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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. Last updated September 23, 2022

Your Essential Guide to Driving Your Own Career Growth

4 steps to figuring out what you want

finding career growth image

You might feel like you have no control over your own career growth, between a fluctuating economy, few chances to move up at work, and that pesky imposter syndrome (which up to 75 percent of women have reported experiencing). But, there’s hope!

By putting a few tried-and-true strategies (along with some guidance from Kristine Knutter, communication and career coach and founder of Express to Impress) into practice, you can attain your desired career growth and knock out some lofty goals in the process.

What is career growth? 

Career growth means moving up or forward or ahead (whichever way you want to visualize it) in the industry or with the work you choose to do. It involves building your skill set and mastering (or outgrowing) certain responsibilities and taking on bigger ones. "Bigger" responsibilities are those that can have more of a financial or growth impact on a business, and are often more rewarding for you.

For some people, career growth is notably achieved by managing a team. For others, it's taking on projects that are harder and require more experience and knowledge than their previous work. For others it means taking on more risks for higher reward. And for many, it's often a combo of all of those. 

Even if you switch careers, you're growing - your path will just look different than someone who stays in the same industry. And your career growth can be defined differently than your colleagues'. 

Career growth: How to figure out what you want

Before you dive into goal-setting head first, consider what you want in your career. While this may feel like the hardest part, you can figure out what you want using four strategies. 

1. Consider your interests

Include work-related interests, like working with customers or analyzing data. You can include hobbies, such as blogging, baking, or hiking.

2. Take stock of your past

We have all worked at least one job we didn't like. While it may have seemed useless at the time, it actually showed you something important: what you don’t want in your career. Whether it was the poor leadership, lack of inclusion, or an awful list of duties that drove you away, you can use poor work experiences to define your career prospects.   

3. Talk to people in your network

Chances are, you know at least one person who’s willing to tell you about their career path or connect you to a job opportunity that aligns with what you want. Either way, engaging people in your network can help you figure out what comes next for you.

4. Start goal-setting

With career growth, setting goals is about taking small steps in the right direction. Even if you don’t know what your ultimate goal is just yet, you can work toward it. For instance, let’s say that one of your career goals is to secure a leadership position. You know that team supervision is required for most leadership positions. By securing a job where you supervise other team members, you can gain the supervisory experience needed to get a leadership role (and figure the rest out as you go).

Read more: 25+ Short-Term Goals to Strive for Right Now

If you still feel lost after trying these strategies, consider speaking with a career coach.

What to ask a coach for career growth help

Knutter shares several questions she poses to clients who are trying to figure out what they want:

  • If there were no barriers, what could the peak of your career look like? Would you be in a certain position? Be earning a certain salary? Have different responsibilities? Have more influence? Be doing meaningful work? 

  • How do you define success? Is it impact, money, growth, or something else? 

  • What are you really good at? Do you enjoy any activities you’re good at?

  • What does your ideal work environment look like? Do you want to work in an office, work from home, or be out in the field? Would you like to travel for work occasionally or frequently? 

  • How much do you want to work? Do you want part-time, full-time, flextime, or the sky’s the limit?

Even if you don’t know the answers to all these questions, jot them down for future reference. As you work on your goals, you will find it easier to answer them. Then, you can use your responses to further define your goals and drive career growth.

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Discover My Hidden Talents?

The importance of goal-setting to achieve career growth

Setting goals is vital to career growth. To effectively set (and meet) your career goals, Knutter suggests creating a career vision or goal statement. 

She provides this career-growth goal example: 

"I will be a Head of Product Management who creates and manages highly profitable products that customers love.”

Once you create your goal statement, Knutter suggests evaluating your goal using a technique called mental contrasting, which is designed to reduce anxiety about the future and promote goal commitment. “That way, you can assess if your big picture goal is feasible and determine actions to reach your career vision.” 

Ask two key questions about your career:  

  • Where are you now compared to where you want to be? 

  • What stands between you and achieving your career vision? 

Use these questions to pinpoint obstacles you might face in achieving your career goals. Next, think about how you will execute your goals. 

An example of a career growth plan:

“I plan to achieve my career goals by mastering technical knowledge, improving leadership and communication skills, and gathering experience in marketing research and metric analysis.” 

To make it official, write it down! “I always recommend putting your statement and how you will achieve it in writing and make it visible. For example, you could put it on your refrigerator or in a daily planner, “ Knutter says. 

Finally, Knutter encourages “making your career vision a reality” by setting short- and mid-term career goals. Short-term goals are often slated to be done within one year; mid-term career goals tend to span two years or less. Check out these examples of short-term and mid-term goals: 

Short-term career goals

  • Add a new contact to professional network

  • Update resume or cover letter

  • Adjust work schedule to maximize productivity

  • Improve communication with team members

  • Request a change to current job description

Mid-term career goals

  • Learn a new trade

  • Complete a certificate program or course 

  • Improve work-life balance

  • Earn a promotion

  • Secure a new job

What to consider when planning and measuring career growth

Planning and measuring your growth is one of the best ways to take control of your career. Plan your career growth by identifying potential career options and researching professional development opportunities—such as continuing education or skills-based training—that can promote career growth. “For example, if you aspire to be a supply chain director in the future, in your research, you will find that a master’s degree will be required and you’ll need to have at least five years of managerial experience in the field. It will likely take at least 10 to 15 years to be qualified for that role, and people in those roles frequently progress through the roles of project planners, project managers, senior project managers, [or] director of operations first.”

Read more: 8 Tech Courses We’re Taking to Level Up Our Skills

At a glance, here are important factors to consider when planning and measuring career growth: 

  • The unexpected will happen. “I suggest you embrace unexpected twists and turns and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. You may need to adjust your career vision and path to achieve it, and that’s okay, “ Knutter says. 

  • Although career growth and career development are linked, they are not the same. “Career development encompasses the activities you do to develop yourself,” Knutter shares. “It could mean building your skills, learning from your mistakes, and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to accept new challenges. Career growth involves moving to a higher position. While you can and should set goals for your career growth and communicate those with your employer, ultimately external factors influence when you achieve career growth. You can be promoted within your current company or get a higher position at another company.”

  • It’s okay if your goals change. Setting goals means that you’re serious about your career growth; changing your goals means that you’re human! You may need to adjust your goals to fit new interests, career opportunities, and obligations. This is a normal part of growing your career.  

  • The small wins help you grow, too. Some achievements, like a salary increase or a completed degree program, are easy to measure. You should still count less-obvious wins, such as finishing an online course or speaking up at work about the types of projects you want.

  • There is no “one size fits all.” Career growth is based on an individual’s goals, interests,  industry, and background, so it will vary from one person to another. Don’t feel pressured to model your career growth after anyone else’s. After all, it’s not supposed to look the same.  

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Can a Recession or Economic Downturn Affect My Career?

About our source  

Kristine Knutter is a communication and career coach and founder of Express to Impress, a communications skills training company that empowers professionals to meet their job search and career goals through confident communication. Kristine also hosts the Express to Impress podcast where she shares English communication stories and tips.

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