Some people believe that employers should establish their employees’ career tracks. In some ways, that makes things easier — you just follow along with what others have planned for you and hope for the best. But such a passive approach to your professional development can lead to a stagnant, unfulfilling career. If you want to be in charge of your own destiny, you need the courage and the drive to forge your own career path.
Certainly you should take advantage of any development program your employer offers. But at the same time, you need to take responsibility for maneuvering your way through the management ranks. To do otherwise is to risk floating aimlessly from one job to the next, or worse, never leaving a position in which you are miserable.
Here are five solid strategies to help you take responsibility for your own career:
- Be a strategic partner. Often, the best relationships are collaborations. The fact that you report to a supervisor above you shouldn’t preclude your role as a partner in your own career development. After all, this is your life and you should have the opportunity to influence major decisions such as your next job, the types of projects you take on, and so forth. In addition, the “paternal” employer no longer exists; each employee must assume the role of primary career caretaker.
- Develop a comprehensive plan. The best navigation skills are useless if you don’t have a solid plan. But don’t wait for your employer to hand it to you; take the initiative to create your own. Think about where you’ve been, the experience you’ve had, and where you want to go next. Document your job descriptions and any accomplishments you’ve made along the way. The more you can quantify — “With the application of the xyz product developed by my team, the company saved $1 million dollars over a two-year period” — the better. Numbers are credible evidence of the results of your hard work.
- Be your own career coach. Hiring a coach to help you manage certain aspects of your life is OK. Indeed, the trend toward doing so is still strong. Yet by assuming control over your career rather than ceding it over to someone else, whether it’s your employer or a career coach, you have a say in where you’re headed. Learn how to be objective, be willing to examine everything you do on the job — what’s good and what needs improvement — and become committed to making the necessary changes.
- Never stop asking questions. One of the best ways to ensure continuous learning and gain greater control over your career is to never stop asking questions. Doing so will force you to think about your career as you might with a project: with a strategy in mind, desired goals, and a schedule for achieving those goals. Ask yourself, for example, about your skills, the value you bring to your position and the company, and your interests. Try to determine how others see you by asking for honest feedback from your supervisor, your peers, and even those employees who report to you. Look around and ask yourself, “What can I realistically expect to achieve here?”
- Network with a twist. People usually associate networking with the search for a new job. Yet meeting and greeting can also inform and influence the way you manage your career. Talking and listening to your peers can illuminate and expand your perspectives and teach you a few things about creating, navigating, or modifying your career path. People will always be your greatest source of information, whether they’re colleagues down the hall or contemporaries from another company. Don’t wait for networking opportunities to present themselves; get involved in industry or trade groups that can facilitate your ability to network.