Everyone has different career ambitions, and while your employer may take an active interest in developing your skills and knowledge, it’s ultimately your responsibility to take charge of your own career development goals. Whether you want to become the next chief executive or just fancy a change of scenery, the following tips should help you make progress.

1. Identify your goals

Image credit: Carfax 2 via Wikimedia Commons

The first step towards effective career development is to spell out what it is you want to achieve. Clarify your objectives and make sure they’re SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. For example, ‘I want to become a Digital Account Director in my department in three years’ time’. If you’re clear about what you want to achieve in the long-term, then you can identify short-term objectives that you can use to progress.

2. Audit your talents

Take steps to overcome any skills gaps that may prevent you from achieving your career development goals. Find out the responsibilities and duties involved in the job you aspire to, and the skills and knowledge you’ll need to get there. Then review your career and life to date, including not only jobs but also leisure and social activities, such as voluntary work. You may have some transferable skills or experience you can build on. In particular, think about:

  • What skills, experience and knowledge have you acquired?
  • What responsibilities have you had?
  • What have you achieved? (For example, you may have mentored a team member or colleague, managed a complex home improvement project from scratch, or set up a website for a voluntary organisation.)
  • What are your strengths?
  • What have been the highlights of your career and life to date? You could download the self development questionnaire on our free GoodPractice toolkit to get you focused – drawing up a specific action plan should be straightforward if you do.

3. Exploit career development opportunities

Look for opportunities in your organisation where you can apply your skills or gain experience. For example, volunteer or be part of a working party, join a project team, offer to help induct new team members, or ask to sit in on different departmental/team meetings.
Keep your eye on internal bulletins for vacancies or secondment opportunities. Use your internal network: ask colleagues in other departments about any future opportunities and ask them how best to make your interest known. Also, see if you can arrange to speak with someone already working in the type of role you’re interested in. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting – a quick chat over a cup of coffee would work. Finally, don’t forget to ask your manager about any job rotation or shadowing programmes that you could undertake.

4. Increase your visibility

Image credit: Flickr user Garry Knight

Not all internal opportunities are easy to spot or create. So, in order to make sure you are considered for any that do arise, you will need to build a network of mutually beneficial relationships, then ensure that these contacts are aware of your abilities and ambitions. That way, they will let you know when suitable openings arise.
You also need to market yourself and demonstrate your talents wherever possible. Where possible, find or create opportunities to demonstrate and develop your skills in your chosen area. For example, if you want to manage others, you’ll need to prove that you are responsible and have good interpersonal skills. Some additional suggestions for increasing your visibility at work include:

  • participate actively and positively in meetings
  • get involved in events and team activities, e.g. exhibitions, social events, charity work, staff council meetings, etc.
  • offer to buddy, coach or mentor other team members
  • get to know people at all levels in other departments
  • write articles for in-house blogs, newsletters or magazines, and use social media sites such as LinkedIn to get involved in professional discussions

5. Discuss your career …

with your manager. A career development discussion with your manager can help you work out the best ways of bringing the opportunities you are looking for into your current role. Be clear in your own mind what it is you want to achieve and present some suggestions or options. You should work in partnership with your manager to discover solutions that are mutually beneficial. Be realistic and open to feedback and advice. Remember your manager will have objectives to meet and boundaries to work within.

with your colleagues/friends. If you’re struggling to find any direction or answers to your career questions, ask the people whose opinion you value what they think you are good at or should be pursuing.

with your family/partner/etc. Your career will affect the people in your life outside your job. Their opinions will be valid and they often have a very good insight into your true needs.

6. Develop your knowledge and keep learning

Image credit: dadblunders via Wikimedia Commons

It’s important to be knowledgeable about your field of interest, and to research other relevant areas, to explore any potential opportunities. Find out as much as you can about the industry or sector you’re interested in, and gauge whether the operating environment will suit you by:

  • looking at the job market and noting the requirements for the type of job you would like to do
  • tapping into your network for contacts in your field of interest 
  • attending events, meetings, exhibitions, etc.
  • following updates from professionals in your field of interest on social media platforms such as LinkedIn
  • reading related books, journals, magazines and publications, and subscribing to newsletters/updates from relevant sites

7. Create a career development toolkit

Being able to seize an opportunity when it presents itself is crucial. Whether the opportunity is a job that’s been advertised or a chance meeting with someone who thinks they can help you, you must be ready to respond in the most impressive and professional way. Consider the following as essential career progression tools:

CV and covering letter. An up-to-date, well-presented CV is often your first opportunity to make a good impression and secure that all-important interview. Always tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for. Employers are looking for a match between your abilities and their requirements. Send your CV accompanied by a covering letter in which you should introduce yourself, briefly explain why you’re interested in the role and why you are a strong candidate.

Interview technique. Interviews can be nerve-racking but are the most common way of assessing candidates. Remember, an interview is an exchange of information and is your opportunity to evaluate the role against your career criteria, so ask questions when invited to do so. To practice your interview technique, why not ask a friend or colleague to interview you so you become more comfortable talking about yourself and articulating your talents? Alternatively, practice speaking out loud your answers to common interview questions.

Journalling. Maintain a record of the achievements, skills and other competencies you develop throughout your career. Note all relevant development activities and events, responsibilities and achievements so you can update your CV accordingly.
Career management is a continuous process and its focus will change depending on where you are at in your working life. However, the steps above will help you stay in control and develop your career effectively, whatever stage you’re at.