If you have recently completed your university studies and successfully applied for the perfect graduate job, you might be wondering if the hard work is now over.
But if you’re ambitious about achieving your goals, there's still plenty more you will need to do if you want to climb the career ladder.
Today’s world of work is becoming increasingly competitive. Most employees are looking to move forward in their career and be recognised for their efforts. If you find yourself working within a high-achieving and motivated workforce, it can be difficult to find ways to stand out from the crowd.
Building a successful career is a lifelong journey – it requires planning, dedication and commitment.
In this article, we discuss why having a career strategy is important and provide 10 different career development strategies to help you to achieve your career goals.
Why Are Career Strategies Important?
Having a career strategy will provide you with the motivation you will need to figure out what you really want from your career and work towards your goals. It will give you a sense of ownership over your future.
Career strategies enable you to focus on your long-term aspirations, providing purpose in your day-to-day working life.
Throughout your career you will be faced with choices, opportunities and setbacks. Having a clear career strategy will help you avoid making snap decisions that won’t be of benefit to your career goals.
Most importantly, a career strategy will help you see what you have achieved and how far you have come. Having a strategy will help you see through any bad days, and recognise what you have already achieved and what is still possible.
10 of the Best Career Strategies
1. Understand Your Personality Type and What Motivates You
There are many different personality profiling tools available online which can help you to find out about your personality type.
One of the most popular personality tests is Myers Briggs. The results of the Myers Briggs questionnaire will assign you to one of 16 personality types and provide you with useful information relating to your likely strengths, weaknesses and best-suited career paths.
You can use this information to decide which career route would suit your personality – and most importantly, which job roles you would enjoy and be motivated by in the future.
2. Think Ahead
After you have identified your personality type, spend some time considering your ultimate career ambition or goal. If you can refine this down to a particular job role, obtain a copy of the job description and person specification for that position.
Identify the key skills, qualifications and experience you would need to have for this job, and think about what you will need to do to gain these.
If your overall career ambition requires you to move up a few steps of the career ladder first, you can break this journey down into sections. Again, find a copy of the job description and person specification for each job role – then consider the steps needed to make yourself an attractive candidate for promotion opportunities.
At the start of your career, it might be difficult to say exactly where you want to be in 10, 20 or 30 years. If you are unable to identify one specific job role that you want to work towards, think about whether there is a particular industry you would like to work in.
You can then spend time researching this career field, find out about the different job opportunities and identify the competencies you will need to work towards.
3. Set Goals in Line with the Company Strategy
Once you have started your new job role, research the key goals and objectives of the company. Think about how these compare with or complement your personal goals and objectives for career progression.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Are you looking to gain experience in a particular area or discipline?
- Is your employer planning to expand?
- Would your manager be willing to support you to achieve further qualifications?
Keep a written record of your personal goals. It is a good idea to review this list frequently, so that you can recognise your achievements and identify areas where progress is still required.
4. Engage with Your Employer’s Personal Development Process
If you are looking for ways to progress your career, engaging with the company’s appraisal process is vital. Try not to think of it as a tick-box exercise – instead, try to view it as a regular opportunity to discuss your progress with your manager.
You can use the appraisal discussion to talk through your strengths and areas for future development. Be honest about sharing your goals with your manager, and work with them to agree on SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based) to help you achieve these.
Think about how achieving your personal goals could be of benefit to the business – and let your manager know, as this can be a good way to ensure they are on board with your development plans.
After the appraisal, keep the objectives that have been agreed at the forefront of your mind – this will help you to maintain focus and move forward in your career.
Ask for regular review opportunities with your manager to share your progress and quickly resolve any issues that may be hindering you.
5. Take Ownership of Your Career Path
You are the master of your own fate; if you want to achieve something, you will need to put in the hard work. If you want to attend a training course, don’t just turn up at your performance review and ask your manager if you can do it. Taking this approach means they will have to do all the legwork.
Instead, take the time to find out details such as when and where the course runs, how much it costs and what skills you can hope to gain from it. Most importantly, think about how studying for it will help you to contribute to the company’s overall strategy. Having this information to hand means your employer is far more likely to support you.
Similarly, if there is a gap in your experience which means you are unable to move up the career ladder, research ways that you could address this. For example, you could ask to speak to staff already working within this area, set up a shadowing opportunity or find out whether there are any opportunities for secondment to help you achieve the skills you need.
6. Ensure You Are Accepting the Right Job with the Right Employer
When planning to make a career move, it is important to remain focused on the goals you outlined at the beginning of this process. Try not to be tempted by a highly paid job opportunity if it is unlikely to help you to realise your overall career objectives.
Equally, make sure you do your research before joining a new employer. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
Where possible, it is advisable to arrange a face-to-face informal visit with any prospective new employer before applying. This will help you to get a feel for the company and decide whether applying for the job role is the right thing for you and your career goals at this time.
7. Be Aware That Things Can Change
Having a comprehensive career strategy is useful, but it doesn’t guarantee that you will always be able to follow the path you have mapped out. Bear in mind that things can quickly change, both inside and outside of work, from unexpected redundancies to changes in family dynamics.
If you do find yourself facing an unanticipated bump in the road, take some time to revisit and re-evaluate your goals. You might need to change your approach but, hopefully, it will still be possible to achieve your career aspirations.
8. Remember to Network
Setting up a strong business network is an effective way to help you to achieve career progression. Attending face-to-face networking events is a great way to meet others, swap business cards and find out about upcoming job opportunities before they are advertised.
And with the popularity of social media, it’s now even easier to network. LinkedIn or Facebook will enable you to make contact with other people already working in your business sector. You can also use it to keep up-to-date with industry-related news, events and job vacancies.
9. Make an Appointment with a Career Coach
If you are committed to taking a proactive approach to your career development, visiting a career coach is a sensible action to take.
A career coach will help you to identify your existing knowledge, strengths and transferable skills, before exploring your career progression options and showing you the best ways to market yourself to potential employers.
10. Consider Alternative Ways to Upskill
As a graduate, you may find yourself following the same defined career path as many others within your industry. In this situation, you will need to identify ways to upskill, to ensure that you are the most attractive applicant when a promotion opportunity comes up.
Within the workplace, you could:
- Ask a business leader to mentor you. Regular meetings with your mentor will give you the chance to ask questions, learn from their experience and identify which skills you need to develop further. Equally, if you are looking to progress into a management role, you could offer to mentor a junior member of staff to improve your leadership skills.
- Find a secondment opportunity. Working within a different part of the business (even if this is only for a short time) will help you to learn more about the organisation and the impact your current job role has on other functions of the business.
Outside of work, you could:
- Learn a new language. If your employer operates globally, or if there are overseas job opportunities within your industry, learning a new language will make you an attractive candidate to recruiters in the future.
- Volunteer. Take yourself away from your comfort zone and try something different. You will learn new skills, meet different people and see things from a different perspective – plus you will be making a contribution to a community.
Planning your future career path can seem overwhelming, especially when you are at the very beginning of your career journey. Using career strategies will help you to carefully consider your options as you face opportunities or difficulties during your career.
To make the process less daunting, it is a good idea to break the process down. Consider what you are good at, what interests you, what motivates you and what you enjoy doing. These details will help you to identify suitable job roles and work industries.
Once you have decided on your overall aim, you will need to think about the different stages you will need to complete to get there. This could be anything from gaining more experience, studying for further qualifications or developing specialist skills.