Q. Dear Zenagos, my company does nothing for my career development. We say we have training and performance reviews, but everyone is too busy to make it happen. Promotions happen around me, but I don’t know how or when I could get one. What can I do to make sure I’m progressing?
The bad news is that most companies don’t do development well. The good news is that you have the power to do it yourself. Most employees sit around, waiting for their company to reveal some amazing development plan and grumbling when none appears. You are wise to look for your own solution. You are the person you should count on to shepherd your development.
Step 1: Have a goal
Envision a happy future 5-10 years from now, where you are proud of your accomplishments at work. What does that look like? It’s different for everyone. Some people dream of a big salary. Others want a strong voice at work or a specific kind of project. Still others care most about their job title or span of control. The best way to figure it out for yourself is to look at job descriptions. You can find these on job boards like Indeed or LinkedIn or ZipRecruiter, or on specific company websites. Find jobs that you can’t qualify for today, but that sound terrific. Do you want to be a Director at ESPN? Don’t be afraid to dream big. Search until you find at least three jobs that look awesome for the future you in 5-10 years.
Step 2: Analyze your aspirational jobs
Copy the requirements for your dream jobs into a document where you can play with them. Sort the requirements into three lists:
Skills/attributes you already have
There may be requirements on the job descriptions that you already meet. For example, does it say you need a Bachelor’s degree, and you already have one? Check! Put that item into this category. For items that are a matter of opinion, such as “superior writing skills,” only put them in this category if you have a former boss who would be willing to attest to them if asked for a recommendation. If you’re not sure, try asking your former bosses if they think you meet that requirement. It’s a good excuse to catch up and stay current in a potential recommender’s mind.
Skills/attributes you could work on in your current job
For the skills that are left after you cross off the ones you already have, see if any of them are skills you could work on in your current job. Even if they aren’t things that your current boss requires of you, some bosses will be willing to let you work on skills if you ask them. For example, does your dream job require evidence that you can use spreadsheets? Ask your boss if there might be an opportunity to do a project using a spreadsheet. If your boss is very rigid about this kind of request for a discrete skill, it might be time to find a more flexible boss.
If the skill you want to develop is a complex one, you may need to be more patient. For example, if you need to develop the ability to manage people, it may not be easy for your boss to give you someone to supervise right away. If your boss tells you that it will take a while before you can work on a particular skill, ask what you can do now in order to start building up to that level.
Skills/attributes you need to work on somewhere else
Some skills just can’t be worked on in your current job. For example, if the future job descriptions say you need an MBA, you’re going to need to make a plan to get one on your own. That will be a multi-year project, and it will require a plan to fund the program. Put that on the list of things to work on in your free time at home, but do start working on it. If you start now, you could have that requirement met in 2-5 years, depending on your strategy. Every day you don’t start pushes your goal out a day later.
Once you have the future job requirements sorted, you are ready to make a plan.
Step 3: Make a plan
Once you have a list of skills to work on, make a plan for how to attack the items on lists b and c. This is now your Career Development Plan. It includes your goal (the future jobs) and the items you need to achieve to accomplish it.
You don’t need to work on everything at once. Choose one or two things to work on. For example, start working on the one thing that is the easiest and the one thing that will take the longest. Once you have achieved the easy one, mark it off, and add another easy one. You’ll still work on the long one for quite a while. When you achieve it, replace it with the next longest one.
Step 4: Schedule check-ins at least twice a year
Put a day on your calendar to check in on your Career Development Plan, and do not cancel or ignore it. This is your future – invest in yourself! If your check-in is several months out, you may discover that your goals have changed. That’s okay. It happens all the time. Just re-do steps 1 and 2 and adjust your plan.
Why do I need a Career Development Plan?
If you do not set a goal, then you will not know when you have made progress toward it. The purpose of having a plan is to put yourself in charge, so you will notice when you are making progress. And. . .you will notice when you are not making progress. If six months go by without your having made progress toward your goal, then you need to re-prioritize. If your current job isn’t moving you closer to your goal, then you need to find another job. If you don’t make a change, then nothing will change. If you work steadily on your plan, it will change your path in ways you can’t even imagine now. Picture yourself in 5-10 years, congratulating yourself for being a fantastic boss. You can make it happen.