Whether you love your current job or you loathe it, you’ve probably given at least some thought to the next step you want to take in your career. The issue here is that a lot of people throw around vague ideas, and then stop at that. After all, if you don’t have a measurable goal, and you don’t know exactly what lies ahead in your professional development, there isn’t a lot you can do to prepare for the next step. Even if you feel your goals are a little indistinct, there are still many things you can do to lay a strong foundation for future opportunities. Here are just a few ideas you may want to consider.
Get Yourself Out There
If you ask a cross-section of successful professionals how they got their current jobs, there’ll be at least a few who were simply at the right place, at the right time, or knew the people who ultimately made the call. While this isn’t the one and only factor that goes into career advancement, one of the best ways to set yourself up for a bright future is getting yourself out there and brushing shoulders with other professionals. Whether you make a conscious effort to network or simply find excuses to be at industry events, growing your professional network is an essential move for preparing for the next big step in your career. You’ll be able to meet people who have been where you are, ask them about issues they can help you with, and may even stumble upon a job opening you would have missed otherwise.
You may not know precisely what you want to do in the end. However, you probably have a vague inkling of the parts of your current job which you’d like to do more of in the future. If this is the case, there’s no time like the present for building expertise, whether it’s through specific training opportunities within the company, or more self-driven things, like taking an online course or simply reading more about the areas of your job you want to focus on. Even if you never end up using this specific expertise, most hiring managers favour people who can show they specialise in a certain area. The general assumption is that specialists can do everything a generalist can do, plus a little more.
Do Something Different
Perhaps there’s nothing that really grabs you about your current position, and you want to end up doing something completely unrelated. That’s fine too! Even in the absence of a specific skill you want to develop, learning something outside of your current position will help you to stay flexible and engaged. You don’t want to come off as a new hire who will be difficult to train, as they haven’t had to learn anything from scratch in years! Learn a new language, try your hand at coding, or anything else that takes your interest. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll be exercising your brain, and looking at the whole learning process in a new light. You never know, a new, outside-the-box skill could play a massive role in your career further down the line.
Press for Results
No matter how closely related your current position is to what you want to be doing in the future, it’s important to come away from your job with some good stories to pull out in interviews. Anecdotes that show you’re an efficient worker, a determined go-getter, and not afraid to use your initiative, can all tip the balance when you’re pursuing a certain position. You can start off by making notes from the stories you already have, but after that, you should be working on gaining some new ones. This could mean pitching ideas for new projects or different approaches to existing ones, or going out of your way to do things that aren’t really “your job”. Whatever you do at your current job, make sure that by the point you leave, you can clearly articulate the impact you’ve had on the business at a moment’s notice. Interviewers get extremely bored with listing and explaining job responsibilities. Do them and yourself a favour by setting up some big achievements that you can keep up your sleeve for future opportunities.
Establish your Values
It doesn’t matter what’s been happening in your professional life, everyone can benefit from having a clear idea of what their personal career values are. For example, if you know you’ll always put recognition and advancement over long commute times, this can be a major leap forward in figuring out your next steps, without even touching on the position or industry you want to work in. You can start off now by taking notes on the things that make you happy in your job, what makes you hate it, and the things that you’re indifferent to. If you know what you value, you’ll find it so much easier to establish a clear idea of the road ahead.
Try to Say “Yes” More
Last, but certainly not least, try to get into the habit of saying yes to more opportunities that come your way, even if your gut instinct is to turn them down. Perhaps there’s a local charity that you support in theory, but don’t have the time to contribute to. Find out when their next fundraiser is, and then volunteer for it. Perhaps you’ve been invited to be on a career advancement panel for freshmen at your old college, or some other meeting of minds. Sure, it might not be immediately obvious how these little opportunities could advance your career. However, you’ll never know what you can gain from them if you never go in the first place. By saying yes to more opportunities that come your way, you’ll gain new experiences which will help you figure out what exactly you want, and meet new people who may open your eyes to even more opportunities.
If you want to advance your career, but you don’t know what your next step should be, take this advice, and you’ll give yourself a much stronger foundation.