Regardless of whether or not an employer provides a formal employee development program, every individual is responsible for their professional advancement. Your organization might not have the budget to send you to conferences or pay for certification tests, but that does not mean you can afford to ignore development altogether.
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Here are a few tips to help you advance your skills and career, even when you don't have access to formal training programs.
Make a Plan
If you're taking professional development into your own hands, you must have a plan. Start by creating a road map as if you were required to fulfill a development plan. In addition to goals, checkpoints, and action items, your plan should include buy-in from your boss, if possible.
Once you've created a plan, make sure to hold yourself accountable! It can be easy to dismiss deadlines if you don't have a supervisor looking over your shoulder, but completing your development goals on time will keep you focused on advancement. If you need some help staying accountable, share your plan with others. You'll be more likely to stick to your career road map if your boss and/or coworkers know you've set a deadline for yourself.
Ask for Stretch Assignments
If you've received support from your boss concerning your professional development plan, request challenging assignments that are outside of your comfort zone and normal duties. Taking on new projects shows your initiative and willingness to learn, which are attributes companies look for in their team members.
Stretch goals are not something to be afraid of. These assignments will be difficult and will challenge you professionally, but not succeeding on a stretch assignment the first time does not mean that you have failed. Instead, it means that you have learned the skills you need to develop in order to succeed the next time around.
Identify a Mentor
A good way to figure out where you want to go in your career is to identify a person in a similar role who is doing what you want to do, is respected in a way you want to be respected, or holds a position you want to have in the next few years. Once you find that person, you have two options: study them so that you can learn from their habits and interactions, or try to establish a mentor relationship with them.
What you'll likely find is that your mentor (or role model) not only excels at their own job but also fully understands how their job relates to other jobs within the company. When you know the ripple effects of your job, it helps you make better choices. Understanding how your work impacts others will make you more mindful of other people's time and responsibilities.
Join a Professional Organization
Another way to refine your skills is to join a professional organization within your field. Such organizations are helpful because they often provide training components that you might not be able to find at your current company.
If you feel underqualified for a training session, go anyway. Attending developmental sessions that you think are slightly above your knowledge level is beneficial. One of the biggest blind spots for young professionals is that they don't know what they don't even know! By joining a professional organization, you will learn things that you might not come across in your current role but will prove helpful in the future.
Creating your own professional development plan in a company without formal development opportunities can be daunting. However, if you want to impress decision-makers at your company and propel your career forward, self-improvement beyond your daily tasks is necessary. If you start with a plan, find a mentor, ask for challenging projects, and join a professional organization, you'll collect new skills that will be beneficial to your career in both the near and far futures!
Meghann Isgan is the team success manager at Readers.com.