Five Ways to Own Your Career Growth in 2020

President’s Day is behind us and there aren’t any more three-day weekends to look forward in basically forever (gahhhh), which means now is a perfect time to buckle down and focus on your career. If you work in traditional office setting like me, chances are you’ve recently been through the annual goals setting process. Perhaps it was instructive, but my experience has ranged from only mildly helpful to “just put our department’s overarching goals in the system so HR doesn’t get mad.” Regardless of whether your company or your manager do it effectively, I recommend going a step further and thinking through how YOU will take control of your development this year. Some personal professional planning, if you will. Here’s some relatively painless things you can do right now to help ensure that you are growing, engaged, and in a position to succeed over the next several months.

1. Do a Temperature Check

Ask yourself how you feel about your current role and your company. Do you enjoy what you do? Are you motivated to achieve? Do you feel optimistic about the company and your future there? There’s no such thing as a perfect job -- in fact I’ve found numerous pain points with most of the jobs I’ve had -- but I’ve also learned that the grass isn’t always greener. Identify what your priorities are, think through which factors have kept you in your role up until now, and evaluate whether it’s still seemingly the best option when weighed against the alternatives. Personally, I’m currently sacrificing some career growth in my day job for a great deal of flexibility and stability. And while I find that frustrating (because of course I want it all), I feel better about the tradeoff knowing that it allows me more time to spend with my son, and consult and write. I encourage you to do you own cost/benefit analysis, and if the numbers aren’t computing or your “Sunday Scaries” are starting on Saturday, it’s probably time to start your job search.

2. Have a Conversation Specifically About Development with Your Boss All too often, conversations between manager and direct report are highly tactical and focus on a laundry list of status reports on various tasks. If you did not have a more strategic conversation about your development goals with your manager during the goals setting period, ask for a one-on-one to specifically discuss them (and perhaps try to institute a quarterly check-in on the same topic). To be useful, this will require some preparation on your part. What skills do you hope to gain or improve upon this year and what are some ideas for doing so? Perhaps this can be accomplished through your day-to-day work, or maybe it will take a cross-functional stretch project or an outside course. You don’t need to have all the answers, but thinking through what you are trying to achieve and enlisting the help of your manager to share ownership of that goal is an important first step. After all, if you don’t share your desires with your manager, they may never know.

3. Ask for Something

I had the good fortune to participate in a fairly comprehensive negotiations course through my previous employer and last year I helped organize a similar program at my current company. The foundational reading for the sessions was the book “Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want.” While women are unfortunately less willing to advocate for themselves, generally speaking, the lessons in the book apply to everyone. The #1 takeaway – you lose A LOT by not asking. I’ve since asked for all sorts of things I never would’ve had the confidence to in the past and been pleasantly surprised with the results. Think about an ask you’d like to make this year in your professional life – a promotion, a raise, a flexible work arrangement, attending a conference, etc. – and build your supporting case. Then when you have an opportune moment, take a deep breath and ask for it!

4. Formulate a Networking Plan In most workplace environments, who you know (and conversely who knows you) matters greatly. The better you are at building relationships across an organization, the easier it is to do your job and the more likely you are to succeed. The challenge is that these connections don’t always form organically and thus require initiative. My current company is very hierarchical and some aspects of my role are very transactional. To increase my exposure, I challenge myself to set up meetings with at least three different people a quarter that I wouldn’t normally sit down for a full 30 minutes with. Some of my selections are strategic (ie. I want them to know who I am) while others are more exploratory (ie. They seem like an interesting person and we might have some things in common). Perhaps you want to try a similar challenge, or get involved with an affinity group or volunteer program, or really knock yourself out and find ways to network externally through alumni or industry groups. Whatever it is, think about how you can grow your professional network and reputation this year in a way that is most interesting to you.

5. Email the Recruiters Back Once upon a time in my career, I did not talk to recruiters unless I was actively looking for a job. Now I respond to most legitimate inquiries (which have increased precipitously thanks to the wide adoption of LinkedIn) even if I am not necessary on the hunt. Recruiters can provide useful feedback on what you’re worth, what your biggest selling points are, and what other companies in your industry are doing. As long as you are willing to engage in some limited information sharing, there is no reason not to hop on the phone for a few minutes. Each interaction also has the potential to be the beginning of a longer-term relationship which could pay dividends later down the road. Job opportunities often involve a good deal of luck and serendipity, and you just never know where your next exciting offer might come from.

Now that the beginning-of-the-year chaos has abated a bit at work, I am currently working through these items and I encourage you to do the same. Sure, it may add a few more things to the old “to do” list, but the reality is that if you don’t take responsibility for your growth and development, it’s unlikely anyone else will!