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How to find career advancement opportunities

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By Dr. Patrick C. Horton

At a glance

  • Career advancement opportunities depend on your stage in life, whether you’re a college graduate, career professional or military veteran.
  • Recent graduates may choose to focus on career fairs, “guerrilla marketing” and boot camps, while career professionals should leverage opportunities within their current organization and strategic network.
  • Military veterans may choose to capitalize on their military skill set or clearance level to find a civilian opportunity.
  • Get more career advice when you subscribe to the University of Phoenix Career With Confidence™ newsletter on LinkedIn®!

Navigating career development

Portrait of Dr. Patrick C. Horton smiling.

Finding opportunities to advance your career can be challenging. Whether you’re looking to transition out of college or the military, or you’re seeking advancement opportunities as a career professional, it can feel like staring into the deep blue ocean with no compass.

Well, here is your compass!

In this article, we’ll identify some career advancement opportunities for college graduates, military veterans and career professionals. Several tips cross over into all three categories, and all the tips can be personalized to your situation and goals. Think of this, in other words, as your lifeboat for reaching new horizons.

Career advancement tips for college graduates

Whether you spent four years on campus or completed college online while holding down a job and raising a family, transitioning from college into a career can be intimidating. Suddenly, it seems, everything you’ve learned has to apply to the real world!

While it may be hard to know where to start, don’t let fear rule your decisions. Always think two or three steps ahead of your next move.

Keeping that in mind, your goal should be to transition into a career opportunity that will yield the biggest return on your college investment. What does that look like? A position that sets you up for bigger and better job opportunities a few years down the line.

 

Tip 1: Use student services, career fairs and job search engines

It’s best to start thinking about your job search early into a degree program so you can maximize the skills you are learning for your ideal career path. If you need assistance, reach out to career services for help with your resumé and cover letter, and attend career fairs to get a feel for your options. Take advantage of any free resources your school offers!

This is also a good time to search online job websites like MonsterIndeedLinkedIn® and, for federal government jobs, USAJOBS. The idea is to familiarize yourself with what’s available and where. If you are student of University of Phoenix, you can also use the job explorer tool available on the careers section of MyPhoenix. This allows students to search for jobs in their area and aligned with their degree program.

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Don't let fear rule your decisions. Always think two to three steps ahead of your next move.

Tip 2: Embrace the principles of 'guerrilla marketing'

“Guerilla marketing” hinges on the concept of creating publicity through unconventional methods. Take the same approach to finding your next career opportunity!

Once you have your application documents squared away, start reaching out to your contacts from internships and classes, including associates and faculty. Let them know when you are graduating and that you’d like to build a career plan to prepare for your next role.

This outreach not only enables you to proactively begin your job search, but it also demonstrates to your contacts how enthusiastic you are to find your next professional opportunity. Being genuinely excited about starting your career tells people you’re committed and ready to add value wherever you land.

While leveraging your personal network, be sure to build profiles on job sites like LinkedIn. (More on this later.) Work every angle you have. Moral of the story: Hard work pays off.

Tip 3: Attend professional training courses and boot camps

Training courses and boot camps are helpful for the knowledge they impart, yes, but they also serve a secondary purpose: networking.

Imagine you’ve been studying or working in project management and are interested in obtaining the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. Well, in my experience, one of the most efficient ways to earn the certification is to attend a five-day PMP boot camp, so you sign up. Once at the boot camp, whom do you meet? Industry professionals from every functional discipline imaginable.

You might study alongside project leads in engineering, finance, operations, business development, IT and cybersecurity, all of whom are looking to get their PMP certification and prepare for their career advancement opportunities. This is a target-rich environment where you can learn from fellow professionals, leverage their business networks and find career opportunities you didn’t know existed — all while gaining hands-on experience!

 

Career advancement tips for working professionals

If you have five to 10 years of experience in your field, have successfully worked for two or three companies and are ready to take the next step in your career, read on.

Tip 1: Explore career advancement opportunities within your current organization

When it comes to climbing the career ladder in your organization, strategy is everything.

You should be actively mapping the ladder structure in your company so that you can clearly identify the next two or three positions of promotion within your department.

The career ladder image is just that: a visual analogy of how the various positions stack up in your department or company. Before you can go for an opportunity, after all, it helps to know the position title.

