Careers are long. Your goals grow and change with you. Sometimes you find yourself in a rut, questioning whether your job or even career is right for you in the long term.
"Employees have a greater level of expectations than ever before," said Sean O'Brien, chief administrative officer of PGi, a provider of collaboration software and services. "People want career opportunities [and] better work-life balance. They're keenly interested in doing their jobs, enhancing their corporate goals and personal [goals] as well."
If you already have big career aspirations, you're not alone. A survey by PGi found that the top career goal of 22.6 percent of U.S. workers is to earn a raise or promotion in the next 12 months. Other job-related ambitions included establishing a better work-life balance (18.2 percent), becoming more organized (16.7 percent) and pursuing continuing education (12.1 percent).
Jack Hill, director of talent-acquisition solutions at human-capital-management software company PeopleFluent, said that self-directed career development is, in itself, a big goal for workers. People are looking inward and asking themselves, "How do I make myself better, make myself more available for positions, promotions, etc.?" he said. [See Related Story: Destination Dream Job: Creating a Career Roadmap]
"The onus is on the employee to drive ... their own learning to develop skill sets and competencies," Hill told Business News Daily. "The advantage of this is that you don't have to wait for cyclical performance evaluations where career development is led by the manager or HR. [You can] take control of your career."
Regardless of whether you want to make a big career change or just want to learn a new skill that will help you advance in your current job, whether your direct boss is willing to help or not, there are concrete steps you can take to get out of a professional rut.
1. Be proactive
As Hill noted, the key to progress in your career is taking control of it yourself. If your boss or human resources manager discusses advancement opportunities only at annual performance reviews, make a point to meet with him or her to talk through your potential career path. Hill said that HR should be able to provide information to potential and current employees about past career paths for others who have had the same or similar roles, and what that person must do to move up the ladder.
Gabriel Bristol, president and CEO of customer service solutions company Intelicare Direct, said it's very important to be aware of what's going on around you as well. Is there a job promotion you could apply for? Has your boss been dropping hints of expanding the team? Research the steps you should be taking to accomplish your career goals; you don't want to miss an opportunity that's right under your nose.
2. Go the extra mile
If you want to advance your career, you need to demonstrate that you're truly engaged in your current position. It's especially important to volunteer to go above and beyond your job description, said Brenda Reynolds, founder of BKR Consulting, an organizational consulting firm.
"Step up to do more, especially if it involves working beyond your own silo and working with others at varying levels and parts of the organization," Reynolds said.
This can include leading annual fundraisers, helping with charity events and joining the teams within your organization that plan employee or customer appreciation events, said career coach and professional resume writer Debra Ann Mathews. These events help you build capital within your company and allow you to meet a cross section of employees, she said.
Mathews also suggested obtaining certifications and joining professional organizations within your field, regardless of your position.
"If you are a warehouse worker or production team lead, get an advanced certification in OSHA. If you are a human resource professional, join the Society for Human Resource Management," said Mathews. "Joining professional associations will help you to meet colleagues, learn about the latest developments and stay abreast of industry hiring trends."
3. Use technology to help you
According to the PGi survey, workers believe their career advancement will be driven by better business technologies, including tablets, project-management tools and productivity apps.
"Employees want technologies to help them be more efficient and productive," O'Brien said. "[They want] to do more with less and work smarter, not harder."
While your employer may be responsible for some of the bigger IT demands, like collaboration software, you can do your own research into tools that will help you get your job done better. For instance, you can download productivity and in-box-management apps to your mobile devices to keep you organized and ready to tackle your biggest work challenges.
You can also use technology to help cement your presence in your field or profession. Beyond creating an active LinkedIn profile and current online resume, establish yourself as an expert in your field by blogging about your professional interests, Mathews said.
"You want your company to know that you are a subject-matter expert and [that you] go above your expected duties to help your company grow," she said.
4. Be confident and commit to your goals
A lack of confidence is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving both personal and professional goals. Bristol noted that workers need to believe in their own abilities, effectively capitalize on their strengths and address their weaknesses when planning their paths to success. Then, when you know what you want out of your career, commit to doing whatever it takes to get there, even if it involves some risk.
"Most of us are afraid to take a risk because we might fail, but if we never take that leap to capture the career of our dreams, we won't ever get there," Bristol said. "Know what you want, and don't worry about failing. If failure is in your head, you won't be fully committed to chasing your dreams."
Above all else, you need the ability to uplift those around you while creating a space for yourself within an organization.
"Dare to be more than a standout in your area of expertise, but [rather] a professional who combines that ability with the ability to engage and inspire others," Reynolds said. "Keen people skills and the often under-rated value of emotional intelligence – these are what make success inevitable. Be the type of professional others want to follow."
5. Guiding employees
On the flipside, if you're a manager and are interested in making a difference for an employee you see in a rut, they should immediately engage the employee and make it an open conversation. Sometimes the right guidance can make a difference for a good employee.
"Ask them their concerns, find out what they wanted to do for a living when they were younger, identify where their interest lie and see if there's a need for such a position within your organization," said Allen Shayanfekr, CEO of Sharestates.
Assisting your employee will only strengthen their loyalty to the company.
"Employees are human beings with goals, aspirations and dreams. If you can help someone achieve those dreams and enjoy their livelihood, then you're not only building a better team but long-term loyalty," Shayanfekr said.
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl.