Career Growth is a Gift You Give Yourself: Ten Ways to Evolve as a Professional

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Linda Sherman lists her top tips on developing your career

Most assistants are so focused on doing all they can to support their managers that they neglect their own careers. They think that taking the time for professional growth is a luxury, or they wait for others to guide them.

Would that be you?

The key to professional advancement is an ongoing commitment to learning – to seeking out growth opportunities. When you step up your game by expanding your knowledge and skills, you will not only feel greater satisfaction in your role, you also become that much more valuable to your manager, team and organization as well. You are primed for success.

Here are ten ways to take your career to the next level; most of them cost nothing!

1. Get clear on your growth goals

Many administrative professionals fail to consider what their purpose is and how they wish to grow; they do not clearly articulate their goals. Even worse, they usually don’t identify the path that will take them from where they are to where they want to be.

When we think about career growth, we tend to think about a vertical progression of titles or positions, but careers don’t necessarily work that way these days. Many people make lateral moves or even go backward to try a new role. These horizontal career moves create value and expand expertise and knowledge.

“You can’t do it unless you imagine it.” ~ George Lucas

If you aren’t sure what you want, try projecting yourself five years in the future; write the resume you would like to have. Where are you working and for whom? What are your title and role? What are your specific job responsibilities? Once you have that clearly in mind, fill in the five years between now and then.

2. Speak up for what you want

You may have skills or interests of which your manager isn’t aware; you may be interested in a role that your manager hasn’t envisioned for you. Take the initiative to tell your manager what kinds of growth opportunities you are interested in; don’t expect her or him to read your mind.

Likewise, when an opportunity comes up that you are interested in, say something to your manager and express your interest. You won’t be entitled to everything you ask for, but you are likely to get further when people are aware that you are motivated to move beyond your current status. They may begin to see you in a different light.

Don’t just share your interests and goals; share your accomplishments as well. This can be done without coming across as a braggart. The more people know about your work and results, the better!

3. Create and execute a development plan

Determine what skills and knowledge you need; identify what training is necessary. To move up (or to move on,) you can’t be satisfied with what you know – you must improve and expand your skills. Look for opportunities for training and create a development plan for yourself. Not all training costs money. Read widely and in your areas of interest. Cross-train with a colleague.  Look for opportunities to stay current in the field and your industry without relying on your company. Invest in yourself, whether it’s by attending a workshop, YouTube videos, webinars or podcasts you listen to while you commute. Investing in your career shows those around you that you take yourself seriously–and they should, too. It can demonstrate your value to new people or help you break into a new role.

4. Push beyond boundaries

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” ~ Les Brown

Step outside your comfort zone to get experience in new areas—even if as a volunteer. Serve on special project and cross-functional teams to open new possibilities. Seek out assignments that are just outside your realm of experience. Volunteer for a project that raises your profile within the organization or in the community.  Show that you’re willing to get uncomfortable.

5. Solidify your credentials

Document your professional assets including developing a skills portfolio – an inventory of your skills, interests, achievements and competencies. Demonstrate to employers and colleagues that you have the essential knowledge, critical thinking abilities and a commitment to excellence in your field by obtaining a professional credential. No need to stop at just one! Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certifications are valuable, as are certificates that show the training you’ve completed.

6. Build relationships with value

Connect with people across your organization, in the field, in your professional association, and in the community. For example, if you have an interest in moving to a new department, work on developing a relationship with colleagues or managers in that department. Be known as someone who is trustworthy and collaborative. When you make the effort to help someone become better at what they do, you become better yourself. Nurture your network regularly. When you need your network, it will be too late to build it. Seek out advice, partners, mentors and people with different perspectives.

7. Shape your personal brand and leverage your strengths

Find out how you are perceived in various places inside your organization; identify specifically which perspectives you want to reinforce and which you need to change.  Identify the actions and behaviors that will implement those changes. Figure out how you can leverage your strengths to impact the organization; describe the image you want to project and what you need to do to get there. If you were a product, what differentiates you from your “competition”?” What does your “customer” e.g. the boss, the organization need? And never stop fine-tuning your social media profiles!

8. Broaden your horizons

The broader your horizons, the more you will be poised to grow. The world’s most creative people – those who innovate – are known for the vast range of diverse topics they are knowledgeable about; they are known for being able to apply principles and best practices from other fields to their own work. Build your network and compare notes at local meetings and national events. Read blogs and articles or listen to podcasts to learn more about your industry and competitors. Consider what is happening in the world that could impact your business or line of work. Keep current on the latest technologies that you might bring into your skillset.

9. Take time to reflect on experiences

Learning comes about not only from doing, but also from thinking about what we do. Reflection is a process of examining and interpreting experience to gain new understanding. At the end of the day: reflect. Take five minutes and ask yourself what was the most productive thing you did today? The least productive? Learn from your answers and adjust your actions accordingly. Tomorrow’s a new opportunity for personal growth.

10. 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. (Even worse, they also underperform for the first two years.) That’s not fair, but it points to an important truth: professionals are often taken for granted inside their own organizations. That doesn’t mean you should change jobs every two years. But it does underscore that fact that 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. Blogging for industry journals, writing articles, posting you tube presentations, applying to speak at conferences, and taking on a leadership role in your professional association are all great ways to stay visible in your field.

Look around. The most successful individuals in most any field are those who take the helm and control their own destiny. They don’t sit around waiting for a new opportunity or for someone else to tell them what to do. As Stephen Covey said “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”

If you don’t begin to manage your career now, it will be too late when it’s in jeopardy or crisis. With care, your career will take you on a surprising and fascinating journey. Taking control of your career requires active life-long commitment.

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About Author

Linda Sherman

Linda Sherman has more than 25 years experience in the field of corporate training, specialising in programme development and project management. She has worked in management for public seminar companies and the American Management Association. She has developed and presented training to hundreds of administrative professionals across the U.S. Linda currently is part of the content team for American Society of Administrative Professionals (www.ASAPorg.com) a professional development association, where she works on the Administrative Professionals Conference and Executive Assistants' Summit (www.apcevent.com,) and the PACE certification programme.

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