting the job you want. Maintaining and nurturing that network is just as important, should you want to make a move for your career. Attend events, send short notes to some of your key contacts, and reach out to people with comparable jobs at other companies to take their pulse on industry trends.

Develop a long-term vision. Why does that matter? Read on to find out.

Why vision matters

Popular wisdom holds that life is a journey, and we move from infancy to childhood to youth to maturity and eventually old age. Of course, everyone knows it’s not nearly that simple; life is not linear. There are side trips and segues, missteps and derailments along the path of life, and the same is true of your career. When it comes to your professional life, having a vision is often the difference between going far afield and staying (or getting back) on track.

You assume that vision is critical when you’re a young professional just starting out, when you need to have a good plan for how you want your career to progress. You might also believe that vision is less important as you grow older and your remaining years in the work force grow short. At GetFive, we recommend you develop incremental visions — five years, 15 years, 40 years.

Vision is essential at any age, and here’s why:

You can’t chart a course for career development without it.

Career development requires an element of gazing into a crystal ball, imagining how you’d like your future to play out. That’s because it’s not always about plotting the next steps that make sense, it’s also about figuring out what you WANT those next steps to be. Don’t be afraid to dream outside of the box. Ultimately, you want to be happy, not just gainfully employed, right?

How can you find your bliss if you’re not looking for it anymore?

Humans are happiest when we’re working toward goals, and unhappy when we get diverted. Goals give us something to strive for, hope of achieving something, and satisfaction when we accomplish them. When you have goals, you’ll be less bothered by minor problems because you’ve got a bigger picture in mind that you’re working toward. Vision and goals give you control. Without a vision, you are on your career journey without a map and no way to steer.

Vision helps you move on.

Life is a series of ups and downs, and your career will also include peaks and valleys. Vision helps you move past challenges because you can keep them in perspective — you’ll see minor setbacks for what they are, rather than allowing them to seem insurmountable. And when big problems do arise, you’ll have better perspective for handling those, too.

Retirement isn’t the end of the line.

Whether you retire early or at your full retirement age, chances are good you’re going to have decades of life left. Vision helps you live those years to the fullest! While the portion of your vision that focuses on your career may have drawn to a close — and many people are choosing to do part-time or volunteer work in retirement — you still have a lot of plans and decisions to make. What will you do in retirement? Where will you live? How will you keep your mind stimulated and your body active? Having a vision for your retirement can help you feel more in control of those years.

So how do you develop your Fifteen-Year Vision or Forty-Year Vision? We advise starting by asking yourself these questions about what you think/want your life to look like in 15 years:

  • What is your life like in 15 years?
  • Who are your friends? What do they do for a living?
  • What is your relationship with your family?
  • Are you married? Single?
  • Do you have children and what are their ages?
  • Where are you living? What does it look like?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?
  • What do you do for exercise?
  • How is your health?
  • How do you take care of your spiritual needs?
  • What kind of work or work-substitute are you doing?
  • What else would you like to note about your life right now?

 
Finally, one of the most valuable aspects of having a vision is that it gives you freedom to dream — and a guideline for how you can make those dreams a reality. Want to retire to the French Riviera by age 55 and spend your days writing novels? Plan to launch your own business after retiring from your corporate job?

Whatever you dream of doing, it pays to have a vision for how you’ll achieve it — a vision that inspires you and informs your every career move to help drive you toward that goal.

Planning for the future of work: How to prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist

For your career, the future may be full of possibilities. And considering just how much the job market changes, your next step might be something that a few years back seemed entirely impossible.

Think about how much has changed in the job market landscape over the past 10 years. In just a decade, numerous jobs have emerged that didn’t exist for previous generations. Thanks to technological advances, the job market continues to evolve at a faster pace with each passing year.

Want some examples? Consider that 2007 brought the iPhone, and Android arrived shortly after. In a world where smartphones are so common, app developers are in high demand, as well as other tech gurus. The same goes with social media managers and cloud computing experts.

Uber drivers are another example of a job that didn’t exist a few years ago, although some experts predict this job will be eliminated in the next 10 years as driverless cars take over the roads. This in turn will require new jobs whose responsibilities we can only hypothesize about now. In fact, children in school today will likely work jobs that haven’t yet materialized. The World Economic Forum notes 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately work in completely new job types that aren’t on our radar yet.

So what does this mean to today’s professional? It’s time to embrace change and use the present as an opportunity to better yourself so you can positively impact your future.

