What if I told you your future relies on planning? We’re all striving to gain more skills, achieve career success, and, overall, be happier with the work we’re doing. But the road to reach your professional goals consists of a series of steps you need to systematically go through. In the end, you’re entirely responsible for your career, even if the company you work for takes care of your training or sends you to a conference.
So ask yourself: when was the last time you thought of planning your professional growth?
Whether you want to make a career change, find a job that makes you happier, or just learn new skills, pick a starting point.
Why is professional growth so important?
Professional growth essentially refers to gaining new skills and work experience that can help you reach a goal in your career. And since we’re going through an ever-changing job market, keeping yourself up-to-date with trends will give you a better chance to distinguish yourself among others for years to come.
If that’s not good enough motivation, just remember that jobs you’d previously start in your 20s and retire from are no longer the case. Technologies and the world, in general, are advancing so fast you’ll only be able to keep up the pace if you continually develop yourself both on a professional and personal level. Fact is, the average time employees spend at their first job is just 15 months and this trend is not prevalent just among youth with 32% of workers aged 40-48 likely to switch jobs within a single year.
To make you more resilient on the job market, we’ll have a look at all of the straight-to-the-point steps you need to cover while you’re planning your professional growth.
What to include in your professional growth plan
First, establish your purpose. This is any goal that will motivate you throughout the whole process and give you that much-needed boost to build your professional growth plan. Maybe you want to keep a job, earn a higher pay, or just gain more popularity in your network.
Let’s break it down and see what to pay attention to:
Focus on long-term goals
You’ve probably got a list of small goals you already want to work on, but your main target should be the long-term ones. Simon Sinek places the idea of success (regardless of your purpose) on simply answering one question: Why?
Having a supreme cause in mind before beginning anything and tailoring your life around it is how all great leaders and companies have managed to make a name for themselves. Here’s a brief video which explains the concept in greater detail:
This same motivation applies when you’re setting your professional growth goals. Let’s say your main goal is to develop solid skills for the long run like learning a couple of programming languages or developing your analytical thinking. Have a look at yearly studies that highlight all the up-and-coming jobs or skills. If you’re up for a job that is still going to be around in 20 years time, consult this list from Business Insider. For a closer look at jobs according to your country, there’s also this insightful report from the World Economic Forum.
In both cases, jobs like Financial Managers or Applications Software Developers exist in the present too. What will change is the degree of skills needed and the environment. Apps for instance will be built for new and perhaps more challenging devices, which will require new programming languages and maybe even robot assistants. Meanwhile, jobs directly dealing with humans such as Nurses or Physicians are likely to remain similar with extra help from new tech.
If you really want to avoid robots from stealing your job, focus on your soft skills. Strong communication skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence in general are just a few of the human traits hard to mimic (at least for now). The good news is that, in 2019, creativity finally made it to LinkedIn’s list of top skills for the future.
Analyze job descriptions
In your search for a new job or career, look at all requirements for the specific role you’re going to take on next. Otherwise, you’ll work hard to learn new tools and techniques without the reassurance that these will pay off.
Job descriptions are a common place to check for skills you need to develop. Requirements can vary from one company to another though. Certain employers prefer to tailor job descriptions to their own internal policies, so analyze (don’t skimp) at least 20 job descriptions to find out the overlapping ones. Websites like Indeed, LinkedIn, or Glassdoor are your best friends in this case, pointing out the skills that are hot and in-demand.
As a side note, Glassdoor provides estimates salaries and possible interview questions too.
If you’re looking for a project management position, I’ve already done the research for you as I’ve looked at over 200 job listings and descriptions and summarized the common must-have and nice-to-have skills.
Consider your personal expectations
I’m sure you have that one thing you must get no matter what: a friendly work environment, top-notch tech, better pay, longer lunch breaks, insurance for you and your family, you name them. Having a clear understanding of what you’re expected to do at work, getting proper training and equipment, and being allowed to work on what you’re best at are just three of the most common expectations that can make you happy, according to this study.
So ask yourself a couple of questions before you pursue a new position or career altogether:
- Do you want to work in a team or solo?
- What’s the ideal size of the company you want to work for?
- What benefits are you looking to get?
For instance, if you prefer to work in a quiet environment and don’t want to interact with too many people on a daily basis, a work from home job might be right for you.
Look for new opportunities yourself
Not all jobs are created equal. While software developers will likely be flooded with messages from recruiters, this is not as common with other roles such as office assistants, accountants, and even human resource professionals. So while most of the time jobs won’t come at you, it’s your duty to do the search.
Beyond having a full-time job, lie other career opportunities too. Start a blog on Medium, open an Etsy shop, get your best friend and record a podcast together, or start that YouTube channel you’ve always wanted. Even better, go rogue and become a freelancer. There are endless ideas, you just have to start pursuing them.
And this takes us to the next step of your professional growth path.
Take on challenges when you have time to practice
Pursue one of the side gig ideas I’ve mentioned above, or learn a new skill that can help you find either a more enjoyable job or one that will be in high demand in the future. It will take some time to make them your own, especially if you have a 9-to-5 job, so the sooner, the better.
But steer away from obsolete skills. 60% of young people are still preparing for jobs that will be replaced by automation in the future like data entry and assembly-line production. Besides the risk of technology taking over your work, there’s also the happiness factor. Explore multiple career options until you find the path that’s right for you. If you’re unhappy with your current job position and would rather be doing something else, a career change is definitely a decision you can consider.
So when do you know it’s time to change jobs?
