Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.
Question: I landed an exciting job. Now that I’m settling in, I don’t want to lose my momentum. What should I do to keep my career moving in a positive direction?
Answer: You’re right—your career is a moving target, so it’s a good idea to be open and willing to develop yourself for what lies ahead. Whether you’re new to the workforce or have been with a company for years, one role probably won’t be the end of your journey.
Microsoft recruiter Heidi Landex Grotkopp believes that developing your career can be an illuminating trip into self-discovery, skill development, and building strong relationships. Here are some of her top recommendations for staying sharp and ready for what’s next, whenever it might come.
Give yourself time to settle in
It can take about a year to get fully ramped up in any role, Landex pointed out. Before you begin to set your sights on the next gig, give yourself time to get to know your work. Spend time with your peers and managers to learn more about the business, the expectations, and the customers.
As you build relationships in your role, ask for periodic check-ins—with managers as well as with peers—to ensure that you are on track with agreed-upon expectations or areas of improvement. This tactic helps you build a rapport, while gaining visibility within your team and organization.
Landex said that your ramp-up is the perfect window to gain insight from others—and yourself. In this ongoing process, consider what you’re doing in your work and how you’re doing it. This will help you notice how you are evolving in your role, reflect on challenges you have taken on, and figure out how to keep growing, she said.
“Ask yourself, if I had been a bit bolder, what would I have done differently?” said Landex.
Fill in your skill gaps
As you continue to gauge your strong suits and identify areas of development, focus on your strengths, but don’t be afraid to know and publicly acknowledge your areas of opportunity. Those may be the very areas that could lead you into something new and exciting, something unexpected.
“Let’s say you don’t have a specific skillset or it doesn’t come naturally to you, but you love 90 percent of the rest of your job. You might be in the right role, and you should get mentoring and training to ‘skill you up’ on the 10 percent that you are concerned about,” she said.
Go to your manager and have a conversation about the identified gap. Landex suggested communicating about your growth area but that you know it’s a skill you can improve. Then lay out a plan to execute that: a training, a long-term class, or help from a mentor.
“Your manager should be able to help you identify someone in the organization that would be a great help,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a local mentor. It could be someone in a different job or different location than you. The idea is to find someone who you can shadow a bit, in person or virtually, and ask questions about how you can improve within your specific scenarios.”
And remember, Landex said, “You might not be the strongest in a skill, but never look in a mirror and think you’re not good enough.” Everyone can improve once they set their target.
Build connections beyond your role
Landex also believes employees should seek a sponsor or champion.
“A sponsor is not a mentor but someone who can help you in your next career step,” she explained. “Let’s say you don’t have all the right skills or the right technology, but you have the right effort and capabilities to get there. With the right sponsor, they will help you connect with the right people and opportunities to get you to the next stage of your career.”
Be your best data keeper
Having a record of your career path can be surprisingly insightful. Landex said she does this in two ways: by documenting her accomplishments, and by asking colleagues to share their feedback about her.
The personal document is just for you. “It can be 10 pages or no limit,” she said. “Put in all the different roles you’ve had. Write in your achievements and how you managed. Keep it chronicled and make note of what’s relevant.”
Then revisit it about once a year or as your accomplishments happen. Continue to think about how your direction changes, and adjust your entries to showcase relevant details.
This personal document is a great way for you notice trends in your accomplishments and pinpoint new, in-demand skillsets that you’ve obtained. Also, by calling out how you got there, you’re making note of your way of thinking through a problem or project.
Landex also suggests collecting unsolicited feedback. Whether it’s a kind note from your manager about a project you rocked or an appreciative hallway chat with a peer about your work ethic, save it.
“I actually capture my feedback on LinkedIn,” said Landex who feels the Recommendations section of the platform is an underutilized tool. “When I get good feedback from someone other than my manager, I ask the person if they could share their feedback as a recommendation on LinkedIn.”
Understand that your career is evolutionary
With every great role, you’ll find great lessons and potential successes. By chronicling your experience, expanding your connections, and showcasing your well-earned accolades, you are setting a solid foundation to nurture your career development.
Never treat a new role as the “end all, be all.” It’s simply a milestone of your career evolution.