Employers often highlight their career development programs as a way to boost their recruitment and retention efforts. That’s because so many job candidates and employees place a premium on companies that devote time, money and resources to helping employees learn and grow.
But are you taking full advantage of your company’s training options? Or, if you’re a student or recent graduate, are you factoring in development opportunities when evaluating prospective employers?
You should be.
Today, career development programs go beyond classroom instruction to include a wide range of activities, including individual coaching, mentoring, job shadowing and more.
Here’s helpful information on ways you can use a company’s career development program to your advantage:
Look for companies that value career development
If you’re searching for a new role, be sure the companies you are considering have career development programs for their employees. While salary and benefits are key concerns, it’s also important to factor in an employer’s commitment to investing in your career growth.
Focus on your individual development plan
At many firms, managers discuss long-term career goals at least once a year with their direct reports. These annual or semiannual reviews can seem like a chore, but they help significantly with career development — when you’re proactive and approach them with the right attitude.
In other words, don’t view your individual goals as a mere checklist you have to get through during the year. Rather, work with your boss to set meaningful objectives that will boost your performance and help you grow toward the position you hope to one day land. For example, if you aspire to become a manager, ask if you can include “leading a project team” in your goals, along with your productivity and efficiency objectives.
Also, don’t wait for your annual review to assess how you’re doing. Stay in close contact with your manager about your career development plan. Ask to meet at least once a quarter to discuss your progress and to explore new initiatives that might help you reach your objectives.
Use career development programs to find a mentor
Education can take many forms. Lots of career development programs include a mentorship component. Mentoring allows you to learn from someone who has already mastered a particular skill. In addition to enhancing your soft skills or technical abilities, a mentor can also help you learn key insights about the business. If you’re lucky, your company already has a formal mentorship program, in which they train mentors and match them with interested employees. But even if that’s not the case, you can create informal mentoring relationships.
First, explain to your manager that you’re looking for a mentor who can help guide your professional development, and ask if there’s anyone in the management ranks who might be interested.
Another option is to set up a “mentoring partnership” with another employee in your department. Maybe you’re an expert in a certain software program, and a coworker is a specialist in a different program. Pair up with that person and school each other in your respective areas of expertise.
Seek job-shadowing and volunteer opportunities
If you’re considering a few different career paths in your company, request to spend time with senior employees in each of those positions. Job shadowing is an aspect of many career development programs that allows you to see first-hand what a role is like and what skills are necessary to do the job. With that knowledge, you can work on developing those skills — or you might decide that the career path is not for you.
In addition, keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities at work that allow you to hone new skills. For instance, if you want to work on your organizational skills, consider stepping up for an event-planning group. All it takes is a willingness to learn and a little assertiveness to move your career along the right path.