It’s the Season for Change: Stepping Up Your Game

section-757554_1280It’s hard to believe that there are only a few weeks left before we reach the official end of Summer and the days start to become cooler out here on the East Coast.  While I enjoy the relaxing and lazy days of summertime, there is something about this season that makes me want to try new things, to step up my game and gain new skills. I don’t know if it is because things slow down a bit and my brain has a chance to recharge or if the carefree attitude of Summer makes me more daring and more of a risk taker. Whatever the reason, I have noticed that I am not alone. At some point, I believe we are all ready for a season change at some point within our lives. Whether that it’s personal or professional.  I have also noticed that there appears to be a wave of change within organizations and businesses around this time. Have you ever paid attention to how many job openings surface around this time of the year? Really good jobs I might add. People are moving on, moving up and moving around. So are you ready for a change? Feeling the itch and ready for something new and different? Maybe you are ready to transition to a higher position or a position that will challenge you more than your current job. Well, let’s see how we can make that happen for you.

My first job after graduate school was as a Program Associate at a non-profit organization and I remained in that position for a few years. I never really had a clear plan of how, when or if I wanted to be promoted to more senior level positions but if it happened, I welcomed the exciting change. However, as I became comfortable in my skin as a professional, I wanted to pursue more challenging positions. So, I adopted a few strategies over the years that helped me become more intentional about my goals and I want to share them with you. None of them are particularly groundbreaking, but they may be strategies that are new or that you have overlooked in the past because they did not work for you at that time. I truly hope they are as helpful to you as they were and still are for me.

Develop a personal strategic plan. Every business, profit or not-for-profit, needs to know where it is headed 3-5 years into the future and so do you! It’s time to develop your own strategic plan. Just like in business, this will be your guide to keep you on track with your professional goals and objectives for the next few years. Take time to think about what you want, things you would like to accomplish, skills you would like to gain, etc. Create goals and objectives based on these desired outcomes. Also, be honest with yourself and realistic about your time line. If you want to become a Director, but you are a Program Associate; understand that may take a few years to achieve. Outline the steps you need to take to achieve that goal, as well as your other goals. A strategic plan will help you stay focused and diligent about what you want to achieve.

Take advantage of career development opportunities. Depending on your field or area of expertise, there are many conferences and trainings that are available to help you improve your skills or learn new ones. If you are in a field like Social work, public health, nursing or education; you can obtain Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) that are designed to address your specific professional development needs. Often these types of professional development activities can be costly. It never hurts to ask if they have a reduced rate for professionals making a certain salary, work for non-profit organizations, or are emerging professionals. Online webinars and trainings are also a great option and are sometimes no-cost or less costly than in-person trainings. You should also ask your current place of employment if there is funding for professional development for employees. Any good employer will want to improve the skills of their staff and will support your request if funding is available, as well as allow you time off of work to attend activities.

Identify a seasoned mentor in your field or area of expertise. Reach out to a colleague that you have been wanting to get to know. Ask them for strategies that will help you get into the next position that you desire. Not only are you receiving guidance from someone who is more seasoned than you but you are also building relationships. I have said it over and over, building relationships, regardless of your field, is critical for professional growth and development. Knowing how to sustain them is even more important. (But that’s for another blog post). Ask your mentor to introduce you to other individuals in the field, as well as invite you to events when possible. Expanding your network has several short and long term benefits as you transition throughout your career. I have been grateful to utilize individuals in my network when I needed a keynote speaker, graphic designer, writer, workshop reviewer or a financial contributor for my

Hire a professional coach. If you are at a crossroads in your career or not sure how you want to proceed, you may want to consider reaching out to someone who can spend one-on-one time with you. Professional coaches are awesome at helping you determine what you want out of your professional life and what you need to do to get there. They often offer complimentary consultations to determine if coaching is for you or they offer packages for a certain number of sessions. I have also been to many conferences that offer complimentary coaching sessions as part of their registration fee or a one-hour session with a professional coach for a nominal fee. This is an option definitely worth checking out. Don’t know where to start? Check out the International Coach Federation.

Be open to constructive criticism. One of the hardest things for many people is to hear and acknowledge constructive criticism about themselves, their work, or their skills. However, if it is truly constructive, then you can only benefit from the information. The purpose of constructive criticism is not to tell you what a horrible manager you are or how awful you are a team building but rather to inform you of areas where you can improve and grow.   Here is a nice article on giving and receiving constructive criticism.

Make your performance reviews work for you. Whether it is a mid-year and/or annual review, these conversations should be designed to provide you with a comprehensive overview of your performance and progress. They should be helpful to you, pointing out your strengths and weaknesses; as well as job expectations. The review is also a time for you to ask questions. Ask  about how you can improve on a skill or behavior or if there are opportunities for professional development,   If you are interested in another position or role within your place of employment, express this to your supervisor and ask about the skills needed for that position, and how you can make yourself a viable candidate.

Now that you have a plan of action you are all set for taking on your next professional challenge or promotion. Not that you need it, because you’ve got this, but best of luck!!