Taking Charge of Your Career
December 19, 2009
by Guest Author, Amanda Albright Turner
Amanda is a freelance writer and communications consultant who works with companies of all sizes to develop targeted strategic communications. Prior to working for herself, Amanda was the director of Corporate Communications for Baxter International, a $10 billion healthcare company. Amanda holds a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Communications from Vanderbilt University.
Let’s face it. Everyone has at least one gap on their resume and at least one skill set to develop. Whether you’re an Art History major applying to business school or a b-school grad managing supply chain logistics for the first time, knowing how to identify your shortcomings and fill the holes is a critical skill on the path to professional fulfillment.
It should go without saying that you have to be your own advocate when it comes to career development. While many companies have some type of development process— particularly for high potential employees— at the end of the day the responsibility is yours and yours alone.
The first step in actively managing your career is to identify your ultimate goal. Do you want to be a general manager with P&L responsibility, an independent consultant with strong work/life balance, or do you want to run the whole show and wear the title CEO?
With your dream destination successfully entered into your GPS, the next step is to select your preferred route. Take a page from a consultant’s handbook and start with a SWOT analysis, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Typically used for evaluating a company’s current state, this framework can also be a valuable tool for self-evaluation. Ask yourself:
· What skills do I currently bring to the table?
· What skills do I need in order to reach my professional goals?
· Are there opportunities that exist within my current company or outside of the organization where I can develop the necessary skills?
· What potential obstacles could impede my progress?
Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, the true work of personal and professional development begins. Fortunately, there are multiple paths from which to choose as you travel towards your ultimate goal.
On the job training
One of the best ways to develop new skills is on the job training. However for many, the vulnerability that comes from going outside their “power alley” can be a challenge. In this situation, finding new opportunities at your current company is usually the best option. Assuming you have already established yourself as a competent and dependable person, colleagues are more likely to give you a chance and provide ongoing support.
Another way to round out your resume and build credentials is the more traditional path of graduate school. For many companies, an MBA or a graduate degree in a related field is a signal that you are committed to career advancement. For working professionals, online graduate degree programs such as those offered by Kaplan University (including an MBA or Masters of Science in Management) provide a flexible and credible way to position yourself for ongoing success.
Certification and continuing education classes
If you’re considering business school but are concerned that your Art History or English degree will be of little value in the required finance courses, continuing education classes can be a smart way to fill the gaps. Local college and online courses are readily available and usually offered at times that appeal to working professionals. Not only does this type of coursework demonstrate commitment and aptitude to admissions offices, but it can also build confidence and pave the way for a more successful first year of business school.
Certification and continuing education classes can also be valuable to b-school grads. After receiving a diploma, graduates also receive new and greater responsibilities—many of which are not taught in the classroom. While business schools do a great job teaching frameworks and critical thinking, sometimes you just need practical instruction in areas like Six Sigma and project management. Online courses like those offered by Kaplan Continuing Education tend to provide the greatest flexibility for working professionals.
While some organizations have formal mentor programs, the responsibility of finding and maintaining a mentor relationship usually falls on the mentee.
First, find someone whom you admire professionally and schedule some time to meet with them. Have a clear idea of what you hope to learn and suggest some guidelines for the relationship. For example, would they be willing to meet quarterly? Can you call them if a more urgent question arises? Like any relationship, successful mentorships develop over time and are always based on honest and clear communications.
Finally, while you may feel like you have nothing to offer in exchange for your mentor’s time and advice, remember that mentors most often help as a way to give back. Never underestimate the power of a sincere thank you.
As you take charge of your career, remember that career management is an ongoing process. Be clear on your destination but at the same time, be open to the many paths that can lead you there. You never know where the next opportunity lies.