“I’ve worked here a year already, how come I’m not a manager yet?”
Ask any HR professional and they will recall countless times they’ve heard a version of this question coming from younger employees. From my own personal experience of being in the workforce for at least two decades, I know this expectation isn’t realistic, but it’s not uncommon among young people starting off their careers.
While it is tempting to attribute the expectation of rapid career advancement to entitlement or other stereotypes of the younger generation, I believe that this is an oversimplification of the issue. Recently I have begun to wonder: how can their desire to excel be managed without dampening their enthusiasm? How can a manager guide them toward achieving their goals? In other words, how can we help them, help themselves?
While a lot has been written about what employers can do to attract and retain younger workers, not much has been written about what they can do to make themselves more appealing as employees who will ultimately move up in the company. This is unfortunate, because there are many things that can be done to maximize potential and optimize career development.
Here’s some advice I would share with young people starting off their careers about how to distinguish themselves from the herd and advance more quickly in their professions.
This is very basic, but phenomenally important guidance. If you’re still in college, seek an internship with a company in the industry or field you’d like to work in after graduation. Better yet, get two! If you have completed internships, it will look good on your resume and show future employers you have real-world work experience. Employers also increasingly see their internship programs as the best path for hiring entry-level candidates. You may even get paid more when you graduate as compared to those without the experience.
If you’re unable to secure an internship, look for employment which specifically relates to your future profession. Do you want to be a physical therapist? Great! Instead of delivering pizzas or waiting tables for tips, work at a hospital in any type of job you can secure. Get to know the environment, the employees and the culture. This also looks good on your resume by showing dedication to your field of interest. Most importantly, it gives you an opportunity to build your professional network.
JOIN INDUSTRY OR JOB SPECIFIC PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS
Can’t quite land a job yet? Get involved in professional organizations which represent your future career and personal interests. Attend meetings, network and get involved by volunteering. Are you studying engineering because you love cars? Join the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The connections you make will serve you very well in landing an internship or an entry-level position down the road.
SPECIALIZED TRAINING OR CERTIFICATION
Certification helps employers evaluate potential new hires, gives recognition of competency and helps with job advancement. Before deciding what certification to seek, ask people in your network what you should know or do to be successful in your career. What course of study or training would help you move forward? If a project management certification is a must, get yourself certified!
CAREER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
Once you land your first “real” job or, better yet, during the interview process, ask what type of training programmes the company offers. The best places to work recognize that career development programs improve job satisfaction and improve the potential for promotion. Seek out specific employee development tracks or job rotation opportunities that will benefit your career the most.
TUITION REIMBURSEMENT PROGRAMS
Don’t have a college degree for the career you want? Check to see if your employer has a tuition reimbursement or assistance program. There are many options available for working adults to attend online or in-person. Earning your degree only gets more difficult to attain the older you get and the more responsibilities you have.
Ask your new employer if they have a formalized mentor or sponsorship program. If so, ask where you can sign up. If not, this is another great use of the connections you’ve made as a member of a professional association. Seek someone with at least 10 years of experience in your field whom you respect and can learn from. Ask to meet with them on a regular basis for career guidance, motivation and support. The support of someone like this can be invaluable to your future success.
TALK TO YOUR MANAGER
Let your manager know what your career aspirations are and ask them to help you get where you want to be. What steps do you need to take? What skills do you need to have? How can you get there? They should be able to work with you to outline a course of action and steer you in the right direction. If your manager is unavailable, ask human resources for help.
Last but not least, the MOST important thing you can do is be patient. In his book “Us vs. Them,” Jeff Havens states; “Technology has accelerated the rate at which we do everything except for the rate at which we develop proficiency at things. There is no technological substitute for practice. You will get better at your career slowly over time, because that is the only way it happens.” Recognize and accept the fact that in most cases, your advancement will develop over time. It simply won’t happen overnight.
If you’re feeling frustrated or disgruntled about the pace of your career ask yourself, “what have I done for myself lately?” Now is the time to take control. Don’t wait for your employer to notice how great you are. Prove it by demonstrating your dedication to your career and the company you work for by proactively taking steps to ensure your success. It couldn’t hurt, and could very well make all the difference.
Lara Maack currently serves as HR Manager for Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies, Inc.