When you think about career growth, have you ever noticed a coworker who doesn’t work as hard as you, who is not quite as intelligent as you, but she keeps getting promoted—and you don’t? These promotions happen while you sit at the same desk doing the same tasks for years. Is she the boss’s niece? Does she have dirt on the VP of sales? Is the head of Human Resources her fawning fan? Or is she just attacking her career from a different perspective?
She might have some inside connection, but it’s much more likely that she’s just taking responsibility for her career growth personally, while you’re waiting for someone else to guide you or reward you.
It’s logical to expect your boss to give you a promotion when you’ve earned one. It’s also logical to expect that the HR department has a succession plan in place that should include planned promotions at all levels—including yours. But if you want to experience career growth, you need to take matters into your own hands. Here are four ways to take responsibility for your own career growth.
Speak Up When an Opportunity Arises
Employees would like to think that decisions are made based on merit, but managers are imperfect people, and they often make assumptions. For instance, the manager may think, “Jane probably doesn’t want that Senior Trainer position because it requires lots of travel and she has little kids at home.”
Now, this assumption could violate gender discrimination laws, but that doesn’t mean that subtle discrimination doesn’t happen. So, speak up. When an opportunity comes up and if you’re interested in it, say something to your manager and express your interest.
Keep in mind that you probably have skills and interests that your boss knows nothing about. She won’t know about them either if you don’t tell her about them. If you have an interest in a new area or an interest in managing people, let her know. Otherwise, she may pass you up for an employee who did speak up.
Speak Up Before an Opportunity Arises
Sometimes a colleague gets promoted, or a new hire comes in for a job you never even knew existed—a job you would have applied for if you’d known about it. How can you get these hidden jobs? By speaking up sooner rather than later.
This doesn’t mean that you need to bombard your boss with information on how you’d like to proceed with your career growth, but it does mean letting her know the paths you’re interested in. Your annual review is a great time to talk about these things.
As you’re setting your goals for the next year, talk about what you want to do and ask for assignments to projects that will help you achieve this. If you want to manage people, tell your boss and ask her to make you the team leader on a project. If you want to move from tax accounting to auditing, ask if you can work with any special projects or cross-functional teams.
Find Out What Training You Need and Pursue It
People often talk about the importance of having a mentor, and this is one of the reasons.
Find a coworker who currently has the position you’re targeting and ask, “What do I need to do to end up where you are?” Listen, and do those things. Some of that training may include work experience, and some may come from classroom learning.
For instance, some jobs will favor people with MBAs. If you want that type of job, you’d better go back to school. If you want to become a high school principal, your bachelor’s degree in math education probably won’t cut it. If you want to become the head of HR one day, you might want to pursue an SPHR certification or a master’s degree in HR or an MBA.
Some career paths don’t require formal certifications or degrees, so spending your time on them is great for your brain but won’t necessarily help your career. That’s why you should ask people who are doing jobs that you think you’d like.
Remember, No One Cares About Your Career as Much as You Do
Your boss is focused on her own career and hitting her performance goals. Your HR department is focused on legal compliance and filling the top spots. You? Focus your attention on your own career growth. You need to speak up and act accordingly. Don’t ever sit back and wait for someone else to notice that you’d do a great job in a higher level position. Volunteer for challenges. Things like serving on special projects and cross-functional teams open you up to new possibilities.
Also, remember to build relationships outside of your direct line of reporting. Always work hard and be pleasant to coworkers. If you have an interest in moving to a new department, work on developing a relationship with that department head.
Ultimately, your career growth is your responsibility. Make sure you take charge.