Q: I feel burned out and am suffering from some serious career fatigue. I'm worried about my career development, and want to make sure I try something new in order to improve my job skills and increase my marketability. Most of my colleagues found new jobs in order to continue developing their careers, but I'm hoping to stay in my current position. Is there any way to convince my current employer that I can do in my job? Or is there no way to develop my career without having to change jobs?
A: If you feel that your career is no longer developing, does this mean that you won't be able to climb the corporate ladder unless you change jobs? Not necessarily. While there may be employers with a culture and management so rigid that they can't adjust to new ideas, many companies welcome creativity and workers who want to develop their careers. Before you decide to leave your current job and enter a situation where you'll have to prove yourself to management and co-workers all over again, try some of the following suggestions on how to advance your career development without changing jobs:
Make the Most of Your Current Job
When you've been at the same job for a while, it's easy to get complacent and fall into a narrow-minded routine. This may feel comfortable, but it's a serious impediment to your career development. To help break out of your job rut and improve your skill set, use the philosophy of zero-based budgeting. Clear the decks and take an objective look at everything you're doing. You may find that some of your job tasks could be done more efficiently, while others may not even be necessary at all! Once you have a list of tasks that seem useless or inefficient, start cutting and streamlining immediately. The change may be a little painful, but you'll finally have time to focus on your larger career development, instead of getting bogged down in details.
Think of your career as a small business (Me, Inc.) and your current job as your most recent consulting assignment. Where do you want your business to go from here? What are your 1 and 3 year goals? Are you on the right track to reach them? The current economy means that there is no guarantee your job will be around in a year, so you need to proactively work on your career development, and not count on your employer to take care of you. If you think like an entrepreneur, you can develop a new a more valuable skill set on your own.
So how do you learn new skills if your employer isn't interested in helping you develop them? Try volunteer for a project within you department that will challenge your and give you more visibility. This will help display that you're flexible and innovative to management, and (more importantly) furnish you with new skills you can use to advance your career in the future.
Build a Better Relationship With Management
Understanding your manager's style can be a great way to advance your career development. Is you manager the type of person who assumes people who are five minutes late in the morning lack ambition? Then try to get to work early. Do they worry that employees can't take care of their jobs by themselves? Make a point to check in periodically. You may think that going the extra mile to humor your boss is a waste of time, but the truth is that successful career development is typically built on two things: superior work and solid relationships. You may be improving your skill set and becoming a more valuable employee, but without good connections at the office you won't get ahead.
With this in mind, ask your manager for an informal performance review at least once a quarter. Use the time to look for tips on how you can improve, highlight your successes brainstorm a plan of action for new projects. This type of meeting will both keep your manager in the loop, and help to make them more involved in your career development. That way, you aren't just working in a vacuum.
Of course, while establishing a good working relationship with your manager is important, getting on the good side of your manager's boss won't hurt, either. This person is more likely to have a real impact on your career development, since they determine promotions, raises, transfers, etc. Get to know this person as best as you can (without looking like a kiss-up, of course), and make sure they know who deserves the credit for your ideas and reports. This way, your can focus on getting ahead with important decision makers at your company, and avoid having to develop your career by heading back out into a very uncertain job market.