One thing I have learned through my own work experiences is that you should never rely on an employer to grow you professionally; instead, it’s wise to have the mindset that you are the “CEO” of your own career. What I mean by that is not to wait for your manager or your company to offer you some type of amazing professional development opportunity; but instead to go seek it out yourself and take charge of your own career growth. CEO’s of companies are known to make decisions and TAKE action. Employing this same mindset can help you feel more engaged and satisfied at work.
Even though many companies offer robust L&D programs or dedicated resources for professional development, I have not seen that many employees take advantage of them. It’s a challenge for companies to offer exactly what an employee needs due to the diversity of roles and skillsets within an organization. Often, the company provides self-directed courses available via LinkedIn Learning or another E-Learning resource, but I have found that urgent projects seem to get in the way of any self-directed learning during the work day.
Why should you care about career growth and looking for ways to develop new skills or experience? We saw what happened to many people’s careers during the pandemic, and it was a wake up call to the fact that there is no real job security when you work for someone else. I think that most jobs today are temporary and that we need to develop an “agile” career mindset.
Marti Konstant who wrote the book, Activate Your Agile Career, said that this type of mindset is a “self reflective, intuitive career path guided by response to change, evolving job roles, and designed to optimize creativity, growth and happiness.” The word “agile” means the ability to create and respond to change. When we have this mindset, we are able to quickly adapt to situations like a global pandemic, losing a job, going through a divorce, and many other major life transitions.
So what can you do to take your professional development into your own hands? Well, I am going to share from my own experience, 4 simple steps anyone can take to grow their career.
Step 1: Take inventory of your current situation and state of satisfaction. How happy are you in your job? When do you feel the most energized and focused? What part of your work is unsatisfying or draining? Are you bored or burned out? Are you spending time on things that are important to you? On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how satisfied you feel in your career with 1 being not satisfied and 10 being very satisfied. What would need to happen to bring it up one or more level?
When I worked in higher education, I found myself energized in the beginning but over time, I realized that I was no longer growing, and there seemed to be no place to move within the organization since many people in leadership roles stayed in their positions for a long time. As I was approaching my third year in the same exact role and feeling stuck, I decided it was time to do something about it. I wanted to gain leadership and management experience so I approached my manager to ask to hire, train, and manage a few graduate students who needed work study jobs. I also volunteered to be part of a professional development committee led by the university’s HR department to plan L&D programs for employees. Both of these new experiences and skillsets helped me transition out of higher ed into a management role in the tech space.
Step 2: Log your ideas. Create a place in your home, in a journal, or on a computer to write down things you want to learn, jobs or careers you have considered, or anything you are curious about. Marti Konstant calls this an “Idea Zone”. Review job descriptions for a “future” role to see what gaps you might need to fill and add those to your idea log. These gaps can be related to knowledge (facts and information), skills (soft and hard skills), or experience (proof of your skills).
Here is an example of a page from my journal that serves as my “idea zone” (I am planning to transfer all of this into Trello or Notion eventually).
Step 3: Write out one specific goal with a deadline of either 3 months, 6 months or a year (but not more than a year). Once you have taken inventory of your current level of satisfaction, go through your idea log and see if there is anything in there that could help you raise your level of career satisfaction or help you move towards a future job. Create a goal that will help you reach that level.
Here are some examples of career growth goals:
Knowledge: Join the On Deck EdTech Fellowship to connect with other EdTech professionals and gain a deeper knowledge of the future of EdTech
Skills: Take a 4 week course on Instructional Design Foundations & Applications at Coursera and build a 4 session course from what I learn
Experience: Volunteer at work to create a mentorship & professional development program for new professionals and interns during the 4th quarter of the year
As you think about what goal(s) to make. You want to visualize what the goal looks like to make it more tangible. Answer these questions for yourself: What can you commit to doing consistently? What milestones would you need to hit your goal? What things can you measure to prove you have grown. By thinking through these questions, you can start to build out your plan in reaching your goal(s).
If you are busy and can’t find the time outside of work to level up, you can look to see where in your current day job would be a way to gain additional knowledge, skills, or experience. I would start off by asking your manager what you can take off their plate, or you can pitch to them a value added project you can take on. You can also talk to colleagues to learn about what they do and ask to shadow them or join one of their team meetings. In the past, I’ve joined committees at jobs to gain a new skill or to add experience to my resume that I would otherwise not be able to from my day to day job.
