If there’s one thing employees can learn from the slew of recent layoff announcements, it’s that you never know what the future might hold. That is why it is imperative to strategize how you can advance your career. People who thought they were secure in high-paying tech roles with top-name employers are suddenly out of a job, proving that the only person you can 100% rely on to take care of your career is you.
This doesn’t mean you should live in fear of being laid off. Instead, you should feel empowered by the many resources at your disposal to take your professional destiny into your own hands. Gone are the days of slogging it out at a job you hate for 30 years in the name of making ends meet. Today, with a little drive and dedication, you can achieve success in pretty much any field that interests you, especially one you love.
Whether you’re looking to overcome a career plateau, make a name for yourself in your industry or break into a new field, these strategies will help you refine your skills and make the right connections to reach your goals.
Strategies to advance your career
1. Zero in on your goals
Without clear goals, you’re flying blind. You’re making career moves aimlessly and might even wind up making decisions that counteract what you really want in your professional life. The first step in advancing your career is getting clear on what exactly your ‘wants’ look like.
You don’t have to know where you want to be ten years down the road (although if you do, that’s great!). You should have a general idea of the path you’d like your career to take, with some clear objectives for the next 12 to 24 months. Completing a professional certification, landing a promotion or earning a new degree are just a few examples of good short- to mid-term goals that will give your career direction.
Having defined goals helps you make decisions strategically rather than emotionally. For example, if you dislike your job but have only been in the role for a few months, setting your sights on the position you want next will motivate you to take the necessary steps to get there rather than just quitting in frustration with nothing else lined up.
Setting career goals will also help you build your personal brand. Though your employer and job title might change, your personal brand follows you and evolves over time as you reach new milestones and accomplish new things. Clearly defined goals help ensure your personal brand develops positively in a way that aligns with what you want from your career.
2. Build your network
The fact is, most successful people get to where they are largely because of who they know. Being connected to the right people can help you get hired, learn about new opportunities, gain knowledge, and access financing for passion projects, just to name a few of the many ways your network can benefit you.
Think of it like fishing. If you need to catch a fish, you’re going to have more luck throwing out a wide net than using one of those small handheld ones. The same is true of your network. If you need a favor, you’ll be more likely to find someone who can help you if you know more people. So, you should be constantly working to build your network.
Formal networking events are great, but they’re not the only way to meet people. In fact, informal settings can yield more organic connections, like the salesperson who always tips you off to great discounts or the person who’s always at the coffee shop at the same time as you. These are people who are already in your orbit, so it makes sense that you might be able to find natural ways to help one another out.
In addition to building new relationships, work on being a good connection to the people in your network. When you hear of a job opening at your company, think of who you can refer. Build value for professional acquaintances in other ways, like making beneficial introductions or contributing financially to their charitable projects. That way, if and when you need help of your own, you’ll already have built some goodwill to draw upon.
3. Find a mentor
A mentor is a more experienced person in your field who is dedicated to advising you. They can answer questions, offer feedback and help you learn. They’ve been where you are now and hopefully, where you want to go, and can give you directions on how to get there. In short, a mentor is an invaluable source of guidance to further your career.
You can find a career mentor (or more than one) through your company, a formal mentorship program, an industry association or just by reaching out to individuals in your field who you admire.
4. Take on more responsibility
Asking for more work on purpose might sound like a silly thing to do, but it can go great lengths to help you build new skills and gain credibility with your boss. When you step up to take on new responsibilities, not only do you demonstrate that you’re dependable; you also prove you’re capable of handling the added responsibility so that when an opportunity for advancement arises, you’re a natural choice.
Additionally, look for opportunities to build skills outside your comfort zone, like volunteering for a leadership role on a new project or taking advantage of a company cross-training program that will help you learn new technical skills.
5. Ask for feedback
Most companies give performance reviews quarterly or annually. It’s done this way for practical purposes, but it’s really not the most effective method to help employees continuously improve. If you want to advance more rapidly, without waiting around for your next scheduled review, you’ll likely need to seek out more feedback yourself.
The best way to receive helpful feedback is to ask for it. Check in with your boss regularly to see if you’re meeting their expectations or if there are any areas where they see room for improvement. Ask for pointers from older, more seasoned colleagues. You can even tap into the expertise of people in your family or network; they don’t have to be directly connected to your job to identify skill areas where you might be able to get stronger.
If you’re not great at taking constructive criticism, it would be in your best interest to learn to be more receptive to it. Think about the most successful companies. They’re constantly asking for customer feedback, good or bad, to help them improve. Though negative feedback might be uncomfortable to receive, it’s really just ammo to help you grow and get better.
6. Never stop learning
From entrepreneurs to corporate magnates, all successful people have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for learning. Smart people know what they don’t know, so they’re always on the lookout for ways to acquire new knowledge and expertise.
Your employer may offer company-sponsored development options, like lunch-and-learn seminars or leadership training programs. These are a great starting point.
But you also want to take it upon yourself to learn things that will help you on the path toward your larger career goals by doing things like taking online courses from companies like Udemy and Coursera. This will help increase your specialization in a certain area or attending industry conferences to make new connections outside your company.
7. Interview regularly
It’s an old rule of thumb to go on interviews regularly, even if you’re not actively looking for a new job. Not only does this keep your interviewing skills sharp in case you do want to make a move, it helps you stay abreast of what employers are looking for and learn of changes that are happening in your market. Plus, you never know when you might come across an opportunity that’s too good to pass up.
In addition to job interviews, use informational interviews to expand your network and your knowledge of your field. An informational interview is an informal meeting designed to help you gather information, like if you’re thinking of transferring to a different field or want to learn more about different career paths available to you.
8. Know your worth
We’d be remiss to wrap up an article about career advancement without covering a topic that’s very important to most professionals: money. While money can’t buy happiness, it can buy comfort, freedom and convenience, which are highly influential on your overall satisfaction inside and outside of your job.
If you want to maximize your earnings, you have to know your worth. Do your due diligence to learn how much other professionals in your role and field are making. Keep track of your career achievements so you have a hard record of the value you bring to your employer.
Then, negotiate a job offer. When making a new hire, an employer rarely leads with their best and final offer, which means there’s almost always wiggle room to bump your salary higher. And, since future pay is typically defined by how much you were earning at your last job, negotiating every time you change jobs will benefit you for the duration of your career.