How to Take Charge of Your Career

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

Not so very long ago, employees worked for an organization for a long time, and were taken care of. Employers provided training, and development opportunities were available for the asking. WOW—times have changed.

Now, each of us is responsible for our own career development and, while this may be frightening to some, it is actually a very positive trend. Having more control is a good thing as long as you take your responsibility seriously and manage your own career development. You’d better, because no one else is going to do it for you!

In today’s highly competitive work environment, most organizations want people to fill positions who are fully trained and ready to contribute. While some very smart organizations have seen the value of providing mentors for new hires, many are working in what we call the “plug and play” world where new hires are expected to be fully functional immediately.

How can you best manage your career?

First, we need to accept the responsibility of doing just that—taking charge of our own development. Consider the following:

1. Keep your resume current. You never know when a good opportunity will present itself, and you need to be ready to jump on it. While resumes aren’t nearly as important as they once were thanks to online application processes, having your resume ready to go can prepare you for new opportunities—even if you apply online, you will need the information on your resume to complete the application.

2. Watch for opportunities within your organization for cross-training. Volunteer for task-force assignments to gain more knowledge within your current organization. This will enhance your visibility and introduce you and your skills to other key players where you work.

3. Take advantage of any development opportunity that is available within your organization. If classes are offered, take them.

4. Watch for free webinars in your field and take them. This is a great way to enhance your skills at no cost.

5. If your organization has a tuition reimbursement program, take classes or complete a degree. This will greatly enhance your marketability.

6. If you have a long commute, use your time in the car to learn. There are lots of free books on tape at libraries or other sources.

7. Join associations in your chosen field. Attend meetings to network and to learn. If your association has conferences, see if your company will pay for you to attend if you volunteer to bring back what you learned to share with your co-workers.

8. Seek out a mentor or two in your organization. Consider asking people outside your field to mentor you so that you expand your horizons. For example, if you are in marketing, consider a mentor in operations or finance so that you enhance your general business knowledge.

9. Volunteer to mentor others. It is amazing what you learn when you are helping someone else.

10. Build and maintain your professional network. It’s mission-critical for your current and future jobs.

11. Never stop learning and growing as a professional. Not only does it make your life more fun, it keeps you open to new ideas and opportunities.

12. Assess your career progress from time to time. Are you learning? Are you growing professionally? Do you look forward to going back to work on Monday? If any of these answers are no, perhaps it is time to look for a new opportunity either within your current organization or elsewhere.

Remember that you are responsible for your own professional development, and you create your own future. Good luck!

About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR.