Advance Your Career – Six Free Resources

You know you need to grow and develop to be able to advance your career, but you don’t have the money for an MBA or other training.  Don’t worry!  Chances are, there are several free resources to help you, right within your own company.  Here are six of them that can help you advance your career.

  1. Performance Appraisals.  Most managers and employees dread them. And few see them as a career builder. But your performance appraisals are excellent tools you can use to identify strengths to build on and areas where you need to focus development efforts.  They can also give you clues about what is most important to your manager, department and company.

    It’s tempting to view the performance appraisal meeting as the place where you need to defend your performance in order to get the best rating.  But, you can actually gain from your review if you listen carefully to what your manager has to say and engage in an honest, open discussion, seeking guidance on how to improve your performance and advance your career in the company.

    Many performance reviews contain a career development component where you and your manager discuss your career aspirationsand what you need to do to move toward them. Even if your company doesn’t include this component, you can bring up the subject yourself either during your review meeting or by asking for a separate meeting. When your manager is aware of your career goals they can help you identify the skills and experience you need and the assignments or development programs that will help you progress.

    But, what if your company doesn’t have an appraisal program or your manager isn’t skilled at providing useful performance feedback?  Not to worry – simply invite feedback on an ongoing basis by asking specific questions about your performance on various tasks and projects.  Ask your manager what you did well and what you could have done better. Keep asking questions until you get the level of detail that will help you improve your performance. Ask your manager’s advice on your career goals and what skills and experience they think you may need to advance your career. Most likely they’ll be flattered to be asked and eager to help.

  2. Multi-Source Feedback / 360o Review. Many companies use 360o reviews as part of the performance review or as a separate career development tool.  This survey, which gets feedback on your performance from colleagues who work with you, is extremely useful since you can get a broader view than from your manager alone. Even without a formal 360 degree review, it’s useful to invite multi-source feedback on your performance from those with whom you work.  A good time to do this is immediately after the completion of a task or project when you can discuss what went well and what could have been done better.  Ask specific questions to help feedback providers give you useful information and resist the temptation to become defensive.  Even negative feedback can be useful if you consider it carefully and use it as a springboard to get development help and improve your performance.
  3. Mentoring Programs. Some companies have formal mentoring programs where employees are matched with someone more senior in a role along the employee’s career path.  If this is available to you, it can be a very valuable item in your career advancement toolkit. You can learn from the experiences of someone who’s been where you are and is now in the place you aspire to be.  Because the mentor is usually outside of your reporting relationships, he can be a non-threatening sounding board for ideas and questions. And your mentor is likely to provide access to a network of more senior people who can also become resources for you as you advance your career. If your company doesn’t have a formal program, don’t let this stop you from finding a mentor.  Look for a friendly person who is in a position where you would someday like to be and ask him/her to be your mentor. Most senior people consider the development of the next generation to be one of their primary responsibilities and will be happy to help.

  4. Job Descriptions. Most likely, your company has a library of job descriptions that include the knowledge, skills and experience required for each job.  Use them as reference materials to help you identify where to focus your development in order to be qualified for subsequent positions along your career path. If your company has developed a competency model, this will describe the various levels of skills that will be expected for each progressive step in the job group, and will help you understand where you currently fit in and what you’ll need to do to progress.  When you feel you’re ready for a promotion, job descriptions and competency models can become tools to validate your request for consideration for a specific role.  Keep an eye on the internal job postings within your company and even external postings for competitors, both of which are useful sources of job descriptions.
  5. Training Programs. Be on the lookout for internal or external development programs that will help you build the skills you need for your current position as well as your future goals.  Many companies have funds set aside for employee development that you can tap into, especially if you can justify how the program will enhance your value in your current role as well as in the future.  Prepare to make the case when asking for a development program and when you return, submit a short summary of what you learned so your manager will see how your new skills will contribute to departmental goals.  Make time after the training program to practice your new skills and apply them to your daily work to get the maximum benefit from the training.

  6. Stretch Assignments. On-the-job learning is most powerful when you take on assignments that are just a little beyond your current capacities.  This forces you to look for ways to improve your performance in order to succeed.  Look for opportunities to volunteer for stretch assignments, especially those that will give you the opportunity to learn new and useful skills. Stretch assignments can be part of your current job, extra projects or temporary reassignments to another area.  Look for opportunities to contribute to an initiative that’s important to the company to raise the visibility of your work.  Some companies have developmental programs where participants can exchange roles for a time.  Before, during and after your stretch assignment, be intentional about documenting and using your new skills and knowledge.

Your company has a number of tools and resources available now to help you improve your performance, increase your skills, and add to your experience to prepare for career advancement. It only takes a bit of effort to seek them out and take full advantage of them.  Best wishes to you as you advance in your career.

Your comments: How will you use these free resources to help advance your career? share your comments below

Guest Author: Sean Conrad writes about career development and talent management for the Halogen Software blog. He’s a senior product analyst who helps customers successfully implement their talent management programs.

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