THE BLOG
02/20/2014 12:45 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2014

Who Are You Putting In Charge of Your Career?

I am a firm believer in shaping your own destiny. Had I not taken charge of my own career years ago, I know I would not be in the role I am in today. Back then, my managers seemed to see only some of my capabilities. As a result, I was rarely exposed to development opportunities, despite my requests and desire to be challenged and with an eye towards moving forward. After waiting for a guiding hand for a while, I took matters into my own hands and have been following that approach ever since. Of course, things can happen more quickly when you have a manager who recognizes your talents and helps you grow your career. It's paramount for you to have a realistic sense for your strengths, your weaknesses and where you want your career to go. But sometimes, you may need to make a decision to take your experience where it will be more appreciated (which I did). There's nothing wrong with that -- people outgrow a job or even a company. Here are some ways to help you take control of your career:

  1. Know your strengths and figure out how to utilize them on a daily basis. There are a variety of assessments out there, a personal favorite is StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.
  2. Find a mentor. Ideally, someone in the field you are interested in that you can learn from having meaningful conversations or observation. If you admire someone, don't be shy and ask that person: Would you be open to helping me in my professional development? Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and often times the relationships form organically.
  3. Find opportunities to develop the skills you are looking to acquire. Take a class, read a book, ask people in the role you want how they got there and what you can do, volunteer your time to gain those skills. Maybe your current employer even offers financial support for taking professional development classes? For example, when I wanted to move into management, I found volunteer opportunities that allowed me to work on those skills via non-profit board work.
  4. Buddy up with someone. When I wanted to learn HR, I asked other HR professionals to share their stories and experiences with me as case studies. This allowed me to practice my responses and show them how I would handle the situation. This way, I was able to receive feedback in a safe environment.
  5. Look for opportunities: When I wanted to take the next step with an HR job, I was able to prove my HR-readiness by asking if I could handle colleague's accounts while she was on leave permissible under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This way, I could prove to other team members during a short trial-period that I could handle the work.
  6. Create a personal business plan. I have done this for the past two years. It has my mission and vision, my goals, my strengths and opportunities. It also spells out clear goals on my roadmap for closing any gaps in my experience.
  7. Be flexible. It is great to have goals, but 'life happens.' You may be required to adjust your grand plan. Don't let this discourage you. Stay focused on your overall objectives, seize the opportunity life offers you and incorporate it into your plan.

With a supportive organization and a manager who understands how to grow your talent, this process will be easy. But even without it you can further your career and find the right opportunities to shape your professional future and make the most of it.