Growing your career doesn’t just mean landing the next promotion or being offered a new job. It also means adapting a mindset of continual learning throughout every stage of your career. Seeking out opportunities to build your hard and soft skills, expand your professional network and accept new job responsibilities will make you more successful in your current position and prepare you for the next big move.
“What’s really interesting today is that there’s a new philosophy to grow horizontally, not just vertically,” says Anita Byrne, partner with SSA Consultants, an organizational development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge. “There’s a big emphasis among professionals on staying in a frame of mind of growing your skills and increasing your marketability at all times.”
And while it’s easy to assume this is a Millennial tendency, it actually cuts across generational lines, says Byrne.
“All of us want to be of value,” says Byrne, a full-time professional who, herself, is pursuing an MBA after being out of school for 20 years. “We all want to contribute and keep getting better. It’s a humanistic need.”
Byrne says a good place to start is with a bit of self-reflection.
“It’s important to understand what you need to work on and what you might be struggling with,” she says. “It could be something like running meetings, growing your professional contacts, improving your conflict resolution skills or leading a cross-generational team.”
Once you pinpoint the areas you want to focus on, you can begin to take action. But doing so will depend on your current work environment. An organization with a strong learning culture is likely to give you access to online courses, memberships to professional associations, peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities and professional credentialing. They may also support you in skill-building that isn’t directly related to job performance, such as taking CPR or learning a new software program.
On the other hand, organizations that take a more conservative view about training may offer narrower resources for building your personal and professional tool-kit.
But that shouldn’t matter, says Byrne. There are numerous ways to get better at your job and grow your career, even if you have to do it on your own time.
Building your team of peers, coaches and mentors is an important part of growing your career. One hands-on way of doing this is to organize a job shadow, Byrne says. It may even be worth taking a vacation day to do so.
“Perhaps this person is great at running meetings, or is in a field you are interested in,” she says. “Shadowing them for a day is a good way to see what’s involved or what you can learn.”
It may also be beneficial to hire an executive coach to advise you on ways to excel in your current job and chart a course for your next move. Executive coaches aren’t just for top level ‘executives’ anymore, says Byrne.
It’s also important to join professional or skill-building associations, either with the sanction of your employer or on your own.
For example, joining a Toastmasters chapter can improve your public speaking skills. And local chapters of professional associations are usually good grounds for networking. They also offer professional development opportunities for their members, and host guest speakers who share best practices.
Further still, there is a wide range of online courses and webinars offering both hard and soft skills training. Employers often give access to online learning, but even if they don’t, many are available at low or no cost. A public library membership is all you need to access free audio books on numerous professional development topics.
Finally, another key ingredient in growing your career is being willing to accept new responsibilities in your current position. It’s becoming commonplace, says Bryne, for managers to build bench strength by delegating leadership responsibilities to team members who might be new to project management.”
“Organizations are getting healthier by pushing opportunities out to staff,” says Byrne. “Your boss might ask you to take on a new task, like lead a project or roll out a new initiative. Doing a good job adds a lot of value.”
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