What is a successful professional to do if they are very good at their current job but aspire to climb the ladder and to take on new challenges?
Honest Assessment of Skills and Gaps – Before any next step in your career, it is critical to do a very honest assessment of your skill set and your gaps. What are the critical skills for success in the position you aspire to? Which of those skills are particular strengths? Which areas require more work? Are there major gaps where you might need additional training and/or experience? Look at performance reviews, ask trusted colleagues for feedback, ask your mentor and your friends for input. Gather comprehensive data on your strengths and areas for develop. Define a specific plan on how you will address the gaps in the year ahead. When opportunity knocks you want to be sure you are ready.
Have a Mentor – Everyone needs a mentor or a personal board of directors to help them navigate their career. This should be someone more senior than you are in position and often age as well. Learn from their experience and perspective. Ask them for honest and actionable feedback. Use them as a sounding board as you build you skills assessment and as you navigate the journey to your next career move.
Train and Develop Your Replacement – The organization currently values your contributions in your current job very highly. That’s great, but you don’t want that to stand in your way of future advancement. Often people get so focused on how to get experience and visibility to lead to that next job that they forget to worry about who will do their current job. Identify a rising star on your team and start training them on how to be successful in what you are currently doing. Provide projects which offer learning experience as well as visibility. Nurture this person along and make sure your boss knows you are working to train this person to someday do your job. Some people worry this will show the boss they are not needed but in fact it can be a shrewd move. Many managers are hesitant to take you out of a job you are doing well for fear of what will fall apart. Help them start looking for your next opportunity because you have your current responsibilities covered.
Open and Honest Conversations – Have open and honest conversations with your manager about your longer term goals. Ask for input on what you need to develop to be qualified for the next step. Ask for special projects or assignments that would add experience and increase your visibility as someone who can do more than the current job. You have to be patient and respectful. This isn’t about demanding anything it is asking for help throughout the journey. Sometimes it is a position you aspire to that your manager might have never considered but after talking about it they keep visualizing the possibility. Engage them in helping you advance your career.
Define and Implement a Plan – Define and document a specific plan of how you plan to achieve this goal. Having a goal is not enough. If you don’t know where you are going, you’re going to have a tough time getting there. Identify target companies and/or target positions. Commit to networking activity levels. Define specific activities and timeframes and hold yourself accountable. A great goal that sits on the shelf has little possibility of success. Define you plan and execute it well, keeping track of your accomplishments and milestones. Whether your next step is in your current organization or in a new company, you have to develop and implement a plan to increase the likelihood that you will achieve it.
Network, network, network While networking is critical to an external job search it is also critical for your advancement internally. It really is all about who you know and who they know. It is the single most important and effective step you can take in your career development. The majority of jobs are filled through networking in this economy. Talk to people you know. Even when you are seeking a more challenging role in your current company, talk to people in the new area, talk to people who interact with that group. Learn as much as you can about what is required for success in that role. Understand how that role interacts with the rest of the organization. The more you know, the more effective you can be in the process. Also the more people who know you are interested, the more likely you are to be considered for an appropriate opportunity.
Be Realistic – You may have a dream job in mind but realistically assess whether that is a possible next step from your current position. Often there is a step or two between your current role and your ultimate desired position. Learn enough about your dream job to identify critical next steps as part of your preparation. Do they value someone who has worked in more than one division or functional area? Is a foreign assignment critical to reaching executive levels? Understanding what they will be looking for in the senior position can help you be more strategic in determining your next step or two. Keep the end goal in mind, gather intelligence from your network and effectively execute your plan. This significantly increases your likelihood of success.