How employees forge a career path looks different depending on the organization. While some companies have formal career development programs, it’s more common to expect managers to develop their teams. Many organizations even leave it up to employees to take charge of their professional growth. But, unfortunately, only one in four workers is confident about their career path. That’s based on a 2022 Gartner survey of more than 3,300 employees. In addition, the research revealed that fewer than one in three workers knows how to advance their careers over the next five years. And the worst part, only half of the respondents feel they can rely on their managers for help.
As it turns out, the absence of growth opportunities can significantly impact employee retention. According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, a lack of career development is the second-most common reason employees leave their jobs. In fact, of those workers who quit, a whopping 63% admit it was because they didn’t have opportunities to move up in the company.
Most people would like organizations to offer a clearly defined career path. But sometimes, it doesn’t exist, and you must take matters into our own hands. These five strategies will help you professionally advance so you can feel happier and more fulfilled at work.
Become a detective
To forge a career path in your organization, don’t wait for job openings to appear. Instead, identify the type of role you’d be interested in and develop relationships with colleagues and managers in that area. For example, maybe you work in operations but are passionate about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Reach out to the DEI team and spend time learning how their group is structured. Find out what their challenges and priorities are. Then, if any positions open up, ask yourself whether you would be a good fit. By doing your research, you may even find a way to create a future role for yourself.
Cultivate a broad network
To build an extensive network, set up conversations with leaders in departments you are interested in. Look for existing communities, like employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are an excellent way to get involved with a group that shares your goals and interests. You could even volunteer to support other projects. Once you meet new people that you connect with, make it a point to maintain those relationships. But don’t stop at networking internally. Use social media sites like LinkedIn to make introductions and grow your contact list. Join professional organizations to connect with people in your industry. And finally, don’t forget to reach out to alumni groups, former co-workers, friends and family.
Ask for support
Don’t expect leadership to come to you with growth opportunities. Instead, take the initiative. First, identify your short and long-term goals and any gaps in your skillset. Then go to your manager with suggestions about what courses you want to take or which conferences you’d like to attend. If your company offers financial support for learning and development, take advantage of it. It’s also a good idea to reach out to someone you admire at work who could be your mentor. You might even consider hiring a career coach to help you identify your interests, values and priorities.
Volunteer for high-profile projects
Volunteering for stretch assignments is a great way to forge a career path at work. Be strategic and look for cross-functional projects sponsored by senior executives. In doing so, you increase your visibility while expanding your knowledge. Once you complete an assignment, document your achievements and share any project wins with the executive team. That way, you’ll be top of mind should similar opportunities come up in the future. At some point, you may even propose a project that benefits the organization while allowing you to step outside your comfort zone.
Create a career roadmap
Planning and goal setting are essential when creating a career path. First, think about the professional goals you want to achieve in the next one to two years. Then identify the skills and knowledge you will need to get there while being aware of any development gaps. Next, document your plan. Alongside each goal, add a list of milestones you’ll need to hit with target dates. Finally, hold yourself accountable by sharing your roadmap with your manager or mentor. Remember that your plan is flexible, so revisit and update it often.
Increasingly, it’s up to employees to chart their own course within the organization. A well-thought-out development plan can increase productivity and engagement while strengthening your relationship with managers and mentors. Don’t hesitate to define success on your own terms. By assuming responsibility for your career path, you’ll look forward to each new workday with a renewed sense of purpose, direction and motivation.