Contrary to what we might think when we enter the workforce, career growth doesn’t come from promotions or “tracks” or someone telling us when it’s time to make a move. Real career growth comes from our own initiative and ability to determine what we want, when we want it.
Here are a few ways to do it.
1) Pick an industry you feel passionate about. Even if you’re not entirely sure which role is right for you, zeroing in on an industry you love (or you think you love) is a great first step. If you’re in it for a year or two and determine it’s not what you thought it would be, change.
2) Commit to trying new things. Don’t settle for the first position you’re in, particularly if you see another role that could be a better fit for your skills, personality, etc. For instance, you’re at an agency in account management but realize brand planning is more aligned with your strengths. Think about making a move. Trying new roles will make you more well-rounded, which is always smart for growth.
3) Take criticism well. If you have things to work on, and we all do, hear them and really try to improve. If you don’t understand the critique, ask.
4) Learn from your mistakes. Don’t be defined by them, but don’t ignore them either.
5) Take initiative. The enemy of growth is complacency. If you want to grow, you need to push yourself. It’s your job to keep yourself moving forward, no one else’s.
6) Negotiate. Know your worth, and if you’re not getting what you deserve, ask for it. Be sure to know the value of your skills and experience in the market before you do.
7) Keep yourself current. Read industry articles, attend relevant trainings, pursue professional development…all of these initiatives are in your hands and some of the best ways to ensure you are growing.
8) Foster a great relationship with your manager. Meet with your supervisor regularly, ask questions, and be proactive if you don’t have enough to do. However, keep in mind the difference between good communication and pestering. If your manager isn’t open to any communication, then you’re likely in a job where your growth opportunities are limited.
9) Create a healthy balance between work and life. Today we hear about “balance” more than ever. Be sure to exercise, take breaks during the day, find the least stressful way to commute, etc. We are all very lucky to be employed during a time when work is becoming more flexible, but again, know the difference between balance and taking advantage/being unproductive in your role.
10) Trust your gut. I recently spoke up and expressed interest in moving from recruiting to account management within my own company. It was a move that wasn’t necessarily a “track” my managers would have created for me, but I’m pleased to report that I made the shift and I’m so happy I did. I love my industry and want to get experience from a number of different vantage points. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is—You are your own best advocate. Be sure to speak up if you see an opportunity for yourself.
Acknowledging that you are in charge of your career growth can be an intimidating and daunting realization, particularly if you’re the type of person who prefers to follow a path rather than lead. I’m not saying you can’t have a career unless you take charge of it. But, I am saying that if you want career growth, the only one responsible for that is you.