New year, new you, new dreams for your career. You’ve been back at work for a month now and it might be feeling a little monotonous. Are you being challenged? Are you happy?
Planning your personal and professional development is the first stage in your next career step, whether that is a step up in your current company, or a step up in another company. You first need to find out where you want to be, then how to get there. This guide will help you to map out your future career and make sure you’re the best candidate for that promotion.
1. Find out where you want to be
What are your priorities? Do you want a new role? Promotion? New workplace? Or perhaps you’re just looking to learn a new skill. Let’s find your career objective.
If you’re after a new role elsewhere, then online job search sites can be a great place to find a job and salary that you’re interested in. You might not be ready to apply at the moment, but the job descriptions will give you an idea of the types of skills and experience required for those positions.
If you’re looking for that internal promotion or to move within your current company, start talking to other staff who have advanced. Ask what they like about their role, major challenges, what a day in their job is like. Remember that even if they make their job look easy, that might not be the case behind the scenes. It’s important to find out the good and the bad so you can prepare for both.
ACTION: Write down your career objectives
2. Identify the gaps
Now that we have an idea where you want to take your career, you’ll need to identify the gaps between your current knowledge, skills, and experience and what you’ll need to achieve your goals. This could include things like people management skills, a technical skill, a university degree, client relationship management, etc.
Create a list of all the skills you have now, and what skills you need to reach your goal. Are there significant differences or minor differences?
ACTION: Identify the gaps in your experience
3. Find a mentor
Finding a mentor is a key part of personal development. This could be someone in the industry or your workplace that you admire and believe could add value to your development. There are a few ways you can go about getting a mentor.
Structured mentor programs
Having a structured mentor program with set time limits can be a great way to establish a mentee/mentor relationship without any awkward questions. You both know what’s expected of you in these situations. Medium to large organisations will often have mentor programs within the business, so you could get in touch with your HR team to find out if one exists at your workplace. Alternatively, universities often offer mentoring programs for students and alumni, so this is another avenue you can look into.
It can feel a bit lame to ask “will you be my mentor”, so when it’s time to track down a mentor you can catch up with in person, don’t feel like you have to lock them into a relationship and define “what this is”. You can begin your mentee/mentor relationship in a much less formal way by asking for their help or thoughts on a matter. For example, you may have a colleague that you’re having issues with, and you could contact your potential mentor asking for their take on the situation.
You can have a mentor without them even knowing that you exist. Find a few aspirational personalities in your industry and follow them on LinkedIn and attend events they’re speaking at. Don’t become their personal stalker, but you can definitely learn from them from afar.
Having a mentor is key
Personal branding and career specialist Petra Zink from Impaccct knows the importance of having a mentor. “If you are in the jar, you can't see the label' is pretty much my favourite quote as it demonstrates how important perspective is from someone outside our own bubble. Mentors can provide this outside perspective and can open up another world of opportunities which is priceless and way more important than tactics and shiny objects that promise to fix all the problems.”
ACTION: Identify your career mentors
4. Plan to reach your goals
Now that you’ve identified the gaps in your skillset that you need to fill and chatted to a mentor in your industry that might shed some light on how to reach your goals, it’s time to put it into a plan. You’ll need to consider two major factors: timeframes and costs.
Careers don’t often change overnight. So, if the gaps between your current skills or experience and your goals are significant then you might need to have a reality check about how long this might take. University degrees can take a few years, and you’ll have to consider whether you’ll study full-time or part-time. Don’t let that deter you though as it will be worth it in the end. Research by Graduate Careers Australia suggests that median salaries for postgraduates in full-time employment can be up to 50% higher than that of an undergraduate.
Course availability and start times will also impact your timings. Set yourself smaller training goals with shorter timeframes to help. This will assist in boosting your confidence as you have small wins along the way. Online Learning platforms like Future Learn provide short-courses created by universities that run for a few weeks on a range of topics. There can be small costs involved if you want continued access to the course beyond the normal time frame (aka you fell behind a bit) or if you’re after a certification. Costs are low though and communicated upfront.
If the job you’re after is looking for years of experience and you’re just not quite at that level yet, there’s a few things you can do in the meantime to upskill:
- Soft skills – you can always work on how you communicate with people verbally, non-verbally and in writing. Ask the people around you (colleagues or managers) to give you constructive feedback on how you communicate and what to improve on.
- Volunteering – find a charity or non-profit that could benefit from your skillset and volunteer your time. You’ll gain valuable experience in a different environment and have a good role to add to your resume.
