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6 Professional Growth Strategies to Advance Your Career

By Tim Stobierski
August 26, 2019

Professional growth and career advancement offer some obvious (and attractive) benefits: Higher salaries, greater respect, more exciting projects. It’s little wonder, then, that so many workers are motivated to continuously improve in their roles and climb the rungs of the corporate ladder.

What Is a Professional Growth Strategy?

A professional growth strategy is a structured plan that professionals develop to enhance their skills and knowledge in a chosen field. It involves continuously committing to learning, setting professional goals, and seeking opportunities to develop those skills for a desired career path.

Are you looking for professional growth strategies that you can leverage to improve your skills, take on more responsibility at work, and advance in your career? Below, we offer six strategies that can help you do just that. 

Professional Growth Strategies

1. Embrace your network.

When it comes to advancing your career, sometimes the simplest of steps can carry the greatest impact. For example, building, nurturing, and maintaining your professional network can have a tremendous impact in helping you find a new job or move up in your current organization.

If you’re unsure about the power of networking, consider this statistic: 80 percent of professionals consider networking vital to their career success. And because up to 70 percent of jobs are never listed online or made public, networking can sometimes be the only opportunity to learn about openings which might appeal to you.

If you’re new to networking (or just out of practice) consider these networking tips:

    • Stay connected: Networking isn’t just about meeting new people; it’s also about staying in touch with those people you already know. Do your best to stay connected with former coworkers, supervisors, and professors who can alert you to potential opportunities within their organizations. Depending on your relationship, these connections may also put in a recommendation on your behalf.
    • Attend industry events: Attending lectures, trade shows, meetups, or other events specifically targeted to professionals in your industry is a great way to meet people who might one day help you pivot your career.
    • Be a good contact: People are more likely to do you a favor if you first do a favor for them. If you want to be someone that others in your network promote and help, then you need to make sure you are putting in the work on your end to be a good contact. An act as simple as writing a recommendation or alerting someone to a job posting you thought might interest them could be enough to help you stay top of mind—increasing the likelihood that they will do the same for you when the opportunity presents itself.

2. Find a mentor. 

According to a survey conducted by the American Society for Training and Development, 75 percent of executives say that mentoring has played a critical role in their career development. Even among non-executives, mentoring is often cited as one of the surest ways for an individual to learn new skills, transition into a new role, and advance in their career. 

What makes for a good mentor will, of course, depend on your industry and career goals. However, finding a mentor who is able to guide and provide career advice can prove to be invaluable—no matter what industry.

Here are a few tips that you can use to find a mentor that can help guide you further into your career:

    • Ask your employer: Many organizations recognize the value that mentoring brings to the workplace, and have put in place formal or informal mentorship programs to help develop their employees. If your organization offers such a program, inquire about how to enroll.
    • Get creative: If your employer does not offer a mentorship program, there are many other options that you can pursue. College professors, experienced family members, and local professional groups may offer opportunities for you to connect with a mentor.
    • Find someone who has been where you are: A great mentor will be someone who has succeeded in the role that you are currently working in (or which you are about to enter) and who has used that success to advance in their career.
    • Look within your industry: While you may be able to find an effective mentor from outside your industry, certain industries are much more insulated and specialized than others. If you work in such an industry (or plan to), then finding a mentor from that industry can be even more impactful.

3. Ask for more responsibility.

Some individuals make the mistake of thinking that their boss or supervisor will simply know when they have earned a promotion or are ready for more responsibility. 

But the truth is that sometimes you must be your own advocate if you wish to develop in your career. Instead of waiting for your boss to give you more responsibility, actively seek out opportunities to take on additional tasks—especially projects that will allow you to learn new skills or flex your leadership muscles.  

Even if the experience does not directly lead to a promotion or a title change, it can be instrumental in propelling your career forward and preventing you from stagnating in your current role.

4. Take performance reviews seriously.

Formal performance reviews can be an incredibly useful tool for both the employer and employee—but only if they are taken seriously. All too often, annual and mid-year performance reviews are treated as an afterthought, completed at the last minute and often with poorly planned responses.

Performance reviews are an excellent way for employers to show employees where they are meeting expectations and where they may be falling short—a practice that benefits both parties. For employees, they are also an incredibly effective way of making it known that you have goals for professional development. Once your employer or supervisor knows that you have defined goals, you can work together to identify a plan of action that will allow you to get where you want to be, whether that means learning new skills, gaining new experience, or something else entirely. 

If your employer does not regularly engage in a review process, consider asking them if they can start. If they have a review process but regularly fail to stick to, take the initiative yourself to remind them. 

5. Master your industry.

Certain industries require that executives possess much more specialized knowledge and skills than other industries. By mastering that information—the jargon, the processes, the trends—you will be better able to communicate about the issues your industry and organization are facing, allowing you to demonstrate your capability. 

There are several steps you can take to ensure you’re continuously learning about your business and industry. Take time each week to read the publications (magazines, websites, etc.) that cater to your industry, join professional groups that target other professionals in your industry, and attend trade shows or lectures that offer you the opportunity to learn even more than you already know. Then, look for opportunities to leverage that information to improve in your role.

6. Further your education.

Whether your goal is to advance in your career at your current organization, transition to a new role elsewhere, or work in a brand new industry, furthering your education is one strategy that can help you get there. 

Continuing your education gives you a structured path to learn the skills you need for success. It also demonstrates to employers (and potential employers) that you are a lifelong learner who values self-improvement and can even help you keep up with the changing demands of our changing economy. 

Exactly what “furthering your education” means to you will, of course, depend upon your current level of education. If you have not yet earned an undergraduate degree, earning a degree that aligns with your career goals and desired industry can be an incredible first step, helping you qualify for up to 57 percent more job opportunities and earn approximately $1 million dollars more throughout the course of your career. 

And you don’t need to stop there. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), each further step you take on your educational journey will translate into higher average pay and lower unemployment rates. While an individual with a bachelor’s degree will earn approximately $62,296 annually, master’s degree holders can expect to earn an average $74,568 annually, and doctorate graduates can expect to earn an average of $94,900 each year. 

Preparing for the Next Step in Your Career

If your existing employer is not enabling you to meet your professional career goals and has indicated that they cannot or will not be able to do so in the future, then it may be in your best interest to begin looking for a new job with an organization that is willing and able to help you reach those goals. 

Though it may be intimidating to go on the job hunt, especially if you have been in the same position or with the same company for a number of years, there are some relatively simple steps you can take to increase your chances of success:

Revamp your resume.

A great resume is one that makes the hiring manager’s job easier. It should communicate who you are (including your education and work experience) in a format that can be easily and quickly understood.  

Focus on transferable skills.

Transferable skills are any talent or soft skills that can be applied to multiple roles or industries, such as communication, analytical thinking, project management, and leadership skills. These qualities can be demonstrated with a mix of work experience and educational attainment. Communicating them in your resume and interview with potential employers can be a great way of showing your versatility, and can be especially impactful when making a switch to a new industry or role. 

Prepare for the interview.

If you apply for a job and are chosen for a phone, digital, or in-person interview, you should treat the event with the respect that it deserves with thorough preparation. Consider conducting a mock interview or practice with a friend, and make sure you do your homework by learning about the company you are interviewing with. After all, it has the potential to change the trajectory of your career and life. 

Are you considering going back to school in order to advance in your career? Speak to an admissions counselor for more information about Northeastern’s bachelor’s degree completion options.

About Tim Stobierski
Tim Stobierski is a marketing specialist and contributing writer for Northeastern University.