There are several actions that can bolster the career of professionals at different levels, in different fields and across industries. Here are 7 career advancement activities that you could do on a regular basis:
1 – Nurture a diverse and supportive network
Get to know people two or more levels above you, because they can hire you. People at your peer level may hear about openings and refer you. Those junior to you also advance their careers in ways you might not anticipate–and be in a position to hire or refer you.
In addition, you need to know people outside your functional area and industry, in case you want to enter a new market and to ensure that, even if you never leave your field, your ideas and information don’t get too insular.
Outside the workday can be spent getting in touch with people you don’t regularly work with, as well as meeting new people.
2 – Optimize your online profile
Right now the go-to platform for professional networking is LinkedIn. Optimize your LinkedIn profile at a minimum, as well as have a presence on other platforms frequented by your ideal employers, clients and audience. While direct outreach is the best way to get updated information on trends and opportunities, having a robust online profile ensures that people you don’t know and wouldn’t know to reach out to can still find you.
Set calendar reminders to update your profile on a regular basis.
3 – Respond to inquiries
Having a supportive network that refers you and a robust profile that attracts attention only helps if you act on these leads. In my 20+ years of recruiting, I have reached out to many professionals who never respond or respond late (sometimes months after my initial inquiry). We all know that there are some contacts who only reach out when they need something and who only respond if it’s something that currently benefits them. Timely and generous follow up is still a way to differentiate yourself because too many professionals are still not responsive.
Create a system to track calls and emails you need to return, and earmark some of your outside-the-workday hours for follow-up.
4 — Develop a thought leadership platform
Media mentions, publishing guest blogs about your expertise or speaking at conferences are all ways to elevate your profile as a thought leader. Where you spend your efforts should lie at the intersection of what you like to do, what you’re good at and where your target audience is.
If you’re just getting started, look for low stakes events where you can see if you like the activity and where you can start. For example, if speaking is of interest to you, start at your alma mater or a local community group where you have an easy in, rather than working up a full speaking kit to go after your main industry conference.
Pick one medium for you to be introduced to a broader audience, and go for it.
5 — Take on a leadership role in your community
My client who took on a leadership role within his industry association benefited from meeting colleagues outside his current employer, from differentiating himself from others in the same role and from experience leading meetings, overseeing a small budget, organizing events and other activities that he didn’t do on a regular basis in his current job.
You might look to lead a committee (CVAR has many!) to flex some new skills. You might target your professional association to raise your visibility among colleagues. I am a big proponent of getting on a Board and fundraising for your favorite cause to develop your pitching skills and increase your confidence in talking about and asking for money.
Whether it’s a Board seat, volunteer role or work for your professional association, you can advance to leadership outside your current job and transfer the skills and visibility to your overall career.
6 — Start a business
Check with your current employment rules on taking on additional work. If you can do other work outside your job, whether it’s consulting in your field or doing something completely different from your day job, those business-building skills will help. You can develop skills and expertise different from your current role. If you have an idea about a market need or a type of customer you’d like to serve, you can test it without a disruptive career change. At the very least, your side gig earnings can be added to your dream fund, which can make you bolder about leaving your current job if you choose to.
Set aside a few weeks to work on your business idea – land one consulting client, build a product prototype and get feedback. If you’re having fun and making progress, keep going. If you’re having fun and not making progress, get help. If starting a business turns out to be less interesting than you thought it would be, you only lost a few weeks and avoided a disruptive career change.
7 — Advise a startup
In addition or instead of starting your own business, you can advise a startup. Many universities have incubators or entrepreneurial programs, where they welcome experienced professionals as mentors. I’m a volunteer with my local chapter of SCORE, which is a national non-profit that provides free mentoring to small businesses. Or you might have friends and family who are entrepreneurs and need your expertise on their advisory board. Working with a startup gives you a different perspective on business, flexes different skills and opens up a new network.
Earmark some of your networking, leadership or business-building time to advisory work on startups.
A Few Final Words….
Don’t discount how much you can do during the workday – even if you don’t want to stay at your current job. Hanging onto your current job can be instrumental in advancing your career, even if you are sure you’re leaving your company, role or industry.
First of all, you want to do well to get a good reference and preserve your reputation. Secondly, that job you want to leave still provides leverage in your job search and, with cash coming in, you’re not rushed into a less-than-ideal move.
Finally, if you’re making some of the common mistakes that cause careers to stall, your current job can be a great practice ground in a real-life but low-stakes scenario (after all, you’re leaving anyway) for some of the strategies and skills that can help you regain career momentum.
In other words, don’t just look outside your current job — include your workday into your career advancement plan, whether or not you want to stay. –Caroline Ceniza-Levine