Advancing your career is more a personal-professional development issue than a job-related idea, which you can tackle with a personal professional development plan. Start with assessing your skills and what you are capable of doing, and make a plan to either learn or refine these skills. Learn how you can pull all of this together and level-up your career.
Over the last couple of decades, I have worked some really amazing supervisors and leaders within the Student Affairs field. They were able to give clear voice to the vision of the department and the division, and I was proud to follow them in their example of excellence. I knew what my role was and I was honored to demonstrate the value of my work against these goals.
Until it was time for me to move up.
And then, it was a challenge to try to change the lane, convince anyone I wanted to improve my skill set and learn more about the field by doing something rather than just support others doing it. I had little intention of doing the same job for a decade before moving on and I knew I needed to come up with a plan on how to level up my skills in order to demonstrate to these leaders (and potential new supervisors) that I had the skills to move up and do more within the field.
Ah-Ha Moment: My Professional Development Was MY Responsibility
As I began to understand that advancing my career was more a personal professional development issue than a career related idea, it made more sense to approach my own skill development with my own personal plan. Sure, what I would learn would advance the department or division, but only I could create the plan to move on and, when appropriate, move up. All of this would start with assessing my own skills and what I was capable of doing, and making a plan to either learn or refine these skills.
Consider purchasing a skills or inventory assessment
Not all assessments are created equally. Especially ones you find on the Internet or through Facebook quizzes. While much is written on the veracity of leadership assessments, you should pick one that helps you understand yourself in relation to others and doesn’t just help reinforce what you think or believe about yourself.
Look at StrengthsFinder, which focuses on the strengths you posses and gives action plans on how to maximize their effectiveness. As you dig deeper into the assessment, you can see how your strengths can help you consider new ways to approach areas that are not your strength and recommend new ways to use your strengths in your current position.
The DISC Assessment focuses your work style and how this affects your relationships. This is a useful tool to measure your style as a supervisor and you communicate what is important, how quickly you make decisions, how much information do you need to do this, and how you manage a crisis or emergency. This would be useful, particularly if you have little experience supervising staff but want to know how you would approach this situation.
I offered these two, because I have done both of them at different points of my career, and both helped me understand how to better utilize my strengths and understand how to work with my peers and supervisor better. I also cover additional inventories in another blog post. If your HR department offers workshops using one of these, or any other leadership inventory, take it!
Join a committee within your professional association
One of the best ways to gain administrative skills and take advantage of the money that is being invested in your professional development is through joining and being active in committee work in your professional associations. You gain experience supervising and advising other professionals, administering budgets and thinking about the bigger picture than might be available within your current job.
About two years into my first real job in a multicultural affairs office, I was a member-at-large for an LGBT caucus for my professional association and was tasked with managing the awards for the caucus one year and putting on an event at the annual conference for two years. In my then-role, I did not have the positional authority to make these kinds of decisions and relished the ability to put on large-scale programming for professionals and managing events at the annual conference. I was able to speak about these experiences at a job interview that asked me, specifically, about my ability to plan and execute large-scale programming. I learned to maximize my professional association affiliations, joining committees and running for chair positions when I wanted to hone a different skill I wouldn’t learn in my job.
Invest in Your Development (even if the investment is just time and energy)
When I was working at some of previous institutions, there might have been some money available for professional development but this wasn’t always a given. During one or two budget short-fall years, budgets were slashed and the first money to go was conference and professional development funds. Since those years, I have learned that my professional development is my investment in my own future and I would need to budget accordingly. This meant that I needed to find no- and low-cost alternatives when budget (personal and work) didn’t allow for big-money investment.
Consider joining or starting a book club. It can be hard to find people to join you, since most will say they are too busy to be part of something structured. But when you’re unable to travel or afford more formal learning, books are the way to go. If you can’t join a book club or start one on your own, then find books on your own to read to help you advance your skills. Being able to stay ahead of the learning curve, and speaking about current higher education trends will only help you professionally.
Keep It Local (and even down the block)
If you were a member of a fraternity or sorority, consider joining a local or regional leadership team. Volunteering your time is a great way to reinforce the skills you have, and any impact you have on students and student learning is valuable to document. Consider ways you can add a new skill, such as student conduct, advising or supervising, or curriculum development that might be missing from your resume. Those pledges of life-long membership can help you professionally long after you graduate, if you put time and effort into maintaining your membership.
Look at your community education offerings offered by your local high school or community college, or online classes offered through colleges and universities. Some of us may need to refresh our skills on Microsoft Excel, or brush up on pubic speaking classes. Some may want to learn how to learn business administrative skills, as many graduate preparation programs speak to the importance of budgeting but don’t focus on the specific skill sets of developing budgets.
Ask Yourself a Better Question than “Who is Paying for This Development?”
There are many other ways to develop skills to help you level up you job skills. I would recommend speaking to your mentor or trusted advisor and being very candid with the following question:
What do I need to do, personally, to help me move into my next career within my field?
Once you determine what you need to do, then you can focus on your personal development plan. Sometimes we need this outside perspective to help clarify what we can and should do next. For instance, I thought it was really important for me to understand how to navigate office politics and increase attendance at my events when my mentor told me that I should instead focus at improving my budgeting skills and supervision skills. It did not occur to me that as I became better with budgeting, I would make better decisions on how to market my programs, and as I understood what made for better supervisors I was able to manage my relationships with my peers and my supervisor.
We all need different things to happen in our lives in order to level up our careers. Do you need some help figuring out what you need to do?
I have worked with mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. I can review your resume and cover letter, and give pointers on how to better answer questions during in-person interviews.
Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.