Talented! Invaluable! Hardworking! Are these words your boss uses to describe you, and yet he or she consistently fails to promote you or find opportunities for you to grow?
The first thing you should know is it’s NOT YOU, it’s them. They know they have something good in you, and they don’t want to lose it. However, a good mentor supports and encourages others to take on new challenges and advance in their career. So what do you do?
Carpe Diem or Seize the Day! Most commonly understood to mean making the most of what we have now, because we don’t know what the future holds. I like to think of it as taking advantage of present opportunities to create the future you want. It may seem like career advancement is out of your hands, but I’m going to suggest otherwise. Rather than waiting for the promotion which may never come, create your own opportunity for growth and advancement.
1. Become a Specialist!
Every type of business typically has a need for at least one person in the office to know more about one thing than everyone else. By becoming a specialist you are more valuable to the team and a resource people rely on. You also raise your over all profile within the organization, allowing others in leadership to see your talents. It can be as simple as you being the only one who knows how to fix the copy machine! Or you help others with their computer and software needs, offer your creative and artistic perspective to publications, or speak a second language. Whatever it is, find your niche, hone in on it, and use it to your advantage. It may also be a specialization coveted by a competing employer, which gives you some leverage to ask for that promotion or makes you more valuable to the competition. Potential loss can be a great motivator.
Example:I worked for a long standing non-profit who facilitated international exchanges, when I started I knew little to nothing about International Student Visas. Having made a connection at US Immigration, an opportunity to learn more came my way and I ran with it, designating myself the “go to” person in the office with visa questions, which eventually turned into an official position. Within two years, I became the organizations first Designated School Official (DSO), making me responsible for issuing visas to our participants. It also came with a raise.
Fulfill a Need They Don’t Know Exists!
Organizations get so caught up in the day to day business that they fail to see where there is need for improvement or areas of growth. And if by some chance, staff should mention one, a typical response is “we don’t have the budget”. But not all change requires money, it usually just needs a champion, let that be you! If you recognize a need for change or improvement, and you can do it with little to no budget, then go for it. Keep your boss informed, but don’t sit around waiting for permission or funding if it really isn’t necessary. In most cases, if it’s not going to cost them any time or money they won’t get in your way. Once they see it working and recognize the value and merit of the change, they may put some money behind it, granting you more responsibility and possibly that promotion.
Example: In ESL programs having special groups for 2-6 weeks programs is quite common. When I was teaching not too many instructors were that interested in coordinating them because they were a lot of extra work. I jumped at the chance in order to make extra money, develop new skills, and build up my resume. After coordinating different groups, I noticed how cumbersome planning these programs was for new coordinators. It was clear we needed to streamline and create systems and curriculum which could be applied across programs making the job a lot easier to do, and motivating more people to get involved. After bringing it to the Directors attention, he gave us his support to create a new structure to run these programs more effectively. Not only did it help me fulfill a need they didn’t know existed, but also let me become a specialist. As a result, I became a full-time program coordinator with another organization, significantly increasing my income.
Create a Project or Program!
If they’re not going to give you the promotion you deserve, or there is little to no opportunity to move up within the organization then you use your time to build up your tool kit (or resume). Creating special projects or programs which benefit the staff or client are a great opportunity to be creative, develop new skills, and build up your repertoire of leadership experience. Keep your eyes and ears open for things your peers or clients say “would be nice to have” and consider how you can turn that wish into an opportunity for you.
Example: I attended several professional conferences early in my teaching career. It was the school’s practice for the instructors who attended a conference to share what they learned at the monthly staff meeting. But quickly, colleagues and I realized this one time session wasn’t really enough. People said, “Gee, I wish we had more time”. So rather than relying on this single session, a colleague and I developed a Professional Development-Mentor group for instructors to meet once a month to share new learning, best practices, and academic scholarship to advance our skills. This was my first real opportunity to mentor and lead, which turned out to be a great career move.
So seize your moment! Don’t allow you position or job description to limit you or your future. Find the the opportunities you need to develop your skill set, raise your professional profile, and advance in your career. It is important to take your future into your own hands to create the career you want.
This blog was inspired by a very special group of young professionals I’ve been fortunate enough to coach, mentor and befriend in the last year. I’m continually inspired by their commitment to professional development, open hearts and minds, and willingness to learn and go for it. Thank you for inspiring and motivating me to be better at what I do!