Unless you’re one of those rare individuals who’s perfectly happy chugging along in his or her comfortable groove indefinitely, the thought of career advancement has probably crossed your mind a time or two. In fact, I encourage clients to keep career advancement in play as an ongoing situation, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be top-of-mind every moment.
Just as “success” can mean different things to each of us, you might define career advancement somewhat differently than your friends, relatives or colleagues. That’s OK. You’re not them, and you don’t need to view your career the same way they might view theirs.
From my perspective in working with clients, career advancement includes the concept of career growth–that is, not simply treading water in a familiar pond for the rest of your work life. You should be looking for opportunities to expand your knowledge and abilities, even if you stay within your current niche. Otherwise, to carry the pond analogy a bit further, you risk becoming stagnant, which could be highly detrimental to having a healthy career in the long term.
Assuming you know you don’t want to or can’t stay in your current situation for an indefinite number of years, you’ll want to investigate–and keep investigating–potential job opportunities that could enable you to branch out and possibly move up, either within your current organization or in another company. The reality is that sometimes you do have to move out to move up.
I recently read a post by John Beeson on the HBR Blog Network, “Three Questions to Advance Your Career,” that makes an interesting point about career advancement. (Note: The post is the start of a series he will be doing on mentoring.) However, Beeson’s most important point, in my view, is that some of the standard methods for getting feedback (360-degree feedback, annual performance reviews, etc.) are not very useful for career advancement purposes because they’re focused on how you’re doing in your present job, at the present level.
Beeson believes that answers to the following questions are key to your ability to advance (which he calls upward mobility) and, at the same time, hard to determine in most companies:
To help you obtain answers to these questions, Beeson recommends identifying as many mentors and senior people familiar with your work as possible to learn what you need to know–and sharing your plans with your boss (possibly to avoid the impression that you’re going behind his or her back but also to tap into him or her as an advisor in this effort). He also emphasizes that it’s important to let people know you’re taking a long-range career advancement view and aren’t just targeting a near-term promotion.
Take a look at where you are now and consider where you might like to be a few years or so down the road. If there’s a distinct difference between the two situations, you’ll want to focus on your career advancement goal and what you might need to do to achieve it. That way, you won’t wake up a few years from now, still in the same spot, and wonder why nothing has really changed. The key is to start now!