There are two ways to go about your career. The first way is to simply put your head down and do your thing – show up on time (or maybe a bit early), do your work, take the opportunities that come your way and see what happens. The second way is to take proactive control of your career, to actively seek out ways to improve your chances, put yourself in the path of opportunities and steer your career in a clear direction. The former is less work, but the latter is far more likely to get you where you want to go.
Here are five ways you can take control of your career and improve your professional life.
1. Open conversations with the upper echelon. Talk to those in charge about where they see the company going and how you can best support that. Find a mentor or two who can share their wealth of experience, guide you around hidden pitfalls and go to bat for you when the need arises. This is not about sucking up. It’s about opening the lines of communication and making yourself visible as someone who is taking active steps to be the best they can be.
2. Keep up with your education and training. Read books published in your field. Read books in related fields, and in general business and personal growth genres, as well. Take every opportunity to get more or advance training, even if you have to pay for it. Go back to school, if you can (check in with HR – companies often offer tuition and other help for employees willing to improve their education). And make a point to connect with and stay connected to those who are teaching you. This way, when opportunities arise you not only have the knowledge to take advantage of them, you have the contacts to help you nail the job down.
3. Volunteer for projects and other opportunities. Don’t wait to be picked – if the project or opportunity seems like a good fit, raise your hand and actively lobby for the position. You may have to bring in some support if the fit isn’t as obvious to others as it is to you (that’s where those mentors come in handy). But be careful not to take on projects that might actually be more of a distraction or a dead-end than a real career boost. Be picky, but be proactive.
4. Keep your own professional file. Keep track of the work you do and the results you achieve. Write these things down in clear, concrete terms (actual numbers are always better than generalizations and vague adjectives). Use this file to record any training, classes or other education, including your notes and contacts. Keep this record up to date and detailed. That way, if you ever need to rely on the information to secure a raise, a new position or a juicy opportunity, you have it at your fingertips rather than having to scramble to pull something together.
5. Build leadership skills. Nothing will improve your odds of getting what you want out of your professional life than a firm grounding in how to work with, inspire and direct people. Take classes and read books on the subject, and do what you can to put yourself in a position of leadership whenever possible. Rely on your mentors and trusted colleagues to help you make the best of these opportunities, and to give you feedback on what you’re doing right and wrong. Listen to any criticisms with a student mind, rather than a defensive or protective one. Remember that he who fails to listen will eventually cease to be told.
Of course, there are many other things you can do to proactively improve your career. Trent Ham offers some excellent suggestions in 10 Techniques to Take Control of Your Own Destiny at Work at The Simple Dollar personal finance blog. The key here is to think ahead and create a plan of action that puts you in the driver’s seat, instead of being a passenger in your own professional life. If you can do that, you’ll find yourself going where you want to go faster, easier and with a lot more confidence.