5 Ways to Improve Your Career Development

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Brian Roberts

August 27, 2020  •  4 min read

The average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. If you want to make the best of it, you should always strive to improve your career development. Here’s how:

1. Set Goals and Deadlines

Career development is all theoretical unless you set goals for yourself. Without goals, you’ll have no clarity on where you’re going, how you plan to get there, and how to achieve anything. 

  • Goals promote focus. Goal setting forces you to get specific about what you’re after. Without goals, you’re working blind. Make sure you set S.M.A.R.T. ones: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timely.
  • Deadlines promote accountability. If your career development goals are important to you, deadlines will keep you accountable to them. Accountability eliminates wasted time and effort. It limits distractions. If goals are the road, deadlines are the barriers along the sides that keep you on it.

2. Invest in Yourself

Career development starts with you. The degree you succeed at it is dependent on the degree to which you invest yourself. “Your skill set is ultimately your career capital, so take the time to develop your functional skills,” says Carter Cast, a clinical professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. 

And thankfully, there are plenty of low-cost, high-reward ways to make yourself more marketable to employers.

  • Take courses to increase your skills. This could include a mix of technical  courses like programming, or critical soft-skills, like writing, leadership, negotiation and more. Harvard Business School Online has a great selection of expert-led courses starting at $1,050 each. You get the big name business school recognition without enduring standardized tests and months of studying. More than half of HBS course takers said attending led to an increased scope of work, and one-third said they were able to transition into a new field.
  • Hire a resume writer. If you’re looking to improve your career, a professional resume writer can help you better position yourself, and align your relevant experience with what HR managers are looking for. “Most resume-writing services offer low-cost or even no-cost critiques,” says vetern career educator Katharine Hansen, Ph.D. Even if it means 1% more callbacks, it’ll be worth it.

3. Leverage Your Current Role

After you’ve set your goals, invested in yourself and bolstered your resume, start with the job you have now. Why? Because most companies give preference to current employees when filling new roles, and many offer comprehensive benefit programs, too. 

Some to look out for include:

  • Tuition reimbursement and academic partnerships. Be sure to review all program requirements first, like reimbursement limits, whether you need to be part-time or full-time to qualify, or if you need to provide proof of enrollment. Also ask about partnerships with your company—these often involve expedited applications, discounted books and supplies or discounted tuition rates.
  • Have a career development talk with your boss . Document your accomplishments then prepare to have a talk with management about your career trajectory. Why do this? Because only a third of managers discuss career development with employees. So, if you want a future at your company, take matters into your own hands by having a proactive discussion.

4. Seek Out Mentors

Advice from people more experienced than you can make a world of difference. Learning from others is one of the best ways to learn. A great mentor doesn’t just open new career doors for you. They can also help you:

  • Expand your own personal and professional network 
  • Learn the most important skills to build  
  • Realize your potential by challenging you

Your mentor could be at your current job, or, from several jobs ago. 

Here’s how to find your mentor:

  • Do your due diligence first: research them, their background, history
  • Don’t scare them off with a direct request (e.g., “Will you mentor me?”)
  • Be informal, and make it organic, by asking them relevant questions
  • Request an opportunity to continue the conversation and follow-up

5. Write It All Down

Writing down your goals and the progress you’ve made leads to greater career advancement and satisfaction, according to career satisfaction studies. It may feel tedious. But it soon becomes a reflex, and an ongoing opportunity to reassess priorities, refocus, and renew commitments to certain goals. Here’s why you should do it: 

Recording your goals establishes timelines to keep you accountable. And, if you check them regularly, it acts as an ongoing reminder of what you’re working toward. Furthermore, it will also help you know what not to do, which is just as valuable. 

Our Two Cents

The difference between dreamers and achievers boils down to execution and accountability. By setting goals and deadlines, you’re holding yourself accountable to a specific set of steps that will get you moving in the right direction versus just drifting. And, if you’re really serious about blazing a trail, invest in yourself aggressively. Let your skills act as fuel and mentors as your accelerant. Together these components can ignite your career development growth beyond your wildest expectations.