Your HR department might be able to help you with this. It’s HR’s charge right now to start future-proofing your company, planning for the skillsets necessary to grow into the future.

More tactics you can employ to further develop your career

Here are some other strategies you can use to develop your career.

Curate mentor relationships. A mentor is not only a teacher, but an advocate. This is someone who will help you develop professionally while spreading the word about your abilities. Remember, it’s good to have more than one mentor. Perhaps you’ll connect with someone at a professional networking event and also find a mentor at work.

Mentor others and lead with enthusiasm. Your willingness to help others shows leadership potential. That means stepping up and being the point person for the new project or mentoring new employees who are still finding their feet.

Seek challenges. You’ll never learn to fly if you never spread your wings, so it’s important to get out of your comfort zone and ask for new responsibilities. Demonstrate your willingness to learn and work hard by volunteering for that new client presentation. Make it known to your boss you’re craving new challenges.

Track and quantify results. Numbers speak volumes. Keep a record of anything you have completed that saves time and/or enhances the company’s bottom line. Track creative and innovative ideas that were adopted and note times when you demonstrated unwavering commitment to the organization.

Establish bonds with leaders. Not only should you have a good relationship with your boss, but you should also seek to connect with other key leaders at the company. These might be people you run into only on the elevator, but they still could have a huge impact on your career trajectory. So, on the way to the 10th floor, strike up a relevant conversation instead of remaining quiet, or ask to be included in a meeting where these influential people are present.

Act and dress professionally at all times. At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, your demeanor and dress should always be professional. Act confident and be a team player. Dress neatly, even on casual office days. Your presentation should be a total package that conveys leadership, hard work, and professionalism.

Always be learning. Successful professionals are always learning. You must adopt the same mindset and take steps to gain new skills. The more relevant skills you have, the more valuable you’ll be to organizations. Additionally, stay current with industry news and events, and pay attention to trends that may influence your job in the future.

What do you do when your company doesn’t focus on career development?

You work hard and do everything that’s asked of you and then some, yet you still feel like you’re stuck in place in your career. You ask for training but no one gives it to you. The big bosses don’t know who you are. How are you ever going to get ahead?

What’s wrong with this picture? Before you can even take a baby step forward, you must remember that business is a game and you’re one of the many players. It’s time to start playing.

Find out what’s going on and become a part of it. What are the major trends affecting your industry and organization? If you don’t know, you may be working too hard in the wrong areas. Read your company’s press releases, find out the direction the organization is taking, and try to become a part of the action. You can also join associations to meet key players in your field. Your company and job are constantly changing; you’ve got to keep up.

Volunteer and be a team player. Volunteer to help with your company’s blood drive or charity initiative. Organize a chili cookoff or other team-building event. Go to HR with an idea for a companywide health initiative that everyone can participate in — a month-long walking challenge, say. Others will view you as a team player and you’ll be able to branch out, meeting people in various departments around the office.

Get the training you need. You are in charge of your own career. Don’t complain that you don’t get the kinds of assignments that will help you grow. Volunteer to do the work that will help you gain the experience you need. Take courses and learn a new technical skill. Find out what skills you need to grow and go after them.

Meet with your manager. But don’t just sit down for a chat. Set up a meeting and go in prepared. For example, create two columns on a piece of paper. The first column lists your job responsibilities. The second should list your accomplishments on the job. Point out that you’ve always been willing to take on extra work and help where needed, but you would like to get some more cutting-edge assignments.

Need help? One of the most effective ways to position yourself for a promotion is to work with a certified career coach with years of experience. From working through these steps to figuring out a solid Forty-Year Vision with achievable goals, you’ll create a clear path to the future you desire.

What is career development?

Career development is about setting goals and acquiring the skills to achieve those goals. Reflect on who you are and what you ultimately want from your working life. Research job paths, leverage company resources, and consult with a mentor. Create a flexible plan and follow it.

Why is career development planning important?

Outlining a long-term vision for your career opens the door to self-actualization. Planning lets you be proactive about your skills development and your conversations with your managers. You are less likely to be surprised by shifting sands in your line of work, and you will have more time to course correct.

What should I expect from my employer?

Employers recognize the importance of career development in motivating and retaining their employees. In addition to regular feedback, companies demonstrate their commitment by providing access to career pathing software, upskilling/training opportunities, and career development.

What can I do without my employer’s help?

Even if your employer does not offer extensive career development programs, there are still many initiatives you can take on your own, such as engaging a career coach, seeking advice from a mentor, and asking your manager for a meeting. You can also explore affordable skill development platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Coursera and edX.

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