Along with obvious reasons like skills that are no longer in demand (see what we’ve discussed about automation above) or moving to a different country, there are a few common subtle factors:
- You’re not evolving or getting any promotions
- You’re not enjoying the company of your colleagues or there’s a tense atmosphere in your office
- The job no longer aligns with your values
- You’d rather be working on something else
- The stress is taking over your personal life too
- You can’t wait for weekends to come and you live for those 2 days
- You’re making excuses to go to work later or leave earlier
- You often feel overwhelmed with your workload and have no room for taking any breaks
Assess the training opportunities you have
Many of us need someone to supervise and guide us through our learning process. The right people and environment can 10x your skills and career. Start by pursuing a formal training opportunity in your area. As a rule of thumb, look for accredited professional development organizations whether they’re in your area or just a few miles away. These are often recognized by potential employers and offer accredited learning materials you can use in your future career.
Depending on your industry, there are websites that help you find these official learning opportunities. For project management, English teaching, and just any career path education you choose to pursue.
Use what you are learning
Learning doesn’t end when you finish acquiring new skills. You need to use everything you’ve read or practiced during training. The best way to teach yourself a new concept or master any upcoming skills is to teach others. You can start your own project and share your knowledge via a blog or video or just join an NGO and lend a hand for a good cause.
Chances are you’ll forget what you don’t use, simply because forgetting is in our nature. Technology is ever-evolving, forcing us to constantly keep up with its changes. So really taking a course on data science now and only using what you’ve learned in 10 years from now will be impossible without consistent practice.
This is why many organizations require their members to attend training events and conferences throughout their entire life in order to keep their membership and right to work in the field. PMI®, for instance, allows its project manager members to renew their certifications only if they earn professional development units (PDUs). This ensures professionals can stay updated with any changes and will be ready for all challenges the future workplace might bring.
Find a coach
A mentor can bring enough experience and knowledge so you won’t make the same rookie mistakes they did. Guidance is often offered as advice on how they handled similar issues in the past or red flags to pay attention to.
Which brings me to the importance of asking for honest feedback. Keep mentoring sessions relaxed and goal-oriented so you’ll get constructive criticism that will only help you grow and identify the skill area you need to further improve. For example, you could have the necessary hard skills and knowledge to do your job, but lack soft skills like time management or active listening.
Where to find a mentor or coach though? Start inside your company. Look for managers whose work and character you respect, but not the direct ones so they aren’t biased. Then continue your search outside at a professional association within your field. Regardless of where you’ll get them, make sure both of your values and “gut-feelings” resonate – you can’t start a relationship on a compromise.
Join professional groups and associations
The best way to get accurate feedback on your work is to have multiple people analyze your efforts and results. Sure, one mentor is great, but in the end, you’ll be delivering results for more than just one person. Professional networks give you the right environment to grow correctly; plus extra perks like access to exclusive training events, discounts, updated learning materials, and the chance to meet influential people in your field. Think of your network connections as your key professional support and always surround yourself with the right people.
You probably already know who the leading organizations and associations in your field are. For project management, PMI® offers access to local chapters you can join. The same is valid for local chambers of commerce and merchant associations, ethical education providers, more general business networks, the American Advertising Federation, the American Marketing Association, and many more. If you’d rather keep networking informal and not adhere to any community, you can join groups on LinkedIn, find meetups around you, or use a tool like Opportunity to connect to other professionals.
Professional growth through social media
Building networks is one thing, but creating a solid personal brand is a slightly different aspect of your professional growth goals. Social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn are good places to showcase your own brand, tell stories, and make the connections I mentioned in the previous professional growth area.
Use them with a few things in mind though:
- Choose your social media channels to match your image (for example Instagram for designers and LinkedIn for business owners)
- Update your accounts regularly
- Do not participate in any conflictual topics
- Join groups specific to each social media network
- Keep your voice consistent on all channels
- Take inspiration from what others are doing but never copy
- Post your work on a regular basis. Frequency = trust.
Become a lifelong learner
Just because you’re preparing for a new career or learning a new skill now, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to apply it in tomorrow’s job market.
In fact, 54% of employees see continuous training as being essential to their professional development. And they’ve never been so right. It’s your duty to grow and further advance your career.
If you think the effort is too high to reach the top 1%, you don’t actually need to. The path to the top 5% is much more accessible with less effort than you’d imagine, according to Seth Godin.
In case you haven’t yet found your learning style, I’m leaving you with one quiz to help you discover the best ways in which you can tackle learning so you’ll enjoy it even in the long run and use it for your own professional growth.
Leave time for your personal life too
We’re all caught up with deadlines and the pressure of developing ourselves. That’s why you’re here in the first place. Because you want more from your career. But it’s so easy for us to get swamped into the daily shenanigans (clients, meetings, demos) and forget about the things that matter the most to us. The same old “I’m too busy with work” excuse might work at first. In a couple of months though, you won’t be hearing any calls from your friends asking you for a night out and your kids will find a new best friend who’s not going to be you.
And it’s not just our interactions with other humans that suffer. Your health can be seriously damaged. Burnout is a common reality many hard workers are faced with but so few try to prevent. Start by reading this guide to recovering from burnout even if you’re not feeling any symptoms yet. Just to be sure you won’t ever head towards that direction. Take regular breaks (and make these your newest work habit) even when you don’t want to because you’re too caught up with work. Reserve 1-2 hours each day for your hobbies. Go for a run, draw something, or just watch your favorite TV show. After all, being happy at work also means you’ve got the hang of your personal life.
Remember that the first step to professional growth is to anchor yourself in a central goal. From there, reverse engineer the process and guide your entire learning process towards it, in accordance with future market demands. Take time to go through each step and enjoy the ride while you still can.
Now back to you. What new skills have you learned in the past 6 months? Are they supporting your professional growth and that goal we were talking about?
Would be great if you could share your own tips in the comments section. Stay happy!