- Consulting – have you considered freelancing? Start a side-hustle and setup a freelance consulting business. Just make sure you’ve reviewed your employment contract to check if you have any non-compete clauses.
There are a few different types of costs you have to think of when you’re planning your personal and professional development: time costs and financial costs.
Do you have time in your day or week to study? If your additional study or training isn’t conducted during work hours, then you will have to sacrifice some of your personal time. Will you be able to manage your life if you have to sacrifice anywhere from 2-10 hours per week (sometimes more) to study?
If you’re looking to study at university, you do have options to study part-time or online to help reduce the impact of the study on your life. It’s all about making sure it’s a sustainable arrangement so you don’t get overwhelmed and want to drop out after the first few months.
Can you afford the training or study yourself? Will your work be paying? Will you need to rely on HECS to pay? You will need to plan out the potential costs for your study to ensure you can pay for them. It’s not just the study itself. Don’t forget textbooks, computer equipment, and transport. These will all add up so make sure you’ve made allowances.
For tax purposes (and check with your accountant first) you might be able to claim some of your training or study if it is related to your field of work. It’s a good idea to look at options for scholarships as well, you never know!
ACTION: Identify and quantify your training
5. Self-promotion to improve business appeal
Your development doesn’t just stop at doing a course or learning how to problem solve better with your colleagues. It’s also about your ability to self-promote. You should be promoting your professional achievements for two reasons: to get the next job, and to keep your current job. Redundancies are a real thing, so you need to make sure you self-promote so you’re communicating your value to the business.
It can be a fine line to tread though. You don’t want to be that person in the office who brags all the time and clearly loves themselves a little too much. So, you’ll need to go about your self-promotion in a strategic way. We do not recommend standing on your desk at work and yelling at everyone about why they are lucky to work with you (cringe).
Focus on the results
Hard numbers are hard to ignore. A great way to self-promote is by focusing on the results of your campaign, sales, finances etc. This kind of self-promotion is based on evidence rather than opinions or conjecture. Expect follow up questions though, as they may want to know more. You could include this in an email to your manager or even mention it in a weekly team meeting.
Take the opportunity
Has anyone ever asked you how things are going, and you’ve just responded with “good thanks”? Or you’ve been asked “what’s happening in your world” and you’ve just responded with “not much” or “so much, I’m really busy”?
NEWSFLASH! That could have been the perfect opportunity for you to talk about your achievements. Make sure you speak with energy so they can see you’re excited about what you’ve achieved. You might have to pick and choose who you say this to though. If you say it to every colleague around you when they ask what’s happening, then your nearby colleagues or desk buddies might get a bit over hearing it so many times. Keep the results and humble brags handy for when management pops by.
“Oh it was nothing”, “Just doing my job” - Are you guilty of the compliment brush off?
We’ve all been there. Someone has given us a compliment on our work and we’ve been too shy or worried about seeming full of yourself to accept it properly. A key part of your self-promotion is to learn to graciously accept compliments when they come your way.
ACTION: Change up the vocab
What you used to say
What you should say now
|Oh it was nothing||Thank you|
|Just doing my job||Thank you|
|Everyone helped||Thank you|
|It was easy||Thank you|
|It didn't take much time at all||Thank you|
|It was no problem||Thank you|
Polish that CV
Don’t wait until you’re looking for that new job to polish your CV. Every time you have a significant achievement at work, note it down and pop it in your CV. Potential employers like to see that you’ve made a difference in your workplace – that you’ve succeeded. Make sure you CV is full of achievements, not just a list of your daily tasks.
Ciaran O’Donnell, Founder of recruitment firms Just Digital People and Humanised Group sees hundreds of resumes a day. “Evidence of achievements in your resume will make you stand out from the crowd. Businesses don’t just want someone who says they have certain skills, but someone who can demonstrate they have them. By adding evidence to your resume you are increasing your employability and your business appeal.”
6. Check your progress
You have your plan with your goals, how you’ll achieve them, and you might have started studying already. But make sure you don’t lose sight of your goals and the bigger picture. It’s important to have checkpoints along the way so you can determine whether you’re on track, or whether you need to readjust some of your goals.
The best time to act is now
The best time to start your personal and professional development is always now. Even if you just start planning to see whether it’s the right step for you. Career changes or promotions can take work and don’t happen overnight, so start small and build big. The world is waiting for you.