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5 Practical Ways to Develop Your Own Career

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Career development helps ensure the goals of an organization are achieved efficiently and effectively, especially in a tight budget environment. However, career development isn’t just about the performance of the organization. It is first and foremost a process that helps employees establish short and long range goals leading to a fulfilling and enriching career path.

Studies show that employees who understand their career path have increased job satisfaction, decreased stress, and a much easier time adapting to change.  Whether you are an entry level employee, a seasoned executive, or somewhere in-between, having a well-defined career development plan will lead to a greater sense of clarity regarding your strengths, values, and interests.  It will also help you recognize when opportunities present themselves at key points in your career.

Now that you have this vital information, here are five practical tips to help get you on your way.

1. Take Action!

Take an active role in developing your career.  Remember, career development is a two-way street.  Organizations need to support their employees by providing resources, training and development opportunities, and general guidance.  However, your career is still your career.  Only you can determine where you want to be in three, five, or ten years and then develop plans to get there.  If you take action, you are more likely to find yourself in a job you love – leading to higher job satisfaction and lower stress levels.  Take action today by:

  • Reflecting on your experiences.  Are you utilizing your talent and expertise in an engaging manner? Are your career aspirations aligned with your current experiences?
  • Mapping your expectations to your dream job. Do your current talents match with the skills and abilities you need to get there?
  • If not, identifying ways to meet your goals. Consider classes, training, mentoring, or other learning opportunities.  

2. Develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that is tied to your organization’s mission. 

IDPs allow you to identify the steps needed to follow your career path.  To be the most successful, your IDP should:

  • Connect your goals to your organization’s needs. By tying your development to your agency’s goals you show your organization that you are a key employee and are dedicated to self-improvement.
  • Focus on both your current job and the areas you want to develop.
  • Create SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound) so that you can measure your success.
  • For any formal training, show how the training will meet your development goals and then list the specific course(s) you’d like to take along with the dates and the cost.

3. Set up career development conversations with your supervisor.

Once you’ve established your plan, involve your supervisor in the process by sharing your goals and objectives.  Based on the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results, if you are one of the 67% who responded that your supervisor supports employee development, then you should expect engaging and supportive discussions. If not, you should still share your aspirations with your supervisor; who knows, you may be surprised at the amount of help you’ll get if you ask them about their own career trajectory.  Perhaps they’d even be willing to refer you to one of their colleagues whose career interests align with your own. In these meetings you can also:

  • Ask for feedback on your skill and talent levels.
  • Seek advice on how you might develop further.
  • Make changes to your plan.
  • Set up ongoing conversations to update him/her on your progress.

4. Make time for training and development.

Have you been planning to sign up for a course or training, but one year later, you still haven’t? We have all been there – work and life seem to get in the way.  However, to ensure you are being successful, make sure you are getting the training you need.  In your conversation with your supervisor:

  • Lay out your training goals.
  • Get approval for requested trainings.
  • Immediately sign up for training.  Just pick a date and register.  Something is bound to come up during this time, so discuss your strategy for handling these situations in advance. 

5. Find a mentor

If your organization already has a mentoring program, sign up!  If no formal program exists, leverage your relationships to find a mentor you respect and trust.  Your mentor can be inside or outside your organization and the relationship can be long term or short term.  To be successful:

  • Find a mentor in the career field you are interested in.
  • Talk about the steps your mentor took to get to his/her position.
  • Have clearly defined goals so you both benefit from the relationship.

Career development is a long term, ongoing investment. To be effective, it must be supported by managers and the organization. However, employees must ultimately own the process.  Creating a career development vision and strategy with a well-defined path will put you on the road to success!

Nicole Benn and Jacob Flinck are Senior Consultants at Federal Management Partners.  This is their third article in a series on career development. They previously wrote Five Reasons to Emphasize Career Development during Sequestration and 6 Ways You Can Develop Your Team Even on a Shoestring Budget

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