by Markey Read www.careernetworksvt.com
Developing your career within a company takes attention and time. With a strategy and some investment from you and your manager, an administrative assistant can become an operations manager; a marketing assistant can become a staff trainer; a financial analyst can become a human resources administrator, and a sales representative can become a sales manager.
Get Clear About Your Goal
First it takes clarity about your goal. Consider how many levels away from your current position is your ideal position. For example: are you in an administrative support role and want to be a VP? Or are you a senior level manager and want to be a director? Are there educational or certifications required for that role? Some positions require a minimum of a master’s degree regardless of years of experience. What qualities do the people in those positions possess that makes them successful? Do you share any of those qualities?
To answer these questions, take the time to do your research so you can make an informed choice. Learn about how other departments function. Interview your co-workers, supervisor, manager, and friends about their backgrounds and responsibilities. You may even be able to “try out” new roles through job shadowing or sharing. Take the time to understand what different positions and levels within your organization are like, assess potential gaps in skills, knowledge and experience, and create a time-line with reasonable expectations.
As potential options become clearer, be honest with yourself about the gap between what you do now and what you want to do in the future. Assess your current transferable skills and be willing to release some skills that you no longer wish to use in daily tasks. Then, identify internal and external resources to close the gaps.
Closing the Gap
Some common methods are using internal training opportunities; volunteering for committees orprojects (internally and externally); enrolling in classes or workshops offered through universities and other educational and training organizations (on-line & in-person; and mentors.
Some organizations have professional training funds available. Companies usually have restrictions on how these funds can be used. Training usually needs to be related to your current position, for example, but if your manager understands your strategy you may get something approved that stretches the parameters. By including your manager in the process, you will be able to build a stronger case for funding and may discover some company-sponsored resources. If funds are too restrictive, unavailable, or your manager is unsupportive, it may be worthwhile to personally pay for the training opportunity.
New skills can also be developed through special projects, committees, and ad hoc teams. If you are already aware of the gaps you are seeking to fill, when opportunities arise you can volunteer or advocate for assignments. Listen in meetings, pay attention to new initiatives, let influencers know your goals, and read those company-wide emails for clues and tips. If you have already networked and developed a few key resource people within the organization, this process is easier than if you have not.
One of the key resources in this process is a mentor. A mentor is a person who has a rich appreciation for you, your abilities, and your potential. Mentors are generally older and more experienced in your chosen field than you. They can be a manager in your company (from any department), an influential teacher or coach, an older relative, or a friend. Some mentors are instrumental for short periods of time and others follow your career over longer periods of time.
If you do not already have a mentor, survey your personal and professional community for a likely candidate and for permission to develop a mentoring relationship. Most people are pleased to help and honored to be asked. Although this can feel vulnerable, the rewards are well worth the risk.
Document Your Influence in the Company’s Progress
Once you have implemented your plan, no matter how small the steps, keep a record and provide useful updates to your network. Start by taking note of the current status of the company. Use benchmarks like level of sales & profits, number of customers, size of projects, etc. These markers are vital to documenting how your participation has influenced growth in the company. Keep all those certificates of completion, log your hours on those committees and special projects, keep customer and co-worker acknowledgements, and meet with your manager to discuss progress on a quarterly or biennial basis.
Develop aportfolio of results, even if you are the only person to ever see it. Portfolios are not just for artists and writers. A portfolio is a documentation of projects, certifications and trainings, formal and informal acknowledgments, and other supporting information to your resume. You can also include charts and graphs that track the progress and success of projects or initiatives you managed or supported, pictures of events you coordinated, and summaries of reports you created.
Think of your portfolio as your show and tell in your performance review or job interview. Several of our clients have been able to negotiate higher annual salary increases and job title updates as a result of keeping detailed records and progress reports on projects. Remember that your manager may not always know or remember what you did for the past year.
Staying on Track
Regardless of your skills and profession, it is also vitally important that you develop a structure for accountability. Use a friend, a mentor, or a career consultant to support you in your process. Your spouse or partner can be one of your supporters, but probably should not be your primary support. Although they are well intended, our partners are often not our best coaches.
This kind of career development is easier within larger organizations. If you work at a small to medium-size company, the career path may be shorter and more squat. It may take longer to make significant progress because there are fewer places for co-workers to move to. In this case, it may be necessary to move to another company in order to advance your career. This is not, however, a license to skip from company to company. Employers and employees want and deserve loyalty. There is a balance between serving a company and advancing a career. Job titles and additional responsibilities may be the avenue to seek.
If you are working for a small company with a handful of employees, apply the above strategy in a broader context. Consider your entire industry or community “your company.” It will take more effort and time to conduct the research and meet the “right” people, but it is not impossible.
When things fall apart
What happens when you do the research, seek support from your manager and get rejected? First seek other advocates within the organization (peers, managers of other departments, the owner). This move could enrage a sensitive manager, so be careful when taking this tact. If you are able to identify another department that is a good fit, you may be able to transfer laterally in the level of your job, but expand into new areas of the business. And at last resort, consider leaving your current organization to find other employment opportunities.
Career Development is a life-long process and deserves your attention and patience. Horizontal, diagonal, and backward steps are part of the process and need to be taken with some humor and grace. What is truly for you will never pass you by, but you have to be aware of the options in order to access them.
Markey Read is Chief Consultant at with Career Networks in Williston, Vermont. Markey provides leadership, team, professional development planning and outplacement services to companies, and career and employment services to individuals. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802.373.7789.