10 Smart Ways to Advance Your Career

author/source: Andrea Forrest

Photo Courtesy of  Andrea PiacquadioAlmost every worker desires to climb the ladder of progress and reach the peak of their career. Aside from the prospect of better pay, career advancement opportunities can motivate you to work harder. Unfortunately, this advancement feels almost impossible for most people. 52% of Americans say it’s difficult for them to advance at work, in addition to not getting good jobs. But the argument is always about whether there’s a lack of advancement opportunities or that workers fail to position themselves in the line of progress. While you may control the former, you can certainly do something about the latter. One way to do this is by creating opportunities to grow professionally and expose yourself to better opportunities. Here are some smart ways to achieve career advancement.

1. Be intent on advancement

Career progress starts with a conscious decision to advance. Some workers seem comfortable with their positions, and you’ll find them at the same level they were a decade ago. If career advancement is your aim, decide not to be one of such workers. But don’t end there. Regularly check in with your intentions at different stages in your career path to see if your initial intention still holds. That's because your intentions or ambitions today may differ from what you want after five years.

Photo Courtesy of karolina-grabowska2. Define your career goals

While more than half of Americans claim a lack of opportunities, an astounding 70% are not reaching their full potential at work. Given this rather uninspiring statistic, it’s important to reexamine what you want to achieve, so you’ll have something against which to measure your progress. Such a reexamination process will also push you to perform your best instead of sleepwalking your way through work. So, define your career goals. What do you hope to achieve after, say, ten years? What do you want to be worth, or how much salary do you want to command after five years? What road map do you have to achieve career success?

Once you’ve nailed your career goals, share them with others, particularly those who can influence your journey. It could be your boss, mentor, or even a colleague. Such people can keep you in check in your current position while helping you find advancement opportunities.

3. Plan your route to career advancement

After determining your goals, you’ll be better positioned to map your path toward achieving them. Since you already have something against which to measure your progress, continuously compare each career stage to your ideal future state. That should help keep you focused regardless of where you find yourself. Research newer opportunities, and check out job postings for the opportunities you want or companies you’d love to work with. But note your skills gap or areas you need to improve to help prepare you for the next advancement, leading to the next point.

4. Search for training opportunities

This is probably one of the most important areas of career progress. How long you’ve stayed in a career or job does not determine how quickly you progress. Instead, your skillset or knowledge will make you a better fit for newer and better opportunities. The only way to better yourself and acquire new skills is to search for training opportunities. But not just any training opportunity; look for in-demand skills aligned with your career goals. You’ll hardly advance if you learn new skills no employer needs. For example, if you’re a medical worker looking to progress in your field, you use BLS training to learn life-saving techniques. This includes CPR, wound care, techniques for handling choking victims, and various first aid procedures.

Photo Courtesy of Malte LukThere are various ways to obtain the skills you require to advance your career. For example, your employer may offer capacity-building and skills development programs. You may receive reimbursement if you take the relevant programs. Another option is to earn an advanced degree to develop the skills you need for higher roles. A master’s degree, for example, can attract better opportunities and an improved salary than a first degree. Of course, it takes time, effort, and money to return to the classroom, but the outcome will be more than worth it.

5. Embrace challenges

Tough situations create tough people, and remaining in your comfort zone will prevent you from improving yourself. While others run away from challenges, try to embrace them, and seek out opportunities that push your boundaries. For example, don’t be afraid to tackle tasks or projects beyond your current role. It will be challenging, and you might fall short, but you’ll learn essential skills and gain valuable hands-on experience. Embracing challenges also proves to others that you can thrive outside your environment, which makes you more of a problem solver, and less of an excuse-maker. The world is in desperate need of solution givers, people who can think on their feet and come out with out-of-the-box solutions. Soon, everyone will start looking to you to provide a solution in challenging times. The more people look to you, the better opportunities you get to progress.

Photo Courtesy of Monica Melton6. Learn about the power of sponsorship

In the corporate world, a sponsor is someone in a leadership role who advocates for you in the workplace. Consider this person your champion, speaking up in your interest. Your sponsor can help you build relationships with powerful people in leading positions, whether in your company or outside. Remember the previous point about embracing challenges outside your comfort zone? There’s always a chance you’ll fail in such attempts, but your sponsor will back you up, giving you more avenues to learn.

They can even recommend you for riskier but more rewarding projects. And when advancement opportunities emerge, guess who will mention your name first? You guessed right. Getting a sponsor involves developing a strategic partnership with someone influential. Of course, you’ll have to put aside timidity and shyness and learn to approach influential people. A simple strategy is to ask them to endorse your work for specific purposes. That can be the beginning of a rewarding partnership.

7. Network, network, network

Leveraging your existing is key, especially for an independent professional looking to advance your career. You can network through two main avenues. One, find local events near you related to your career and attend. You can also participate in remote events online. The second option is to connect with other people in your field through workshops or collaborations. Social media also offers an excellent opportunity to do so. Facebook, for example, has various professional groups you can join for free. You can learn essential career advancement tips and hacks from such groups, meet new people, showcase yourself, and find new opportunities to grow.

photo Courtesy of Anne nygard8. Be mindful of self-care and personal relationships

As you strive towards greater career success, be mindful of self-care and personal relationships. Take time to care for your health. You know the usual drill - getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, and exercising regularly. Remember to also schedule regular physical examinations with your healthcare provider. If you feel you’re pushing your body beyond its limits, please take a break so you don’t fall apart. Adopting the right self-care practices will make you more productive in your current stage. The better your work output, the more recognition you can get, and the easier it becomes to attract bigger opportunities.

Also, be mindful of personal relationships. Career progress is important, but so is family. So, schedule time for the ones you love. You'll be surprised by how much they can contribute to your career development. Be careful not to burn bridges or lose helpful relationships.

9. Demonstrate your value

You must make a meaningful impact wherever you find yourself, even in the smallest capacity. Always be prepared to set yourself apart and stand out in your work quality. You can network all you want and build the necessary skills, but you can only convince people with the quality of your output. People will be willing to give you bigger opportunities if they find you a valuable addition. So, how do you go about this? Always exceed expectations and continuously deliver quality work of the highest standards in your current role. Even if your current employer fails to appreciate your effort, a bigger opportunity might open up. But don’t wait for it to happen; look for new opportunities if they’re unavailable in your current position.

Also, put yourself out there to be noticed. Take new initiative and make yourself available for leadership roles. It could be as little as leading a team project, but demonstrate your ability to lead a group to achieve set goals.

10. Surround yourself with those better than you

If you want to get better, it would help if you surround yourself with people better than you. No matter where you find yourself, look for people who are where you want to be. You’ll learn how they climbed to be where they are, and you'll be more eager to push yourself to improve in your current position. Don’t confuse this point with finding only a mentor or a sponsor. As mentioned, a sponsor will be your advocate in the same organization. A mentor will guide you, offering you feedback and support. Beyond forming these important connections, consider hanging out daily with people better than you, even if it’s outside the corporate world.