3 Tips to Manage Your Career, Move Ahead & Ensure You Have a Smart Professional Development Plan
There comes a time in your career when you ask yourself “Is this it?” It may hit you when you’ve been at your job for a few years, and you feel that even though you like what you are doing, you realize you could do it in your sleep. Or it might come at a time when a co-worker is promoted, and you think to yourself “How did they get that job?”
I had that moment several years back when I had been at my role as a Marketing Manager for several years, and even though I really enjoyed what I was doing, I was ready for a challenge and more responsibility. I felt that I had the skills and have been performing at senior level, but I needed to define a plan that would get me to that next level. Here is what I have learned:
Start the Conversation
Good people managers want to help their staff be fulfilled and excel in the work. They also have the insight into the qualities the management team looks for when promoting. So set up a meeting with your manager and discuss a professional development plan:
- Discuss your current role and where you would like to take your career
- Talk about what experience you need to get to that next level.
- Ask for candid feedback and define three things to focus and accomplish within the next three months. This could be comprised of:
- Reading a book relevant on your business
- Honing specific skills
- Going to an industry conference
- Setting up informational interviews
- Designing a project that will help fill the gaps your manager sees in your skillset
Then keep the conversation going with your manager, and discuss your status in your regular one-on-one meetings to make sure you stay on track.
It is easy to get caught in the day-to-day tasks, but a great way to grow professionally is to try something new – i.e. to define a project that will stretch your skills and push you out of your comfort zone. Not sure what to take on? As a part of your professional development conversation with your manager, ask if there is a project or problem that needs someone to manage — or in team meetings, listen for issues with a process or a new technology that should be tested, and sign up for it. Not only will this will help you stretch your breadth of knowledge that will benefit your team and the business, it will also allow you to work with teams to which you haven’t been exposed before.
It can be very comfortable staying at your workstation with headphones on, eating lunch as you respond to emails. I have had days when I realized as I was leaving the office that I didn’t speak anyone face-to-face all day. So, when I met with my manager about my professional development plan, part of my plan was to be more visible – especially to the executives. Even though I was getting great reviews from my teammates, at the end of the day, it is the executive management who approved the staffing moves and promotions.
So, how do you start a conversation with an executive? Well, I learned that executives are people too. They have families and hobbies, they travel and have a favorite sports team, so just start with the personal. Ask how their latest trip went, how their family is doing, what they did over the weekend. Then when they start to reciprocate tell them about your latest successes in your position, the new project you are taking on (see bullet 2, above), and where you see yourself and the team going. Most likely, they are interested in your perspective and are looking for ways to improve the organization’s productivity and processes. So use this time to shine.
The great thing is that all of the above can be a part of your professional development plan. It’s important to set up a time to discuss this with your manager separate from your standard one-on-one meetings; you don’t want this conversation pushed to the last five minutes of a tactical meeting. Here are some pointers for the professional development plan meeting:
- Come to the Meeting with Questions. Ask how you are perceived by her, the team, and the executive staff. This can be an awkward question – however it can open your eyes to how visible you are and if it for the right reasons (“you have the reputation as someone who gets things done”) or the wrong reasons (“the team has great respect for you, but you seem insecure around our VP”). This can help you identify where you need to be “more visible.”
- Develop and Document your Plan. It is essential to document your plan. There are various methodologies to help you design your plan, like guidelines known as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound). The important thing is to keep it to three achievable goals that you can accomplish in three months — and to review your progress every month with your manager to help keep you on track.
- Hold Yourself Accountable. Start mapping out your goals, review them regularly, and schedule time with your manager to review and track your progress together to make sure you stay on the road to move ahead.