• Lindi Engelbrecht

Own your career development - 7 Essential tips for Growth

Career development is the series of activities or the on-going/lifelong process of developing one’s career.

In a world where the average employee sends and receives 122 emails per day and attends an average of 62 meetings per month, your boss or HR leadership simply doesn’t have the time or bandwidth to properly think through how best to deploy your talents moving forward. Instead, we have to take control of our career planning to ensure we’re putting ourselves in position for long-term growth.

In recent conversations, I heard professionals say that they expect their managers or companies to drive and invest in their career development. Early on in my career, I realised that it was my responsibility to ensure that I was advancing, growing and learning. I seized the opportunity and started creating my career development plan. Reflecting on where I am today and how my career has evolved and changed over time, I value my decision to own my development. I encourage you today to take charge and enjoy all the benefits of being in the driver's seat of your career development.

Career development is the series of activities or the on-going/lifelong process of developing one’s career. It involves training in new skills, moving to higher job responsibilities, making a career change within the same organisation, moving to a different organisation or starting one’s own business.

What are some benefits of planning your Career development?

Taking a more active approach to your career development has the following benefits:

  • Provides you with an orientation guide for your professional journey.

  • Makes you regularly assess where you are now and where you would like to be in your career.

  • Helps you get jobs that are a good fit and match your skills.

  • Gives you an advantage over those who don't plan or prioritise career development.

Three common myths about career development.

Myth 1: My company will help me develop my career.

The expectation that your company will set you up for success in your career might lead to disappointment. If your company provides development opportunities, be sure to take advantage. However, if they don't, seek out opportunities to make it happen for yourself. Be ready to invest in your development. Myth 2: My manager is responsible for my career development. Owning your career development planning is key. Your manager can support you in implementing your plan. However, it is your responsibility to take charge of the implementation of your plan and shaping your career. Myth 3: Career growth will come naturally. All good things demand some effort and work. You need to take an active role in your career development to get the career you desire. Don't leave your career growth to chance or circumstances. Your steering and managing are required to have the great career you want.

How to own your Career development.

Let's explore Seven Essential tips to own and shape your career development.

Set your career goals. Where are you now in your career? Where do you want to be in one year, three years, five years? You should have clear answers to these questions. However, if you don't have the answers, that's perfectly fine. Start thinking about your career goals today and write them down. Think freely, don't limit yourself, think of all the great things you can achieve in your career. This activity will help give you clarity and a sense of purpose for your career.

Force yourself to set aside time. When things get busy, time for strategic thinking is almost always the first to go. “Planning sessions” seem amorphous, and the ROI is uncertain. But going for months or years without regular introspection can lead you down a professional path that you didn’t intend to be on. Instead, force yourself to make time for strategic reflection. Just as you’re more likely to go to the gym if you have plans to meet a workout buddy, you can use the same technique to enforce discipline around strategic thinking.

Tip: Be as specific as possible. For example: "By March 2020, I want to transition into a new role as a Product Manager in my current company." Create your career development plan. What do you need to do to achieve your goals? If you want to succeed, you need to have a plan. Take a more in-depth look at what activities are necessary to achieve your goals. Remember to set due dates for the activities. Also, make it a priority to revisit your development plan regularly and keep your plan current to where you are in your career.

Tip: Break down the tasks you need to do to achieve your goal. For example: "To become a Product Manager, I need to gather more information about the role, inform my manager, get product management training and search for open positions." Take steps to get where you want. Now that your goals are clear, and you have a plan, it is time to take the first step towards the career you want. Making progress towards your goals is the best motivation on your journey. We achieve our career development goals by taking ownership and taking a step. Remember to track your achievements and progress. Get clear on your next steps. Getting clarity around your professional goals — such as being promoted to SVP, starting your own business, or running the Asia/Pacific region — is only the first step. The place where many professionals fall down is identifying the pathway to get from here to there.

Tip: Do something today. For example: Contact someone working in the role you want and invite them to have a cup of coffee.

Invest in deep work. It can be tempting to invest your time the same way everyone else does — putting in face time at the office, or racing to respond to emails the fastest. At lower levels, that might mark employees as “go-getters.” But as you ascend in the organisation, the ability to jump higher and faster becomes less important. Instead, what marks you as successful over time is creating in-depth, valuable projects — whether that’s writing a book or a brilliant new piece of code, spearheading the launch of a promising product, or undertaking a meaningful initiative, like reorganising the company’s performance review system. That involves a shift from staccato, reactive work into more self-directed, long-term projects Expand your support system. Having access to people with experience, insight, and information will help you get ahead in your career. Be sure to invest time in building a network that propels your career growth. A great support system should consist of a mix of mentors, sponsors, colleagues, champions, and partners. The people that form your support system can serve as accountability partners, share knowledge, celebrate you, give you advice and feedback. The crucial role of your professional network in your career growth can't be stressed enough.

Tip: Find people who have experience in the areas you are interested in. For example: Join a professional network of Product Managers and start taking in knowledge of the community. Build your professional portfolio. Your portfolio is an organised collection of relevant documents and artifacts that showcase your talents, most relevant skills, and charts your professional growth. (Source: Developing a Professional Portfolio). Spend time building your professional portfolio that has information about you and your professional journey (Build a comprehensive & Detailed Profile on Digger with relevant achievement and award documentation). As you progress in your career, show and share your achievements and your experience that showcase your professional identity.

Tip: Your portfolio should contain proof that you have put in the work to get where you are. For example: Add relevant knowledge, experience, and successes that will make you a great Product Manager. Let your portfolio speak for you, in the modern technology era, make sure to attached these to your Digger Profile, in order for relevant employers to explore.

Build your external reputation.

A study by Wharton professor Matthew Bidwell showed that external hires into a company get paid 18-20% more than internal workers who are promoted into similar jobs. (Gratingly, they also perform worse for the first two years.) That’s patently unjust, but it points to an important truth: professionals are often taken for granted inside their own organisations. That doesn’t mean you should jump ship every few years. But it does point to the fact that, even if you’d like to stay at the same company, it’s important to cultivate a strong external reputation so that you have opportunities if you want them, and to remind your boss and colleagues that your abilities are sought after and appreciated by others. Final Thoughts.

  • Take ownership - you will reap significant benefits when you own your career development.

  • Dream big - don't limit yourself when you think about the possibilities for your Career.

  • Anticipate change - The path to career success is not straight. Accept the changes along the way.

  • Seize the opportunity - If there's an opportunity that will help you grow, go for it.

Taking time to think about your career development is obviously important, but it’s almost never urgent, so many professionals fail to take action, year after year. By focusing on these essential tips, you can begin to carve out time to be more deliberate, and lay the groundwork for the job you want — five years from now, and beyond.