Before applying for your target career advancement opportunity, you need to identify the required skill set for the job. It’s best to identify these skills early. Once you gain those skills you can campaign for advancement within your company.

Contributing author Patrick Horton sitting on couch and smiling.

 

Tip 2: Explore career advancement opportunities outside your organization

After you create a career ladder and identify positions you might consider applying for in your own company, it’s time to cast a wider net. What advancement opportunities exist with another company? Looking externally may afford opportunities for growth, especially if you are limited within your current organization.

For example, let’s say you’re a defense contractor working as an IT manager, and you want to be promoted to project manager. Don’t just look for a project manager role within your organization. Make a list of other defense contractors, maybe 10 to 15 of them, that have project management positions and apply for them.

Tip 3: Leverage your LinkedIn profile

Utilizing your network to find your next career opportunity begins on LinkedIn, which is popular for building professional networks. It’s not only extremely popular with professionals across industries, but it also offers an array of tools (including newsletters, job listings and professional development courses) to help you in your job search.

LinkedIn enables you to publicly display your professional qualifications, learn about industrywide opportunities and build relationships with decision-makers who can provide opportunity for advancement.

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Career advancement tips for military service members transitioning to civilian roles

Whether you’ve just completed your four-year enlistment period or are retiring after a 20-year career, you’re a veteran and America loves vets. What’s more, service members leave the military with a full body of experience that often encompasses professional knowledge, leadership and structure.

As with college graduates, military veterans must seek the best return on investment. For them, that’s the time they spent in service. And if you want to enter the civilian workforce in the same or similar professional capacity you worked in the military, you have options.

Don’t believe me? Remember: Because of huge budgets, you worked with cutting-edge tech. Plus, you understand structure and chain of command. This all translates to leadership skills that can be applied in the civilian workforce.

Tip 1: Seek out companies that support the military

In my experience, military experience makes veterans uniquely qualified to pursue contractor roles as well as commercial ones. So, in addition to researching potential contractor and commercial careers, you should network with all commercial contractor companies that support your military unit.

The advantage of being a veteran is that the military has connections to just about every major company in America. Someone please take out a pen and paper and write down all the companies and large research universities that support the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Space Force, the new branch. You’d be sitting here all day.

Create a list of 25 to 30 companies that have potential opportunities in your functional career area, then go to each one’s private website and apply. (Also, don’t forget to create those profiles on Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn and USAJOBS.)

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Tip 2: Use military career-transition centers

All military bases have a career center to help service members transition to civilian roles. In fact, career counseling is often part of the out-processing package. The key is to start early: Begin your career search six to 12 months before you depart the military. Doing so means you’ll have time to attend service member-sponsored job fairs, meet with career counselors and connect with organizations sponsored by the Department of Defense.

There are plenty of resources for you to leverage. It’s important that you use them.

Tip 3: Use a clearance-based job-search platform

Many members of the armed forces have a security clearance, and there are thousands of career advancement opportunities for such personnel. (Security clearance is also something the general public doesn’t usually have.) The higher clearance you have, the more opportunities you may find.

Think back to when you were a service member. Who was the IT support contractor who managed your computer networks at the military base where you were stationed? Defense companies have IT help-desk positions, systems engineer slots, Cisco Network Professional departments, cybersecurity teams, IT jobs and project manager roles. All these positions require a security clearance; if you just exited the military with your clearance, you have a strategic advantage when applying for such a role.

Similarly, if you worked in finance, contracts, web development, food service, legal, construction or even agriculture while in the military, these same types of opportunities exist if you have a security clearance. Make a list of companies that provide applicable services to the military, identify the relevant opportunities there and apply!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Portrait of Dr. Patrick C. Horton smiling.

Dr. Patrick C. Horton, MBA, DM/IST, is the vice president of program management for Tampa Microwave, a college professor and a veteran U.S. Army sergeant. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, his Master of Business Administration and his Doctor of Management with a specialization in Information Systems at University of Phoenix. Dr. Horton launched his business, Professional Career Transformations, in 2021 as a way to guide and encourage others to higher levels of professional success. He is a member of Vistage Executive Coaching Group and a recipient of the Purple Heart in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he lives in sunny Florida. Learn more about Dr. Horton and his commitment to helping others achieve their highest level of success by visiting his website.

 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the advice of University of Phoenix.

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