It’s easy to leave career development and planning to the end of the year. Even though December is an arbitrary month for mapping out your future growth, people tend to think of career development as something you do when everything else winds down, or when the year comes to its natural conclusion, rather than an ongoing process that happens all the time. That’s a mental shift we need to make. Career development isn’t some box to be ticked – it’s the attitude you bring to your work every single day. When you embrace the concept of lifelong learning, and lifelong development, you become a more agile, well-rounded and – let’s face it – employable person.
"Where are the gaps? Where is the potential for growth? What are your blind spots? Remember, whatever you decide isn’t set in stone."
Here are five tips for developing your career mid-year.
1. Make a plan, but stay flexible
It’s hard to advance your career without knowing where you want to go. Most experts agree that five years is a good ballpark amount of time when it comes to career progression. Where do you see yourself in five years? It’s okay if this changes along the way, but you need something tangible to aim at, some goal that you can take practical steps to achieve. To do this, take stock of you current role, skills and abilities, and compare them to your Dream Job. Where are the gaps? Where is the potential for growth? What are your blind spots? Remember, whatever you decide isn’t set in stone. Stay flexible and check-in with your plan every year or so. If it’s not making you happy, or you feel that you’re actively moving away from your goal, take stock and reassess.
2. Find future-proof skills
Mid-year career planning is great because you can grab upskill opportunities that otherwise would have passed you by. Is your work embracing data science and automation? Do you need to improve your digital literacy? The good news is that learning future-proof tech skills doesn’t have to wait until January – RMIT Online, for example, has four teaching periods throughout the year, with post-graduate intakes around the end of June and September. You’re never more than three or four months away from the start of a new online shortcourse, and most units can work around your full-time job. RMIT’s own research has found that Australia will need 156,000 new digital technology workers by 2025, and already 87% of all jobs in Australia require some kind of digital literacy skills. Finding something future-proof has never been more important.
3. Network often
Networking is such a fantastic way to advance your career, and it’s something you can do throughout the year. “Career development is often a function of finding the right opportunity, and building a network of people who are willing to invest in your development,” says Forbes Council member, Jessica Antle. “Whether it’s an internal network in your current role, or an external network curated over time, it’s well worth the investment. I have yet to find a job that hasn’t leveraged networking in one way or another.” Professional networking doesn’t have to be scary, either. Start by reaching out to contacts on LinkedIn, catch-up with a senior figure from your workplace, or research some upcoming conferences and industry events. The truth is, you never know where the next big career opportunity will come from; networking is how you stack the deck and improve your odds.
4. Work on your soft skills
LinkedIn’s 2021 learning report talks about “talent as a renewable resource” – not something you’re born with or achieve at university, but something you cultivate actively over time. Building your soft skills is part of that process. Persuasion, leadership, creativity, problem solving and communication are increasingly on employers’ radar as vital skills for the success of business in the post-COVID world. And the good news is, they can be learned. Courses like Digital Leadership and Design Thinking For Innovation are specifically designed to cultivate soft skills and advance your career. Again, all you have to do here is be self-aware: what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, and what do you need to work on? If management is your goal, communication and agile methodology are probably necessary. If you want to move into UX design, creativity and curiosity will serve you well. It’s all about matching soft skills to your long-term career plan.
5. Embrace the lateral move
Career development is often seen as a linear process, but individuals who embrace the lateral move will be the big winners in a post-COVID world. Instead of picturing your career as a straight line from junior to senior, think of it more like a web of skills, aptitudes and abilities that becomes more dense and complex over time. The wider and deeper your web, the more employable you’re going to be. “If you’re a marketing operations expert, take a turn in a brand role for a year. If you’re running media relations, try a stint in internal communications,” Antle says. “The more well-rounded you are with experiences across the spectrum, the more likely you are to reach leadership roles.” This is something you can start any time. Talk to your manager about different departments, different opportunities, or look for unexpected ways to upskill. In a competitive labour market, the edge will always go to the most well-rounded candidate. Employers want to see not just depth of knowledge, but also breadth of knowledge.