It’s commonly held wisdom to think that professional challenges can only come from spreading our wings, taking the leap, and embracing a new role at a brand new company. What could offer more opportunity for growth and learning than a completely novel environment and responsibilities?
While new employees do benefit from an educational experience and fresh challenges, it is important to understand that you can achieve similar growth from within your current company.
Importantly, internally-focused career development allows you to balance familiarity and newness as you build your professional career. Being confident in your core role might sound like complacency, but that competency can be a gift to yourself as well as your colleagues. It’s possible to use the expertise within your role and organization to take on calculated stretches aimed at sustainable growth.
Here is how you can approach your current role with an eye towards professional growth and development:
1. Maximize resources internally
Every company offers resources in some way, shape, or form to aid in the development of their employees. The goal is to identify what those resources are and how you can take advantage of them.
The first set of resources is formal: education stipends, reading material, human resources-driven training, and mentorship programs.
These offerings are often a click or an ask away. Make sure you take stock of this list internally and check back regularly for changes. Then, figure out how to use them.
The second set is a little tougher to identify and requires some digging. What might be available through your team that isn’t advertised? Could your manager support a subscription to a professional resource or publication? Does your company have the resources to send you to a conference to grow your network?
Don’t automatically assume that you won’t receive the support you ask for, particularly if you are in good standing and performing well in your current role.
2. Find a partner(s) to help you grow
Formal mentorship programs are not always offered, but are a tremendous resource in this development journey. If your company has one set up, be the first one in line. If not, you still have options.
If your company does offer a program: Find out how the program operates. Is there a formal application process for limited slots? Are you automatically assigned a mentor? What can you do to help your application stand out and to make sure you are matched with the best professional partner?
If your company does not offer a program: Every company has individuals who are looking to become mentors; they are just a bit more difficult to find in the absence of a formal program.
First, think about the type of individual you want to work with – is there a strong female leader you admire? Someone who has built their career in sales? Do you have one individual in mind or a department you want to work with?
Next, work with your manager or another leader to help make introductions to set up that first meeting. Usually that first time together is a chance to get to know each other and lay the groundwork for the partnership.
Finally, without formal rules laid out by the organization, take some time to define the rules of the road. Is this a bi-weekly, 6-month commitment? Is there pre-work on your end? Are you working towards a defined outcome? Knowing the answers to these questions will ensure both parties can use the time effectively and work towards the same goal.
Importantly, in both scenarios, come prepared to build the relationship. Know the topics you want to cover, the questions you want to dive into, and have an idea of how your mentor can help you on your journey.
3. Mix it up with other parts of the organization
We know that new roles offer fresh perspectives for us to learn from. Without having to change your current role, you can also learn from those around you to develop new perspectives.
If you are an introvert, and I’ve alarmed you with the thought of internal networking – it’s going to be ok. Internal network building and learning takes many forms, and you should explore what is comfortable for you.
I have one longtime colleague who finds every opportunity to sit with a new coworker, pick their brains about their role, and learn how they contribute to the company.
Personally, I focus on reaching out through projects to get to know someone’s role and add value in bite-sized chunks. For example, if someone from product marketing asked for feedback on a deck, I would take the extra five minutes to offer thoughtful suggestions and perhaps a follow-up conversation.
Why the focus on internal relationships?
- Cross-functional partners give us exposure to different roles as we consider career pathing options
- Internal peers who are also in growth mode can be partners in the development journey by sharing resources and learnings
- As you move up internally, these same peers do as well. Being able to collaborate on projects of increasing importance, while also having the perspective of cross-functional peers, provides a rich experience
4. Say yes, but discerningly
When working to build our careers and learn internally, there can be a temptation to say yes to any and all asks. After all, isn’t everything a learning opportunity? And won’t my boss provide me with more projects, the more I take on?
The challenge becomes when we overburden ourselves and the additional projects detract us from our core responsibilities – the part of our job that should be providing the most growth. In evaluating asks from peers, managers, and cross-functional partners, consider:
- Relevance: Is this a task that is related to my current role or my career ambitions? Will I be able to effectively get it done in the time provided?
- Bandwidth: Taking on proactive additional work that impedes your core work or prevents you from taking on more valuable opportunities is a net negative outcome. Be mindful of how much you have on your plate.
- Opportunity: Does this ask align with a chance to work with someone new you are building a connection with? Does the project align with your growth goals? Are you building a worthy skill? Think about how the added work might fit in with your future path.
5. Ask about the projects you’re interested in
Make sure you are vocal about the projects and topics of interest to you.
For instance, if you have a passion for marketing in a non-marketing role, make it known that you would like to contribute to that team’s efforts. Your manager should know about this interest, the marketing team should know, and in a supportive organization, you will be given the opportunities to explore that interest.
The perfect opportunity to work on a project of interest will more than likely not fall in your lap. Be proactive in seeking out these opportunities from around the company.
To get started here, first think about the skills you are looking to build, your future career goals, and/or your areas of passion you want to explore. A good leader will engage with you on this discussion and create the necessary opportunities.
6. Take risks in a safer environment
Finally, and this is the main advantage to an internally-driven professional development journey: it offers the chance to stretch your role and take risks in an environment of competency and familiarity.
At a new company, you are learning the product, the culture, the work norms, and getting to know your peers, and all of that uncertainty may make it more difficult to take risks in your role. The focus, after all, is on executing the core responsibilities as you ramp up.
At your current company, depending on your tenure, you have some degree of knowledge of all of the above factors. Use that to your advantage. Iterate on something you already do well. Take a current hurdle in your processes and see if you can find a way for the organization to tackle it. Contribute to a new project outside your comfort zone.
These small innovations are relatively low risk, and they can lead to big opportunities in the form of new learning or impact to your company. Stack these small growth opportunities on top of each other and you can build some serious professional development over time.
Of course, all of this depends on being at the right company for you and having the support of leadership and peers around you. If you are fortunate enough to be in an environment with room to take risks, grow your network, and learn at your own stretched pace, I encourage you to recognize that value and lean into it. These circumstances can be difficult to recreate.
Further, if you are one of those employees sticking around amidst the “great talent re-shuffle,” your value to your peers and the company increases well beyond your core contributions. Your domain knowledge, your willingness to push yourself and others to learn and grow, and your commitment to your role all have a positive impact on those around you.
Our goal is to create the best possible environment and experience for our employees: we call it an intentional culture and we’re especially proud to be honored by Built In’s 2022 Best Places to Work Awards. Quantcast earned a place on multiple lists, including Best Large Companies to Work For, Best Paying Companies, and Best Places to Work, receiving recognition both nationally and for its offices in San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle. To find out what it’s like to work at Quantcast, click here. If you’re interested in joining our team, we’re hiring!