5 Habits to Move Your Career Forward

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Moving your career forward can mean climbing upward, but it's actually a much broader concept. Career progression involves seeking stability, new challenges, greater satisfaction, more responsibility, or pivoting sideways. 

No matter what it means to you, here are five habits to help you determine and achieve your objectives:  

1. Actively Manage Your Career 

Take initiative instead of relying on your organization to determine your career trajectory — it’ll help you make a more significant impact, and you’ll feel empowered. Managing your career involves staying aware of your organization's priorities and the latest trends in your industry, and adapting accordingly. It involves assessing what you want from your career and knowing what you have to offer. Progression doesn't come naturally; it requires a commitment to continuous learning and professional development. 

2. Evaluate Your Skillset for Strengths and Gaps  

Moving your career forward has a great deal to do with your overall skillset. Hard skills include specific knowledge and abilities required to perform a particular task — financial planning, for example. Soft skills are personality and human traits, such as interpersonal skills. You need to determine which of the hundreds or thousands of skills are essential to your current job, career objectives, and job targets — this will help you recognize your strengths, identify gaps, and figure out the skills needed to progress in your career.   

3. Explore and Research

Create a vision for growth and success. Look inward to increase self-awareness and understand what will provide career satisfaction and a well-aligned job fit. This involves evaluating your skillset and considering your interests and values. In short: interests inspire, skills pay the bills, and values motivate. The intersection of these three factors will highlight your best options and help you set realistic career goals. Explore outward to gain awareness of opportunities within your company, industry, and the overall job market. 

Researching potential areas for development and job targets involves digging deeper into opportunities that seem appealing. You’ll learn more about the duties of specific positions, the pros and cons, and the required skills, experience, education, and other credentials. This information will help you decide whether a specific career goal is right for you based on your self-assessment of your interests, skills, and values. Plus, you’ll learn the skills necessary to satisfy job requirements. 

4. Set Specific and Actionable Goals

Once you have a clearer picture of how you want your career to progress, it's time to set SMART goals — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Other helpful tips for setting and reaching goals include:

  • Writing them down
  • Visualizing the endgame
  • Sharing them with others to hold yourself accountable
  • Starting small and charting your progress to stay motivated

5. Follow Through and Take Action 

Pursuing your career objectives demonstrates to your employer that you’re accountable, able to get things done, and have the drive and abilities to succeed. Here are some ways to take action and develop new skills: 

  • Formal education, such as earning college credit via courses, certificate programs, or degrees  
  • Micro-credentials or badges offered through various educational institutions to help you demonstrate skill proficiency
  • Informal education, which includes non-credit programs, continuing education, courses on learning platforms such as Coursera and edX, and self-study by reading books
  • Internal learning through your organization — you may have access to online, on-demand courses via Learning Management Systems (LMS) on various subjects
  • On-the-job training such as shadowing or collaborating with other employees to learn a new skill or technology while performing your regular job
  • Resources and courses offered through professional organizations to help members develop knowledge and skills to grow in their careers 
  • Volunteering, which provides the opportunity to gain skills you might not achieve in your current job while also helping an organization in need  
  • Mentorship, whether you’re the mentor or the mentee, can play a critical role in your skill improvement or development 
  • Practical experience — actual usage of a skill — is important for many jobs; getting involved in a relevant project can help you utilize needed skills  
Moving your career forward requires a proactive approach to career management involving ongoing self-assessment, staying abreast of industry trends, goal setting, continuous learning, and skill development. It takes time, effort, and commitment, but it’ll help you reap the rewards.


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About the Author
Barbara Van Dyk
Senior Advising Specialist
Barbara is a certified counselor through the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWPD) and a graduate of New York University with a Master's degree in Counseling & Guidance. Additionally, Barbara has a B.S. in Business Administration and has completed several career and education-related certificate programs including Prior Learning Assessment through the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL), Career Counseling from Indiana University, and Career Planning from New York University. Barbara has practiced as a corporate career and education counselor for the past 25 years focusing on career management topics such as professional development, re-skilling, upskilling, transitions, and outplacement all toward the goal of enhancing mobility in today's competitive workplace. Additional topics include essential career tools such as resumes, LinkedIn profiles, networking, and assisting corporate employees identify appropriate education and training options. At the urging of a major client, Barbara joined Bright Horizons in January of 2017 after 20 years as a contractor for CAEL utilizing her expertise in career and education coaching for corporate and union employees. Barbara collaborates with the client to anticipate and understand employee needs and responds by developing a range of relevant and topical workshops, webinars, and blogs, as well as individual advising sessions – in person and online.
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