Managing your career

Whether you are a first year graduate or a seasoned professional, you have probably heard the term ‘career management.’ You have also probably been taught that you need to take responsibility for your own development. What you might not know is how best to take the initiative to get the experiences and training that will ensure your continued development and progress on your career path. Here are some suggestions on how you can own your career.

Know yourself

The first step to successful career management is the ability to understand what you want from your career, where your strengths lie, and what challenges you will need to overcome. To begin, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What motivates you?
  • What are your most important personal values?
  • What are your strengths and talents?
  • What skills or abilities would you like to develop to make yourself a stronger professional?

If you are uncertain of your professional strengths and weaknesses, ask a colleague what areas you need to improve in and what areas you excel in. Additionally, ask for informal feedback throughout the year from your managers and supervisors — don’t wait for formal reviews. Use the information you gather throughout the year to improve your skill set.

Keep an open mind while you build professional skills and determine goals for your desired career — opportunities may come in unexpected forms and lead to new career paths.

Create an individual development plan

Before setting personal and professional goals, ask your manager, mentor, or a person who is senior to you to give you honest feedback on areas for your development. Incorporate this feedback over the year — address any areas of weakness and continue to build up skills in areas of strength. When setting goals for yourself to achieve, use SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) and hold yourself accountable.

Be a lifelong learner

Keep current in your field through professional associations, publications, websites, and social media groups. Determine which will have the greatest professional value for you and keep the list reasonable. Use Continuing Professional Education (CPE) courses to gain relevant information about your field or develop your skills. Develop your skill set further by continuing your education into an appropriate advanced degree or certification. The world is constantly evolving and continuing your education throughout your career will allow you to evolve with it.

Use your company’s resources

Many companies offer their employees internal training opportunities: from personal development, like communication or networking, to specific skills, like advanced Excel. Participate in training offered by your company and use the training resources offered, such as articles, podcasts, and webinars.

Have role models and/or mentors

Select role models who have the skills, abilities, and attributes you admire. Then, study your role models’ behavior and ask them how they became successful. Approach a role model to be your mentor. Ask for their support to help you develop competencies like theirs. It’s okay to have more than one mentor — each mentor will have a different skill set and allow you to grow in different ways.

Network, network, network

Establish your professional reputation by getting to know colleagues throughout your company, not just within your immediate team. Identify people who are working on projects of interest or have skills you admire, and ask them how they developed their skills. Broaden your network by scheduling lunch every two weeks with a person from your company you do not know.

Expand your professional network outside of your organization. Volunteer to attend company-sponsored events and set goals for your networking at those events. Focus on meeting and introducing yourself to non-company participants. Join your local chamber of commerce or other professional organizations and be active in the organizations’ events or meetings.

Volunteer for a charitable organization that you have a passion for and that has regular opportunities for networking, to keep yourself interested and make the time commitment worthwhile. Use the opportunities to both volunteer and build your referral network.

Seek challenging assignments

Ensure that your manager or supervisor knows you would like to challenge yourself with more difficult assignments. Challenging assignments will expose you to great variety and a large number of lessons. Being open to challenges will bring you greater opportunities for developing your personal and professional skills.

Learn from your mistakes

Remember that truly successful people generally look at failure as an opportunity to learn. Look for the lesson in the situation. Try to understand how to handle the situation successfully for the next encounter — look at skills, responses, and actions that you can take to be successful.

Know your options and what it will take to get there

Review your career path options both within your company and outside your company. Determine what skills and goals need to be achieved for you to follow the career path you most want, but remember to keep an open mind to opportunity. It is highly likely your career path will take turns that you never expected — take advantage of these unexpected opportunities. Continue to evaluate and re-evaluate your career path as you develop both personally and professionally. You may find your desired path has changed.

Finally, it is important to recognize that no other person is going to have the same vested interest in your success as you do. Accept responsibility for navigating your career and become the professional you aspire to be!