Whether you’re new to your career or have been working your way up the corporate ladder for 5 or 10 years you should take time periodically to assess your career goals. Developing a clear perspective on who you are within an organization and what you can do to improve will help you be more effective in your current job and prepare you for the next step in your career path. It’s not hard to see that the higher you go up the organizational ladder the fewer people are in charge making the decisions that influence your company. Higher level executives report more satisfaction with their job, more financial security, and have less stress about their job prospects in the future. While there is no sure fire way to reach high levels of success in your career, following the advice described here can assist you in building a career plan.
1. Assess What Your Role Is and What Your Skills Are
This might seem obvious to some, but to take a step back from your job and looking at both what your job is supposed to be and what it actually entails can help you immensely in deciding what skills you should focus on developing. If you still have it, read through the job description for your position again and list out the things that are the most important to your day-to-day work. Take a typical workday and make a diary of everything you do throughout the day. If you’ve had a performance review recently, take a copy of your review and compare that to your job description and work diary and see where there may be gaps in your skills. By assessing what you do on a day to day basis and comparing it to your job expectations you can properly assign importance to your daily tasks and focus on the important issues that will get you noticed by your managers.
The second step in taking stock of your position it to think about what your skills are. Do you negotiate contracts? Are you in sales meeting with clients? Do you manage people or budgets? How well versed are you in programming languages or using industry specific computer programs? Knowing where your strengths and weaknesses lie in business skills can illuminate areas where you need to focus on improvement. Once you determine what your skills are and where you can improve, think next about what your future position is and what skills that job might require. Taking the time now to improve the skills you need for your job today as well as for the job you want will put you in a significantly better position to excel in your current role and set you up for your next promotion.
2. Find a Mentor
Unless you’re nearing the end of your career, there is somebody out there who has been where you are today and has worked their way through the corporate ladder to get the position you would like to have. While it may be intimidating or feel awkward asking somebody to mentor you, the benefits can be huge.
By selecting a mentor who knows the ins and outs of both your corporate organization and the industry you work in they can give you great advice on how to excel at your position and stand out from the crowd. Most mentors are more than happy to spend a few minutes every few weeks discussing your position with you and helping you to see opportunities for growth. You can also lean on your mentor when you are looking to move within the organization or even looking to change companies. Getting involved in these work relationships can help give you an edge over your coworkers who are hesitant to step outside of their comfort zone and ask for help.
3. Work, Work, Work, and Get Noticed!
Start each week by taking stock of your to do list. What has to get done right today, this week, this month, and what can wait until next month? Prioritizing your workload frequently can help you to make sure that smaller projects don’t slip through the cracks. When you finish a project, check in with your supervisors and get recognition that the project was completed correctly and that there is not more to do. Checking in frequently can get your more face time with your managers who will be able to recognize your efforts when the time comes for a promotion.
Once you’ve determined what your workload is and what needs to get done, look for room to take on extra projects. Sometimes by adding just 20 or 30 minutes a day you can actually take on and complete an extra project and go the extra mile for your employer. Many offices have plenty of faceless worker bees who just do the tasks assigned to them so going out of your way to do more will get your recognized for your efforts.
Look through your company’s newsletter or website to find activities and get involved. Whether they’re social events, volunteer opportunities, or recreational sports teams, being involved in company events and the company culture will give you the opportunity to network with your peers and have a little fun. Do favors for other employees without asking for anything in return. Over your career these small activities add up and you never know who you can ask for a favor that may give you the career bump you’ve been waiting for.
4. Communication Is Key
First, make sure that you have strong communication skills for both written and verbal reports. Writing clear, poignant emails and memos without the extra “fluff” can set you apart from your peers. Your managers are busy and their managers are even busier so bogging them down with wordy emails will muddle your message and frustrate your supervisors. In both your written and verbal communications think of the core elements of an effective message: 1) Educate, 2) Persuade, 3) Manage Expectations, 4) Motivate. By keeping these elements in mind you can easily build a persuasive argument for your position and relay that clearly.
Communicate your goals by following my earlier tips of finding a mentor, asking for frequent reviews from your manager, and getting involved in the company culture. Your actions may speak louder than words and will be recognized by others so don’t hesitate to get out there and network within your company. You should also be looking to network through professional trade organizations or civic organizations.
5. Know When to Quit
This may sound counterintuitive, but knowing when to cut your losses at a company and move on to the next opportunity is extremely important. You may have been taught that by spending years at a company and being loyal you can climb up the organizational ladder, but changing economic climates or company structures could leave you trapped. Get and stay involved in professional organizations and keep your eyes open for potential career opportunities. Take stock of what your position should be paying according to industry standards and look for openings. Sometimes by just asking for a promotion and relaying what other businesses would pay for your skills your employer may get the message that you are a valuable asset they want to keep around. If you’ve tried everything it looks like you won’t be getting to the next step on your career path then be open to making a move that might be scary but will ultimately put you in a better place for the long run.