2. Find a mentor
As you navigate the complexities of your career path, it’s invaluable to have the guidance of those who have succeeded on the same path.
In my own career, I’ve been fortunate to have the mentorship and sponsorship of executives I’ve worked with over the years. These experiences made a tremendous difference in helping me see the path to my own executive career. But people in leadership and executive positions don’t typically seek out mentees. You have to take responsibility for finding and connecting with your own mentors and applying their advice to your career.
Statistics suggest I’m not alone in this view. One report notes a whopping 97% of people with a mentor say it’s been valuable to their careers. While a recent survey from the Association for Talent Development reports that more than 57% of people have benefited from mentorship in their careers, only 29% of organizations offer formal mentorship programs.
So, you can’t expect the businesses you work for to arrange these opportunities for you. And even when they do, you still need to take charge of ensuring you reap the benefits. It’s also a good idea to maintain your own relationships or network of mentors over time as you move from job to job.
Chances are you know at least one successful leader in your personal or professional life whose example and advice you value. While it can feel awkward to ask someone you admire to be your mentor, it’s been my experience that most really great leaders appreciate being asked for career development advice and cherish opportunities to guide and help talented people along the way. So, don’t be shy — ask for guidance. More importantly, apply the good advice you get and check back in with them periodically. Over time, these relationships will bolster you in a variety of ways, including potentially opening up new opportunities in your field.
3. Identify your gaps and create a plan to fill them
Achieving more senior positions requires constant growth in your professional abilities and experience. Knowing where you have gaps in either your resumé (demonstrating you’ve held the right roles) or skills (demonstrating you’ve done the right work) for the role you want is essential.
For instance, if you want to advance to a sales leadership position, you may need to demonstrate not only your sales acumen but also your leadership ability. Otherwise, no matter how good your individual performance is, you may not appear to be an obvious fit for the chief revenue officer role when the opportunity presents itself.
Work with your mentor to really assess what the key skills and experiences would look like for the position you’re aspiring to, and think about how you’d get them. If you want to lead, for instance, you may find it prudent to pass up taking on the best territory in your market to instead embrace an available regional management position. You may find you need a certification in a key skill such as P&L management to win that role. By identifying these resumé and skill gaps early, you can prioritize addressing them as you progress in your career.