Career growth and development is craved by everyone, not just because it gives the opportunity to climb up or across the hierarchical ladder, but also because of new learnings, exposures and experiences that add value. Personally, I start craving for the next learning, role and experience after 1-2 years in a role.
There might have been an infinitesimal number of people who have achieved meaningful career growth and development inadvertently or without some deliberate efforts, but it is largely something that doesn’t happen by chance. You have to be deliberate about it.
In my experience, I have seen some trends and also personally utilized some best practices successfully when it comes to career development. The following steps could be considered.
Get to know yourself
We all have key strength areas where we thrive virtually effortlessly, as well as areas that present the biggest opportunities to get better. Awareness of these two, for me, is the starting point. You might already be aware of some of them but because as human beings, we cannot see our blind spots so we need the support of others to help identify them through feedback.
I discovered early in my career that I am analytic, spotting trends and generating insights easily from seemingly random business variables. This skill came in handy and propelled me into roles in business support and analytics later in future.
Choose a path leveraging your strength
The self awareness brought about by executing the first step above, helps you have clarity on your strengths which can inform your path to take. The path will vary depending on the industry and function.
Create a long-term career vision of yourself
The question I ask/get asked frequently in mentorship discussions, and even at interviews is “where do you see yourself in the next 5/10 years?” This question usually brings about a reflection on your personal vision – if you have one or not. Based on your personal vision, your level of self awareness and the career path you have chosen, you can project into the 5-year future, for example, and picture yourself in there.
For example, you might be a Sales Executive today and you see yourself in the role of a Group Product Manager in the next 5 years. This vision of a futuristic you, creates a sense of purpose and the fuel you need today to get there.
Define Short- & Mid-term Career Goals
Joel A. Barker is quoted to have said, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”
Now having a vision of yourself in the future, the next step is to define and act on how to get there.The questions to ask here is “what education, exposure and experiences do I need to have to get me there?”
Education can be formal or informal and includes training (classroom and virtual), reading self-development resources, etc. Exposure has to do with having the opportunity to observe/shadow tasks being performed by colleagues or teams in certain roles. And last, but most important, Experience gives you the opportunity to learn while performing a role, either as an add-on to your current role or as a stretch assignment. Out of these three, experience is the most impactful.
Get Permission to Advance Career
Competency-based questions are frequently asked at job interviews, regardless of whether you are applying as an internal or external candidate. These are questions that require you to respond by giving a real-life example of how you have demonstrated particular competencies (technical or soft skills). The premise here is that you are most likely to perform with ease that very competency, if you have had the Experience of demonstrating it before.
Don’t get me wrong, your potential to demonstrate or do well with a particular competence might be considered in giving you the permission to advance but, much more frequently, experience takes the day. If as a sales executive, you have had a stretch assignment in creating and leading the execution of a marketing campaign, this experience might come in handy to get you permission to move into a Product Manager role.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the approach to grow your career is not limited to these five steps but are just a summary of my own learning and experience. For a deeper dive, you can consider the following books
The Career Playbook by James M. Citrin