Eyes on the Prize

Practical Suggestions for Career Advancement

ARTICLE | Sep 27, 2017

By Adriana Trujillo-Villa

in my few years of local government service, I have observed that in some cases, management personnel don't promote or develop employees' careers unless an employee clearly expresses interest in career advancement.

Even if a person does express professional aspirations, sometimes department directors or program managers may not have a clear direction from the executive team on how to support career advancement of highly motivated and valuable employees.

As a mid-career professional interested in furthering my local government career, I found out that it is intimidating to approach management requesting support for professional development. The key during those critical conversations is to get managers to lower the ladder by helping employees identify opportunities for advancement within the organization.

An individual must, however, do her or his homework before starting these conversations. It is also important to have a personal career development plan (PCDP) in writing, with clearly stated key milestones.

Share this plan with management staff members so they understand where you are going long term and what you need to do to get there. Put it on paper. They can't read your mind.

If you have an extremely supportive manager, he or she will help you accomplish some if not all your key milestones and help you identify opportunities to advance in the organization. Performance appraisal time is also a good time to discuss career aspirations. Your individual development plan (IDP) should always be a part of your performance review.

Search for Support

Based on my personal experience, I realized that it is better to request assistance when I am working on accomplishing one of my key milestones—like obtaining a professional certification—and to ask more questions.

Here are the tools I have used in my search for support for career advancement opportunities.

Be proactive. To stay on track with your IDP or PCDP, check if your organization provides training for skills you need in your day-to-day job and beyond. It is also important to check with professional organizations similar to ICMA for training opportunities that will prepare you for the job you eventually want to get.

Also get involved with a professional organization and participate in its specialized activities. If your current employer doesn't pay for the membership dues of this type of organization, become a member of a state or local chapter. The membership dues can be less expensive and provide you great opportunities in your search for career advancement.

Look for a mentor. This task can be challenging if you are independent and prefer to do things on your own. My philosophy is to look for a manager working in local government, someone I respect and trust.

Sometimes a mentor can be found by actively participating in a professional organization. Expressing interest and a need of being mentored by a seasoned professional is a good start.

Many senior professionals are willing to provide a helping hand to young professionals. Once the connection is completed, your mentor can assist you with charting your career path. It's up to you to ask.

Network. Networking is an excellent way to find a mentor outside your workplace and potentially find the job you are seeking. It also helps a person stay current in his or her chosen profession by sharing leading practices with professional peers.

Networking is a great strategy to expand your circle of professional connections. It also gives you visibility as a highly motivated professional and an emerging leader.

Sharpen your skills. While you wait for the promotion within your organization or wait for the dream job to arrive, you are responsible for sharpening your skills and staying current in your profession. Continuous improvement exhibits your interest in advancement, and it also allows you to stay marketable.

Again, if you belong to a professional organization, you need to stay active. Participate in local, regional, and statewide professional events. I found out that there are opportunities to volunteer in different capacities and most professional organizations like ICMA are looking for highly motivated individuals.

Consider holding an office with the organization you belong to, which shows that you are ambitious and willing to further your career.

Be patient and keep trying. Doing the things I've stated here is easier said than done. Patience is a highly desirable trait of leaders. Trust that your career is unfolding at the right time and place. Know that demonstrating patience can be viewed by others as a positive leadership competency.

Keep your eyes on the prize, and don't let anyone discourage you if you are taking steps to advance professionally but your dream job isn't available yet. Create a one-page professional development plan. Continue searching and working towards that promotion and for the job you want.

Be proactive, find a mentor, network, be patient, and keep trying. I suspect that young managers and administrators will agree that persistence pays off. Sometimes you need to knock on 10 doors and then a door will open or maybe a window.

You just need that right opportunity to advance in your career and succeed. When that right opportunity comes your way, you must be prepared. Maybe you will get lucky but remember: Luck favors the prepared.

Also remember that while you work on building your professional reputation and setting yourself up for success, it is crucial to maintain balance between your work life and personal life. Successful people also enjoy what life has to offer.

Adriana Trujillo-Villa is operations manager, Public Works Department, Haines City, Florida (atrujillo@hainescity.com).

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