One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was by one of my early managers who told me to take charge of my own career. She told me that it was my job to "figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up" and then do it.
Now lots of us still think it's our manager's or our employer's job to make sure we make the most of our knowledge, skills and experience, develop new skills and move up the career ladder.
But now more than ever, with the economic uncertainty we face, with regular layoffs and downsizing, and rapid pace of change, each of us needs to manage our own career and development.
Below you will find some things you can and should do.
Figure Out What You're Good At and Love To Do
Just because you're good at something doesn't mean it gives you joy. And just because you trained in a particular field in college doesn't mean you have to stick with that your whole life.
Regularly take time to think about your work. Identify the things you do that give you joy and find ways to strengthen or perfect your abilities in those areas. Then try to maximize them in your current job, or find a new job that will let you do that. If neither option works for you right now, look for a volunteer assignment or leisure activity that lets you practice and hone those skills.
Take Advantage of the Development Opportunities You Employer Offers
Most employers support their employees with some form of training each year. They'll pay for you to take a course or attend a conference. Yet a lot of employees never take advantage of this opportunity. If your employer's willing to pay for training, make the most of it.
You can also do a lot of learning on the job. Offer to help your manager or fill in for someone in a related role or a role you're interested in. You'll get training on specific tasks that help you expand your knowledge, skills and abilities. You'll also get to try on a role and see if you like it and are suited to it.
While most of us dread taking on projects or tasks we have no experience with, afraid that we'll fail, they're also a tremendous learning opportunity. Don't be afraid of stretch goals. Make sure you get some support when tackling them, to ensure your success.
Pay Attention to the Feedback You Get
One of the best career development opportunities at your disposal is the feedback you get from your managers and others. In your annual performance review, instead of getting defensive when you're told about an area where you could improve your performance, see it as an opportunity to learn and advance your career.
Learn About Other Careers
If you want to move up or laterally into another role, learn about the requirements for that role. Check your company's job descriptions or job postings for details on the education, experience, knowledge and skills required, then set about acquiring them. You can also peruse external job boards for that information.
Talk to Your Manager
Last but not least, talk to your manager about your career aspirations. While it's not their job to make sure you progress, they can certainly help you, with coaching, feedback, development, work assignments and maybe even a little networking and promotion.
You've Got the Power
Your career is what you make of it. Take charge of your own development and progression. It will help make sure you make the most of your knowledge, skills and experience and follow your passion.
Melany Gallant is a seasoned PR and communications professional who's managed to steer her career to follow her two passions: writing and social media. She currently manages PR and social media for talent management software industry leader Halogen Software.