If you would rather do this outside of work, there are an abundance of programs and courses to learn from. However, sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to actually gain experience to show “proof” of your skills. Taking a course is not that helpful unless you actually apply what you learn to something tangible. I have seen people work on side hustles and freelance once they learned a new skill. Volunteering is another way to practice a skill. Organizations like Catchafire and Taproot Foundation offer short term projects where you can volunteer to practice many different professional skills. Here is an example of the various skillsets that Catchafire will help you develop experience from working with nonprofits that need the help.
I’ve set a number of goals throughout my career to level up my skills, and here are the notable ones that I’m proud to say that I’ve accomplished:
Complete my coaching certification and renew it every 5 years by taking 70 hours of professional development courses in coaching
Gain management and leadership experience (managed 20+ coaches at Flatiron School, led a career transition program for WeWork
Work at different stage tech startups to learn about the tech world (First of 10 employees at a seed stage startup and now at a Series A startup)
Start a newsletter and become a freelance writer for different publications and companies to hone my online writing skills
Step 4: Create your plan and accountability systems. How do you stay on track towards meeting your goals? I recommend breaking down your goal into smaller action steps if it’s too broad and identify what resources you need to reach your goal. I think it’s important to think about a plan which includes both your availability to focus on this while having an accountability system if you are someone who is externally motivated.
The book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport shares some valuable tips on how to make time to learn something new. In his book he shares that “to learn hard things quickly”, you must focus on a single learning task without distractions. I can definitely relate to this from the way I have developed my online writing skills. My weekly writing group recently scheduled time for us to log into a Zoom and just work. I took advantage of this distraction free block of time to finish this issue of my newsletter. If you don’t have a lot of free time to read Cal Newport’s book, this article, The Complete Guide to Deep Work is a great summary of his main ideas.
Accountability is an important aspect of “getting things done” because it keeps you motivated and on track. I recently signed up for virtual personal training though an app called Future because YouTube videos were not cutting it for me. Having a personal trainer track my movement and heart rate through an Apple watch has been life changing and has provided me with the structure and motivation that I needed to stay active and healthy.
Here are a few things you can do to stay on track with your goals:
Time block daily, weekly, or monthly growth activities. Include realistic deadlines so that you have a limited timespan to complete the goal. I have given myself until the end of the month to publish my monthly newsletter to give me some flexibility on when to send out this newsletter but a hard deadline on when it needs to be shipped out. It will be embarrassing if my “July” newsletter is sent out in August so that keeps me motivated and on task.
Create structure by taking a live course or program with an instructor and other students. I find that type of accountability always works better than a self directed course with no exact end date. Also, when you invest money into a course, you are guilted into showing up for classes, doing the assignments, and completing it. It’s also a lot more enjoyable than taking a class on your own.
Get others involved in your project by getting an accountability buddy, joining a group, hiring a coach, or even announcing to the world on social media that you are working on something.
Revisit your goal(s) and if you go off course, reassess and make sure you are still motivated to keep going. Many times, I have realized after a few weeks that I was no longer interested in pursuing the goal that I thought I wanted to accomplish. Other times, I realized that I just needed to adjust my plan and action steps and restart. Give yourself the freedom and flexibility to fail, pivot, or start over.
In my work as a Coaching Partner at On Deck, I have witnessed the transformational power of having a community and network of people to help you reach your goals. The fellows in our On Deck First 50 Fellowship have found new jobs in their dream startup, pivoted into new careers in this space, and made long lasting friendships. I love that On Deck supports startup founders and operators in their career growth whether they are starting or building a company, transitioning into the startup/tech space, or growing themselves in their current role or industry. Here is a sample list of the programs that On Deck offers.
The four steps that I have outlined above will help get you started in the right direction of creating your professional development plan. If you decide to try this process, I’d love to hear from you on how it goes, what was helpful from what I shared, and what was the result for you.
I hope you enjoyed this latest addition of Satya Creates! I’ll be experimenting every month with different formats to deliver you practical and tactical information to support your personal and career development!