Workplace Dilemmas: How to advance my career

Each month our resident agony uncle answers your pressing concerns. This time: how to progress in the corporate jungle.

“Dear Tim,

I’m afraid this request for help isn’t anywhere near as exciting as the letters you usually receive. I’m not nurturing a secret crush on a colleague, and I haven’t had a peculiar dream about a workmate. It’s not even the case that I’m suffering from a motivational crisis.

Quite the contrary, in fact: if anything, my problem is a surfeit of motivation. I’m champing at the bit to get on in my career, and I’m after guidance about how best to succeed.

I’m in my late thirties, a married mother of two, and enjoy my professional life. I’m the HR manager of a regional office supplies company, with a turnover of around £40m and a staff of about 75 people. I directly manage a team of three, and have dotted lines of report to an apprentice and two trainees.

That’s quite a lot of stimulation from a people-management point of view. And, because good HR is essential to any business, I’m involved in a number of decisions that are made at board level. I attend exec meetings, and feel like I have a say, especially when it comes to resourcing.

But I’m hungry for more. I’d like to develop my career so I can take on a more senior role, probably in a larger organisation. While I enjoy the creativity and challenge of HR, I’d like to get into a more general management role. I know it sounds really big-headed, but one day I’d see myself as a managing director or chief executive officer.

So, how do I get there? Should I take time out for further study (I have a degree in English Literature and I’m a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development)? Do I move to a new role and broaden my experience? Or do I sit tight and hope lady luck comes my way?

- An ambitious professional”

Tim says:

First things first: you shouldn’t apologise for being ambitious. One of the reasons some people don’t get on in their career is because they feel the need to be too modest – a challenge that faces women in particular.

The truth of the matter is that ambition is nothing to be ashamed of. As I’m sure you say to colleagues, if you feel you have the skills to succeed, you should own them, be confident in yourself, and show those around you why you’re fit for high office.

Of course, some people are simply arrogant, and that never yields good results. So the first thing to do is canvass the opinion of trusted colleagues, to make sure they agree with your self-assessment.

Find people whose opinion you value and ask them in confidence if they see in you what you see in yourself. If they do, then you’re probably right to be hungry for a greater challenge – your current role may not satisfy you for much longer.

The next question is how to get from here to where you want to be. Further study can be a good idea. For example, an MBA can be a very good investment, equipping you with crucial management and business planning skills while yielding a significant uplift in earning power.

MBAs don’t come cheap, mind you. You may feel that the financial and time commitment is simply too high, even with the promise of greater rewards in the long term. If so, I’d recommend looking into other forms of management qualification, such as a Masters in management, or a postgraduate certificate/diploma. Many universities offer part-time or online-only routes through such programmes, meaning you can continue to earn even as you enhance your CV.

If a return to university doesn’t inspire you, another way of developing both your skills and your personal insight is to work with a career mentor. This is a professional person who will get to know you and understand your aspirations. They will offer honest guidance and support, meaning you can trust their judgment and use them as a sounding board. Often, mentors identify particular skills in people that they didn’t even know they had. They can help you shape your career, and develop the skills and qualifications necessary to live your dreams.

Whatever you choose to do, my best advice is to talk to someone. Even if you’re dead set on leaving your current job, your senior managers will have sound advice about progression routes. Remember, they’ve been in just your position, and will be interested in helping the next generation to thrive. And if you make your ambitions clear, they may even identify new opportunities in your current role to stimulate you and advance your skills.

When you’re ready to make the move to your next role, a recruitment consultant will be able to match your qualifications and talents against appropriate appointments, putting you forward for roles where you have a good chance of succeeding. This saves you wasting time on applications that aren’t right, and gives you a further support network as you take your next steps.

So, be encouraged to pursue your professional dreams. Believe in yourself, take counsel from those you trust, and invest in your development. The rewards are there for the taking.

© 2018 Just Recruitment Group Ltd.

If you liked this article you may like to read – Do I compete against my career mentor for promotion?
You may also like to read – Stepping up: how to find your ideal next job

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