If you're reading this, the chances are high that you want to learn how to improve your career – or need help finding a new career altogether.
Career advancement is important for many different reasons – to earn more money, to do more interesting work, to get respect, and to feel a sense of achievement. The process is highly individual and entirely your own. However, there are a few tips and strategies you can use to find your way as you forge your path.
What is Career Advancement?
Career advancement is the process of furthering your job skills and pursuing more challenging career opportunities.
The traditional way to advance your career is to "climb the ladder," but this is just one option for furthering your career. Not everyone can become a manager, and not everyone wants to. Plus, management requires a very specific skill set that's separate from the skills of your industry – not everyone promoted to manager has these skills or wants to develop them. This is the reasoning behind the "Peter Principle," which says that employees climbing a corporate ladder will eventually be promoted above their level of competence.
In other words, unless you have natural management talent or the desire to learn those skills, you might enjoy your career more and contribute to your field better by looking for other types of career advancement opportunities. You can upgrade your career this way by taking on more complex responsibilities in your current role, making a lateral move to a related position at the same "level," or changing careers entirely.
No matter how you choose to advance your career, the goal is to keep challenging yourself and growing professionally. Conveniently, this also means avoiding boredom. After all, we spend a third of our adult life at work – that time will pass a lot more pleasant if your work continues to engage you.
How do You Advance Your Career?
Regardless of whether you want to move up, sideways, or zigzag, there are a few general strategies you can use to advance your career when it gets stale.
Understand Your Options
Knowing the methods for tackling a problem is half the battle, and this is certainly true for how to advance your career.
Find out what direction people generally advance toward from your position – where do they end up, how do they traditionally get there, and what are the alternative paths you can use?
Educate yourself about your field more broadly than just your job. Read industry publications and informal blogs. Network with people – in your company, in your area, and online. Ask questions about their careers and see if they have any helpful advice.
Keep up with industry trends – in this fast-changing world, your options evolve as well. Career advancement research is not just a one-time event.
Use Feedback to Improve Your Performance
Everyone can stand to improve in their position in some way, and the people who work around you usually have insight into what and how you can do better.
Take your performance reviews seriously, and if your employer doesn't host them regularly, ask for a review. Talk to your manager about how you can improve your job performance and what skills you need to develop further. Make a plan to work toward your goals and assess your progress.
Your coworkers can also be a valuable source of feedback. If your company doesn't include 360 feedback in your review, solicit honest but constructive criticism on your own.
You may also have a sense of areas where you want to improve. Who around you is performing their best in that area? Ask for the advice of high-performing peers as well as your boss.
The key to performance improvement is to listen to criticism without getting defensive. It's not always fun – sometimes it even hurts – but honest assessments of your skills are the only way to get better.
Developing Soft Skills
What are soft skills? They're abilities that support your job without being job-specific. This includes people skills, teamwork, communication, time management, organization, problem-solving, critical thinking, and conflict resolution.
The great thing about investing in these skills is that they're transferable – in other words, no matter what you do with your work or personal life, these are tools that you can use to be more successful. There's no such thing as wasting time on soft skills.
These skills are also crucial to moving up in the hierarchy to management and beyond – if that's something you want, you should spend considerable effort in this area.
Many businesses offer soft skill training to their employees – if yours doesn't, there are plenty of training options you can seek out on your own, including courses that provide specific activities to help you practice these concepts.
Hone, Advance, or Expand Your Skill Set
Of course, hard skills, or job-specific skills, are also important.
We've already discussed seeking feedback to help you improve your performance of existing skills. Practice is also important – seek out opportunities to reinforce your abilities and apply them under different conditions. Volunteer for opportunities that let you do so.
When it comes to skill-building, however, there are two directions you can go: advancing your current skills or adding on new but helpful skill sets.
You can advance your skills by learning more complex and challenging applications. For example, you might learn the advanced uses of a software program you already know or get certified in a more complicated piece of heavy machinery than the ones you currently operate. It may not be so clear-cut as a concrete skill, however – you might look for opportunities to take on complicated or difficult projects, instead.
You can expand your skills by picking up a new area of expertise that complements and supports your current skills. Project management is a common example because nearly every industry needs someone with those abilities. It could also be an industry-specific skill that makes you a more versatile employee. For example, a medical biller might expand into medical coding so they're eligible for jobs that require both.
Be strategic in the skills you develop and acquire – choose things that interest you, but that will also take you in the direction you want to go.
Validate Your Skills with The Right Credentials
It can be difficult for prospective employers or managers to be sure you're as good as you say you are – that's why it's helpful to earn the right credentials, even if you've gained your abilities through experience.
Ask people with the job you want about their credentials. Look at job listings you're interested in and see what they prefer or require. Research your industry and find out the well-respected credentials for your current level of expertise.
Generally speaking, professional credentials that validate your knowledge or skills come in three categories: degrees, professional certifications, and professional licenses.
Licenses are often non-negotiable legal requirements. They prove a certain degree of knowledge and skill, but they also give you the right to legally perform certain tasks.
Professional certifications prove you have a certain degree of competence, but they're not usually a legal requirement. In most cases, earning a professional certification is faster and less expensive than a degree. Certifications also tend to focus on practical skills that prepare you to get to work, whereas degrees often focus on theoretical knowledge.
In some fields, you can only advance so far without a 2-year associate degree or 4-year bachelor's degree. It's good to know this well ahead of your next career move since those degrees take even longer when you're studying part-time.
What is the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship?
If you're a military spouse, the Department of Defense provides a scholarship program to help you advance and maintain your career as you move from installation to installation. It's called My Career Advancement Account Scholarship, but it's often shortened to MyCAA Scholarship.
MyCAA serves a specific purpose – to improve troop retention – so there are a few caveats. You're only eligible if your military spouse falls under certain pay grades, and you can't be in the military yourself. Most importantly, you can only use the scholarship for associate degrees, professional certifications, and occupational licensing from approved institutions in fields that fall under the DoD's definition of a portable career.
Still, it's free money – $4,000 total. Check out our guide for making the most of your MyCAA money.
Change or Advance Your Career with Online Training From Meditec
Our online training and certification programs are designed for skill development to help you begin a new career or advance your current career.
There are many reasons to choose Meditec for your career training. We've been a trusted provider for distance learning and skills development for over 50 years, with more than half of those online. We offer over 70 training programs across 8 fields, including healthcare, education, information technology, and legal services.
Most of our programs help you earn a respected industry certification that can float your resume to the top of the pile, no matter where life (or the military) takes you.
Speaking of which, if you're eligible for MyCAA funds, we've been a MyCAA-approved school for years, and all of our programs are designed to meet their requirements.
What are you waiting for? Browse our available programs and contact us today to learn more about how we can help you move forward.