We live in uncertain times. What with Brexit looming in the background, artificial intelligence threatening to automate many tasks, and political unrest in every quarter, the days where you could pick one career, work your way up the ranks and end up with a corner office and fat expense account are well and truly behind us.
The game has changed when it comes to the world of work, and we're all having to work smarter and more strategically to guarantee the long term futures we want. There has also been a massive shift in what we ourselves want and need from our employment.
We've come to the collective realisation that we want to work to live, not live to work and that achieving some sort of balance - whatever that means to us personally - shouldn't be out of the question. Employers have also undergone a bit of a sea change over the last decade or so, and most now genuinely recognise that their employees are truly their most important asset.
They realise the costs of recruitment and are more focused on motivating, engaging and developing their human resource. While this is all very positive, an ambitious person couldn't - and shouldn't - rely solely on employers to advance their careers.
If you want to make leaps forward then you need to take a proactive approach to your own development - both personally and professionally. The employment game has changed in 2019 - here's how to play to win.
Push Outside Your Comfort Zone
No one likes to feel firmly outside of their comfort zone - but that is the place where you'll actually make progress. Whether your goal is to gain a promotion or you want to maximise your experience ahead of starting your own business, then you must aim to push yourself outside of the norm.
Exceeding your own expectations is good for you - it teaches you that with a little hard work, you can achieve exactly what you want to. It's also a great way to get noticed within your organisation, and therefore get handed different and more challenging projects.
Realise that most people suffer from impostor syndrome - especially those at the top - and that no one really has all the answers. Confidences comes through experience, so keep on trying to gain more and don't rest on your laurels as soon as you get a taste of success.
Invest In Yourself
If you don't choose to invest in yourself, how can you convince anyone else to? Learning doesn't stop when we leave the classroom environment, it simply becomes more directly our responsibility to make it happen.
Some employers are very good at creating learning opportunities for their staff - if your workplace is, then make sure you are taking full advantage of all the training on offer.
Always be looking to up skill and expand your thinking - from watching a TED Talk per day to pursuing a professional qualification. Better yet, find an organisation which is committed to developing it's employees, as that's the type of place you want to work.
Create The Work Life Balance You Need
Quite rightly, mental health has moved much further up the agenda in the past decade, and businesses are keener than ever to ensure that their workers have the support they need. When you're choosing where to work, it's a good idea to look at the wider employee benefit package.
What focus do they have on work/life balance? Many employers now have specific policies on employee wellbeing, resources dedicated to supporting a balanced lifestyle and other benefits such as schemes where you can purchase additional holiday in order to pursue a passion project, do some learning or see more of the world.
All of these things make you a more rounded person, which in turn makes you a better employee. Smart companies know this so pick one which is prepared to invest in you as a person, not just a machine.
Finding a mentor can help you take your career to the next level.
Find A Mentor
However much you want to push yourself, sometimes you need a little external impetus to see the possibilities. This is where finding a mentor can come in really handy. Sometimes they can help you realise what you need to excel when you can't see it yourself.
A mentor can be someone who works within your current organisation or an external contact. They are someone in a position to support your development and challenge your plans in a positive way.
They can also provide additional feedback to any performance reviews you've had at work. But their main and most valuable function is to provide you with insight and a different perspective on your career development and specific scenarios you're struggling with.
Mentors can be especially helpful during times of transition, such as when you're new to a role or when you first start managing teams, or perhaps if your job description has changed slightly.
Although it's a professional arrangement, the framework of a mentor relationship does allow scope to be a little more informal, even if it's someone from within the company where you work.
Asking to be provided with a mentor shows your employers that you are serious about developing your career and continuing your personal growth. You could also volunteer to become a mentor yourself and pay it forward to the next generation!
Some companies even operate a reverse mentoring scheme where you are partnered with someone more senior to give them a fresh insight into projects and situations.
Create Your Personal Brand
With the exponential growth of social media, creating and developing a personal brand is more of a relevant issue than ever. It's an aggregation of your ambitions, your qualities and your values and indicates how you want to be seen by others.
Be mindful of what you're choosing to post on social media - once out there, there's no way to really retract it, and your profiles are one of the first things many employers will look for. Taking some time to think about how you want to present yourself and your ambitions is important and will help your to control your job development and how you are perceived.
Develop a platform for yourself - you want to be positioned as a thought leader. Consider authoring some articles or blog posts to share on social media, giving an informed view of a current situation relating to your industry. Engage with and comment on relevant articles.
Build an online reputation as someone with something to say that's worth listening to. Identify what you are best at and promote that - be it communications, analysis, people management or other skills. The fun part is sharing your knowledge - you're proving that you know your stuff but are also helping others at the same time.
Request A Performance Review
It's quite a bold move, but directly asking for a career evaluation can really give you some extremely valuable insight - if you're prepared to handle honest feedback. You need to be able to take on the point of view that your manager has, and be prepared to communicate clearly about your own ambitions and state of mind.
Go into it with the intention of developing a clear career action plan. Ask for stretch projections which you can gain new skills from. You could also try asking for informal feedback from colleagues who you have worked with on various project as well - what do they think you've done well or could improve on?
Use that to build your performance and tailor a development plan that will push you to improve and gain the skills you need.
Your own worst enemy when it comes to career progression? It's usually yourself. Waiting for the perfect moment is usually just a self-deceptive tactic to delay action, which can seriously affect your job performance and your career.
Development is generally not going to happen unless you drive it yourself. Keep focused on the bigger picture and what you need to achieve. Give each action a time frame, from your daily to-do list to your larger self development goals.
Break the larger ones down into milestone stages and make them achievable. Find your motivation and access it daily - whether that is using visualisation to picture yourself in a leadership position, or even making a Pinterest board depicting the life you want to lead that you can glance at on your phone whenever the going gets difficult or you need a boost.
Don't be tempted to put off difficult situations, awkward conversations or unwanted tasks - you grow more through those situations than you do from stuff you enjoy doing. Success can be yours, as long as you keep at it no matter what.