Question: I am very fortunate to have a job I love! I have been working at a great company for almost 2 years now, and as much as I love what I do, I am interested in career growth. This is one of my first jobs out of college, so I’m not quite sure how to climb the ladder yet. Do you have any hints on the best way to go about this? – Brian H.
Answer: Whether this is your first job or you’re a seasoned professional, it is always a good idea to be thinking about career growth! Not only does focusing on career growth demonstrate that you are a go-getter and have goals, but also that you are invested in your company and career. However, it is important to remember that career development doesn’t happen overnight and is always a work in progress. There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re on track and moving in the right direction. A few of my favorite recommendations are below:
– Find a mentor at work: A mentor can be a manager or a colleague with more experience. An ideal mentor would have the skills and experience that you hope to gain in the future. A mentor can offer advice, help you deal with challenges, introduce you to new contacts, help you focus on the right tools and skills you need, and show you all the possibilities for your career. Some mentor relationships develop naturally over time, but don’t be afraid to reach out directly to someone you admire.
– Be a mentor to a new or more junior employee: Acting as a mentor to a new or more junior employee gives you a chance to practice your managerial skills and let them shine. Your leadership abilities will quickly become apparent, and it will be evident that you are willing to help your colleagues and show them the ropes for the good of the company.
– Talk to your manager about your goals: Set up a time to speak with your manager about your future goals and ask exactly what you need to do to reach those goals. Be clear about the fact that you understand that career development may not happen immediately and that you are willing to work for it. Discuss specific goals, trainings, and skills required to get to where you want to be.
– Make a plan: Once you have the information you need, plot out the tasks you need to do and goals you want to achieve along the way to your larger goal.
– Be a team player: You should always stay focused on your career growth, but not at the expense of your colleagues. Keep in mind that your number one goal is to meet and exceed the requirements of your current position. That doesn’t just mean hitting your numbers or finishing your projects; it means assisting others, making sure the needs of the company are met, being collaborative, and sharing credit for new ideas and successes. In addition, being a team player will make you more likable among your coworkers at all levels, which is important when considering growth.
– Take initiative: Don’t be afraid to present new ideas, take on extra projects, or learn new skills. Just be sure to present any new ideas in an appropriate setting and be respectful of other people’s time.
– Learn to “manage up”: This means that you should learn to work in such a way as to assist the person you are supporting (your manager), and teach others to do the same. By demonstrating that you understand your manager’s needs, you will make the company more efficient and prove that you work for the good of the team. You will also gain a better understanding of your manager’s responsibilities and priorities.
– Show interest in the company: Show interest in all aspects of the company, even outside of your department and position. Ask your colleagues about their responsibilities and develop a thorough understanding of how the organization functions, from front to back, and from top to bottom.
– Know the industry: Stay up to date on the latest industry research, attend trainings and seminars, and use the information you learn to make a positive impact at work.
– Think in terms of results: Base conversations around goals and outcomes. Be as results-oriented as possible, and prove that you are developing the tools you need to help the organization as a whole achieve its goals. Thinking and speaking in terms of outcomes will also highlight your work ethic and ability to work with the big picture in mind.
– Set the next goal: Once you reach your current career goal, start thinking about what’s next. As I mentioned earlier, career development is an on-going process. Having these types of ambitions motivates us at every step of our professional journeys.
As you work on these various suggestions, you may realize that there is not a lot of room for growth at your current organization. However, I’d still certainly recommend taking these tips into consideration because they will show your managers and colleagues your potential for growth. Even if you end up searching outside of your current organization for your next role, your references and recommendations will likely reflect this potential. And best of all, you will be ready to work toward a whole new set of goals at your next opportunity!
Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C.