How to Effectively Manage Your Own Career

November 14, 2018

What does “managing your own career” mean? It means taking ownership of your career by identifying specific goals, and then building a development plan to create a blueprint for meeting those goals.

Here at the St. Louis Fed, we put a priority on professional growth and development. Employees are encouraged to seek out opportunities across the Bank that further their career journey, and leaders support that. Still, no matter where you work, each of us as individuals is ultimately in charge of managing our own career.

So, what steps can we take to do that? Here are eight ways to make meaningful progress toward effectively managing your career.

1. Develop a long-term career aspirations plan.

Although we can’t control or predict future life events, circumstances or work environments, it’s still important to have a career development plan in place.

Don’t develop your plan based on how much money you can make. Instead, develop your career goals while thinking about job satisfaction to determine what will give you a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Explore your strengths, needs, interests and aspirations to drive your plan.

2. Break it up with short-term action items.

After you determine your long-term goal, begin breaking up that goal into short-term action items. As you plan these, identify potential developmental opportunities, such as:

  • skill-building classes
  • externally provided professional development programs
  • on-the-job training
  • trusted guidance, such as from a mentor or advisor

As you seek career and development feedback, view it as a gift and apply the necessary changes. Identify your true skills and talents and work on short-term action items to help you reach your long-term goal. Each time you reach a milestone in your items, celebrate yourself. You are well on your path to reaching your long-term goal.

(If you’re a manager, provide concrete performance and development feedback to your employees and demonstrate an eagerness to provide assistance in career management.)

3. Don’t shy away from opportunities—regardless of discomfort.

You may occasionally find yourself in a position of having to decide whether to volunteer for a tough assignment or take a new job within or outside of your department. While these situations have risks, you determine which risks you want to take to reach your career goals. Be open-minded and consider taking risks because “playing it safe” might make it harder for you to achieve your career aspirations.

Show that you are capable of handling increased responsibility. Look the part—pay attention to the people in the position you are seeking. How do they dress and carry themselves? Watch those who are successful at what you aspire to be/do and make appropriate changes.

4. Use tools and resources provided by your company.

Seek out people and areas, specifically people in HR, whose goal it is to be a valuable resource to and for you.

  • Talk to the talent acquisition team about interviewing techniques and to gain some practice.
  • Ask the recruiters if they’d be willing to review and critique your resume.
  • Talk to people who work in compensation to gain an understanding of the minimum experience and skills requirements of certain positions.
  • Meet with the folks in the benefits area to learn about what sponsored resources may be available, like tuition reimbursement and/or professional certification reimbursement. Ask them about other perks that may help you reach your career goals.
  • Definitely get to know the professionals in talent development, whose job it is to support you in training and skill development. They can connect you with learning opportunities, mentors and, in some cases, coaches.

The talent development team can also provide needed assessments that will help you set priorities and assess your work style and strengths.

5. Tap your colleagues effectively.

This would include your boss (for certain!) and your peers. Career planning is a shared responsibility. It takes a committed, accountable employee and the support of his/her manager, as well as determination and energy.

Initiate the conversation with your manager. Talk to him/her about where you want to go and what you want to do. Ask your manager for assistance in noting your strengths and the areas you need to develop in order to get to the next step. Take action as needed. Ask for feedback as you work toward this end.

But don’t just solicit feedback from only your manager; also tap your peers. We all have room for improvement. We can’t fix what we don’t know is wrong.

6. Understand the culture of your organization.

Icon, workplace culture

As you work to effectively manage your career, make sure you understand your organization’s culture and pursue your aspirations the “right” way. Be humble as you describe your career aspirations. Demonstrate that you want to improve in your current job as you work to take on different assignments. Be coachable. Work harder and smarter and demonstrate the desire to learn and grow.

7. Get out there and build your network.

Icon, build your network

Be sure to go about building your network in a genuine way. Networking is about relationship building; it is not transactional. Work to get to know people. Allow people to get to know you. Volunteer for assignments to build skills and connections.

8. Finally, don’t be afraid of failure.

Earlier, we discussed taking risks. Your career journey won’t be a straight line to your goal, but don’t allow the fear of “inevitable failure” to deter you. You might apply for a role and not get it. But instead of giving up and feeling defeated, ask why you didn’t get the role and what you should work on in order to be better positioned for it in the future. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and know that “failures” offer your best learning opportunities.

Remember: You Are the CEO of Your Career

Managing one’s own career is an ongoing activity. It is not just for managers or those in leadership roles. It does not mean waiting on your manager to manage it for you. It is you, the professional, taking the lead in your career aspirations while utilizing organizational resources and your management to help you meet your goals.

Your vision of success is an individual one, and only you can determine what success looks like for you. You are the driver in your career.

Additional Resources

The theme of “managing your career” has been an ongoing focus area at the St. Louis Fed, led by First Vice President and COO David Sapenaro. This includes a workshop sponsored by our AACTIVE (African-American Council of Talented, Innovative and Visionary Employees) employee resource group. Sapenaro serves as executive sponsor for AACTIVE. In 2019, our Human Resources team will roll out a special series dedicated to assisting employees in their career development journeys.

About the Authors
Lynette Johnson
Lynette Johnson

Lynette Johnson is an associate instructional designer with the St. Louis Fed’s Center for Learning Innovation.

Lynette Johnson
Lynette Johnson

Lynette Johnson is an associate instructional designer with the St. Louis Fed’s Center for Learning Innovation.

Denise Washington
Denise Washington

Denise Washington is a senior specialist with St. Louis Fed Human Resources.

Denise Washington
Denise Washington

Denise Washington is a senior specialist with St. Louis Fed Human Resources.

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This blog explains everyday economics, consumer topics and the Fed. It also spotlights the people and programs that make the St. Louis Fed central to America’s economy. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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