Six Steps to Advance Your Career

Don't rely on your boss to grow your career. Here's how to do it yourself.

by Caroline Dowd-Higgins • Member { View Profile }
Caroline Dowd-Higgins, author of "This Is Not the Career I Ordered," maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name (

In a perfect world, your boss will act as a your coach and help you grow your career to enable you to play to your strengths and honor your professional goals. It’s time to wake up and check back into reality since in most cases that scenario is just a dream.

There are some great bosses out there, and many who lack superior leadership skills. No matter what end of the spectrum your boss falls on — your career advancement is your responsibility, not his (or her's). So many people go through life letting momentum carry them along a career path. It’s time to give yourself permission to take control your career future.

Here are six action steps to get you started down the road to career advancement and empowerment:

1. Have a Plan. Even if you are happy in your current position, you need to be thinking about your future growth or exit strategy. Keep time on your side by developing a vision of where you want to be in the next one, three, and five years. Consider your salary, rank, and the tasks of your position and begin to design a scenario that you can grow into when you earn the opportunity to advance. By having a plan, you can contribute to the conversation during performance evaluation time (and in-between) so the powers that be know you are serious about professional growth.

2. Earn a Sponsor.A sponsor knows your accomplishments well and will sell you to others who do not know you in your organization and beyond. Your sponsor puts her reputation on the line for you and gives you a professional endorsement that gives you clout and credibility.  Your sponsor is willing to put his name out there for you in order to help you advance but the relationship is earned and is an investment for you and for them. For these reasons, it’s important to keep your sponsor well informed about your accomplishments so she can go to bat for you and recommend you for key projects that will help you distinguish yourself in your current organization or another career arena.

3. Manage Up. Don’t wait for your annual performance review to share what you are doing well. Your boss is busy doing her job and may not even realize all the great things you are accomplishing because everything is going so well. Prepare a brief monthly report to share with your boss that outlines the goals you have met or surpassed, new initiatives you have implemented, and any information that will showcase that you are working above and beyond your expected job description. These reports will help your boss know you are promotion worthy and define your performance in terms that you create.

4. Ask For It. It’s time to be the CEO of your own career and ask for what you want professionally. Don’t take a passive role in your career advancement and never assume that your superiors know about your professional aspirations. Ask your boss for a promotion and make a strong case for your request by backing it up with comparative salary data as well as results of your accomplishments during a given period. Be clear about what you are asking for, but enter the discussion with a negotiating mindset, open for revision, and up for the discussion.

Don’t suffer from low expectations, set your sights high and be specific about what you want and why you deserve it. In this economy, you can’t wait for a raise to come to you no matter how stellar you are at work. You must make the powers that be aware of your value-add, ask for what you deserve, and come to the negotiation with facts and a strong ability to negotiate. Asking for what you want doesn’t always involve a raise. It may be that you want to work on a new project or add travel to your schedule. Think creatively about what meets your professional values and ask for it.

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