Throughout my career, I’ve found it helpful to look back on some of the best advice I’ve been given in terms of career planning and progression so I can pass this on to others.
A great manager once told me that if you have specific career ambitions, then you should have that conversation with your manager as early as possible, rather than wait for your annual performance review. It is really important to be clear what those ambitions are - whether that’s broadening your skillset, changing departments or getting a promotion - and to agree with your manager what you’d need to demonstrate in order for them to support your requests. All too often people go into performance reviews hoping that their hard work will be enough to gain recognition and are often disappointed with the outcome. I now often have a conversation to say, “If I can demonstrate X,Y and Z as we’ve agreed, will you support me moving forwards?”. It’s a great way to make sure expectations are aligned and to track your progress.
Through regular discussions, you’ll have the opportunity to address any feedback or ask for help early if you learn that you’re not on track to reach your goal. If you are on track, you could see if there are any other areas you could gain some responsibility.
I’ve found this to be a powerful way of taking ownership of my career development, and it has transformed the way I approach career discussions. It’s also a brilliant way of demonstrating to others what you’re capable of, while simultaneously creating a positive space for open discussion and reflection.
Soft skills matter
Whilst much of my role is target driven, I’ve learnt to value the importance of soft skills in my career development. To help me progress into leadership positions, I’ve been encouraged to take on broader organisational commitments and taken the initiative to get involved in corporate social responsibility, diversity initiatives, and mentoring. These require high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence, central to any leadership position, and allow me to make meaningful changes to our working environment whilst also gaining access to a larger variety of people to learn from.
Looking into the future
I come from a data background, so I’d be very interested to see the trends in the likelihood of women asking for what they want at work in comparison to others, particularly when it comes to pay. With greater awareness of the differences between genders, combined with the right sponsorship available in the workplace, I’m confident we can start to reduce the pay gap that exists today.
On a final note, I always stress to others that success is rarely linear. Career planning isn’t always easy, particularly when navigating the unpredictable nature of parenting alongside work. Be kind to yourself if things don’t go exactly to plan, or if things take a little longer than expected. It’s all part of the journey!
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