Professional Development

How to invest in your career when your company doesn’t care about it

Written by Eric Titner

There’s a stark truth that many of us must face in today’s work world—when it comes to our personal career development, it isn’t uncommon these days to have to carry this weight on our own. That’s right, the days in which the companies we work for look out for all of our needs and interest, and take responsibility and a hands-on approach to our career trajectories, growth, and development, are dwindling, if not yet gone.

These days, many companies are operating with a much more “lean and mean” mindset, with stripped down budgets and less of a caretaker-trainer approach to their employees—it often seems as if just having a job is the only perk we should expect. What does this mean for us? If we’re focused on a career trajectory that includes significant growth and development, we may just be on our own.

This isn’t a hopeless position—it just means that many of us need to work harder and be more proactive when it comes to fulfilling our professional goals. Harvard Business Review recently published an article that outlines how each of us can take steps toward taking control of our career development, even if the companies we work for don’t care about it. Use the following strategies and advice to assume command of your career growth and take bold steps forward!

Chart your target career path.

In order to plan for career success and achieve your professional goals, you first need to know what they are, which will help determine what steps you’ll need to take and the skills you’ll need to acquire along the way. Try charting out the next 5 to 10 years of your career journey, starting from where you are now and finishing at where you’d ultimately like to be if the stars align and everything works out as planned. Make sure to list each promotion or assumption of new job responsibilities individually, and for each do your best to include the skills or development you’ll need under your belt.

If feasible, ask for help from a mentor or colleague to help flesh out your list. Also, be sure to use available online research tools as needed to figure things out. Once you have things mapped out, you’ll have a good idea of what you’ll need to do over the next several years to achieve your goals—whether it’s with the help of your company or on your own.

Set target milestones.

Equipped with your list from the previous step, set milestones for yourself to ensure that you stay on track. Does your list indicate a possible promotion a year from now? Take stock of the skills you’ll need to build right now in order to set yourself up to make that promotion a reality, and use the next 12 months to figure out the best way to acquire them. Do you have a plan that includes asking for greater responsibility at work? Think about what you’ll need in order to convince your boss that it’s a great idea—and plan accordingly.

Bottom line—always think ahead about the several smaller steps you’ll need to take in order to make those larger goal steps more likely to happen. Also, know that it’s key to always be flexible with adjusting your timelines to align with reality. Just because you don’t hit a target in the timeframe originally planned, that doesn’t mean all is lost—just recalibrate your goal list with an updated timeline, and keep working to hit your next milestone.

Determine your resources and needs.

Once you know what you’ll need to do in order to achieve the next step on your target list, take stock of the resources you have at your disposal, as well as your needs. Does your employer offer any options for career development? Anything from mentoring opportunities to shadowing or tuition reimbursement programs can help you develop the skills and experience needed to reach the next rung on your career ladder.

If there are tools you can leverage at work, then great—make sure to take full advantage of them. If not, that’s okay—you’ll just need to do a bit more on your own. Figure out your skill-building needs, and take an inventory of available resources outside of your work orbit. Everything from free online classes and learning tools to library resources and coursework at online or brick-and-mortar institutions in your field are fair game, and should be considered in order to help you move forward in your career journey.

Take a closer look at your networking orbit—including friends, family, and past and current colleagues, and see if you can leverage any existing relationships to your advantage. Focus on your immediate next step, do your homework, plan smartly, and take positive, productive, and proactive steps forward to travel your ideal career path.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.