It's Time to Focus on Your Career Future

09/08/2015 09:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

2015-09-06-1441562191-509227-businesswoman1glasses.jpg

Summer vacations have ended and the kids are back in school so it's a great time to prioritize your professional journey. According to a global LikedIn study, September is one of the best months of the year to get promoted.

"Now is a great time to check your career plan, and make sure that you are getting all of the opportunities that you deserve," says Nigel Dessau, author of Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack. "If you're not getting promoted, there are three basic questions you should be asking yourself: is it my company? Is it my role? Is it me?"

Expand Your Network and Focus Your Approach
Earning a promotion can be short-term with an incremental raise in salary, rank and responsibility. You should also think long-term about your overall career trajectory and where you really want to be in a few years time.

According to Dessau, the next promotion is just a stepping-stone to your end goal. Each new job should give you a chance to add to your skill set, build your network and expand your leadership skills as well as your approach. If the next job does not offer that, don't take it and wait for the best-fit opportunity to meet your end goal.

Be sure to analyze where your professional gaps are and seek out tasks and experiences that will bridge those career voids.

Upward Mobility and Your Network
You should build meaningful professional relationships and not just networks. Dessau urges you to expand your knowledge about the world you work in. That is hard to do if the only input you are getting is from those with whom you already work. Diversity of thinking is essential and sometimes leaving your current workplace to experience something new and different can be a wise move towards your professional end goal.

Dessau astutely recognizes that as you move up in any organization, or to a more senior role in another company, the power of your external network increasingly influences your success rate. If you aspire to land a senior leadership role today, you must know key industry players and have a strong external network that you bring as a value-add to the organization. You must be considered an influencer in your industry and being recognized as a thought leader in your field beyond the walls of your company is essential.

The Dead End Promotional Road
If you hit the promotional ceiling in your company, the lack of upward mobility may reflect the size of the organization, the nature of the workload or even the type of customers in the market, says Dessau. Don't assume that the powers that be think you are not deserving of a growth opportunity. It may be factors that go deeper than your performance and you need to know when to move on. "If you make yourself irreplaceable in a key role, you may just find that they won't replace you!" - says Dessau.

Ask for It!
Your boss is not a mind reader so if you have not articulated that you would be interested in moving to the next level he may never consider you for growth. Remember, your boss is busy doing his job and however supportive he may be - chances are he is not acting as your career development coach. Don't fall into the trap of people who don't ask but expect it. As Dessau shares in Become a 21st Century Executive - good things do not always come to those who wait. Even if you think you deserve it, have you established the subject matter expertise, the leadership approach and network you need for the next step?

Don't Limit Your Career
Take the time to consider where you want to go career wise and develop an action plan to get there. It's time to set your career GPS but you need a solid idea of the end destination so you can create a strategy map to get there. Always consider how you can build resources and skills that will empower you to succeed at the next level.

Dessau cautions, "If you jump to the next level too quickly you will not be prepared or able to succeed. If you stay too long at a level, when you have got all that you can from it, then you are just wasting time and energy. You need to reach your goals and move on up."

The bottom line is that you have a lot of control over your career - perhaps more than you are using. Know where you want to go and if you can't get there from where you are now, then it's time to change something. You can always alter your course and move in a different direction. But don't get stuck in a rut of immobility that zaps your drive and pulls you from the radar of those looking to recruit you.

You'll Never Be Perfectly Suited for a New Role
I see far too many professionals waiting until they think they are perfectly qualified for advancement to even express interest in a promotional opportunity. The perfect candidate doesn't exist so harness your professional chutzpah and be willing to put yourself out there to be considered even if you think you don't have all the qualifications right now. Showing you are interested in a promotion sends a signal to your boss and that's an essential starting point. Lead with your confidence and know that learning on the job is expected for anyone in a new role - even at a senior level. Your potential is an important part of your candidacy as well as your existing skill set.

Be proactive in your career advancement and hold yourself accountable for moving forward. Tis the season - get promoted!

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post, AOL Jobs, CNN Money, the British online magazine - The Rouse and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show called: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life - on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.