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If you could choose today, what would your career look like one year from today? Would you have your boss's job? Your boss's boss's job? Would you even be at the same company, or would you have started your own?
Envisioning the future this way can be a fun, even productive way to end the year—but for too many professionals, career advancement is viewed as an "if" instead of a "when."
So, how do you start taking immediate, deliberate steps toward making your ideal career a reality? In this article, we'll break down career advancement in 2024, how to navigate potential hangups and opportunities, and why you should take a good hard look at what "advancement" really means to you.
What Is Career Advancement?
Career advancement means different things for different people, from champagne and handshakes after a big promotion to the quiet, intense satisfaction of mastering an aspect of your craft. Regardless of what it looks like for you, specifically, it's safe to say that any career without the possibility for advancement isn't worth your time—especially when most professionals spend one-third of their lives at work.
Career Advancement in the Modern Workplace
Most people believe that new technologies like AI and machine learning mean that career advancement today looks nothing like career advancement from twenty or thirty years ago—but that simply isn't true. While they may seem unusually futuristic, these technologies require the same mindset to learn as any other technical skill.
The one notable exception, of course, is the speed at which technological advancements are being made. Every day, more and more people are joining the AI gold rush in an attempt to become one of the first to hit the "mother lode," usually by designing an AI-driven tool intended to revolutionize how we work. This unprecedented output of new tools means that professionals need to be more connected and flexible than ever to understand which resources they should trust and how to implement those resources effectively.
Remote Work and Why It Matters
The remote work vs. in-office debate is stabilizing, with many companies compromising on a hybrid model. And, even though there are fewer fully remote openings than during the height of the pandemic, it's more possible to work remotely than at any point in history.
Whether you prefer the freedom of remote work or the community of a traditional, in-person environment, it's important to understand the implications of remote work on career success and professional development, which boil down into two main categories:
If you work remotely or have others in your company who do so, you've probably already felt the strain of trying to build relationships when separated by a screen. This is especially problematic given that many 21st-century professionals cite good company culture as one of the key components of overall job satisfaction.
Even without remote work to consider, a company's culture and how well you fit into it is one of the most important indicators of career development opportunities and whether you'll be able to take advantage of them. So, whether you're looking for new job opportunities or trying to decide how to make moves in your current job, making a deliberate effort to engage with your company's culture is one of the best ways to advance your career.
For every generation until now, a person's career path was largely dictated by the companies and positions available in their area (and/or their willingness to commute or relocate entirely). With the advent of remote work, however, geographical limitations are less of an issue.
Now, it's entirely possible to build a successful career from even the most far-flung corners of the globe. Still, keep in mind that working remotely comes with its own set of complications. A position where coworkers come from many different time zones, for instance, may make work-life balance more challenging by complicating meeting times and deadlines.
Still, the opportunities offered by remote work aren't limited to finding new companies or positions. As technology advances and more people turn to digital platforms to network, advancement opportunities such as webinars or meet-and-greets are increasingly common. As you move forward through your career advancement journey, take advantage of these opportunities whenever possible.
Long-term vs. Short-term Career Advancement
As in all things career-related, there are long-term and short-term goals to consider, and it's important to differentiate the two when making a larger career plan.
Short-term career advancement opportunities are things like promotions, learning new skills, or taking on more job responsibilities in your current position. These are relatively small, achievable steps that you can take to steadily improve your professional value and give yourself the greatest number of long-term prospects.
Keep in mind, however, that the key word here is "relatively." While many short-term goals will involve things like gaining proficiency in a new piece of technology, others can extend as far as obtaining an advanced degree.
Regardless of what "small" looks like to you, make sure to prioritize short-term goals that get you closer to your long-term ambitions.
For most professionals, long-term career advancement can mean anything from a sharp, lucrative career pivot between industries to landing a C-suite role in their current company. In other words, this is what most people would call "the payoff."
Sometimes, people know what their payoff will be from day one in a job. More commonly, however, the end goal of a person's career will change as they grow and expand as a professional. Over time, values shift, and personality traits evolve—so this is entirely natural.
What it means for your career advancement in the here and now comes down to two things: stay open and build big-picture skills.
For the former, stay open to both industry trends and changes in what you value. Deliberately set aside time every few months to check in with yourself about how you feel your career is going, what you would change, and whether your goals still align with your values.
For the latter, big-picture, widely applicable skills will help future-proof your career from technological changes or big pivots. Niche specialist skills are still useful (especially so for certain industries), but making sure to develop broad skills like emotional intelligence, communication, and conflict resolution will serve you well no matter where your career leads you.
Creating a Personal Development Plan
This is your career. There are many like it, but this one is yours. And because it is so uniquely yours, it's your right to create a personal development plan that leads to exactly what you want out of your career.
Fundamentals of a Personal Development Plan
You may have expected there to be several different fundamentals of a good personal development plan, but the truth is that there is only one: information. Without honest, accurate information, you have no way to strategize for the future, map out goals, or make informed decisions.
This information comes in two main forms, the first of which is self-reflection. Before you consult any mentors, gurus, or experts, consult yourself. What are you looking to get out of your career? Why are you looking to grow and develop in the first place? How much effort will it actually take to get where you want to be?
Do your absolute best to answer each of these questions (and any others that come to mind) with complete honesty, removing ego from the equation. Remember that being dishonest with yourself about your situation and what you need to make your goals a reality will only hold you back from success.
The second type of information you need is objective information. This can come in many forms, such as feedback from a trusted mentor, but one of the most reliable sources of objective information will always be a high-quality career test. With the right test, you'll get data-driven insights into your skills, how your values relate to the professional world, and what you need to do to realize your goals. Far more than a frivolous personality test you might encounter on social media, these tests are truly invaluable when trying to develop a growth plan; even if you don't choose ours, we highly suggest trying a career test in general.
How to Develop an Effective Plan
Once you've collected your information, it's time to put it into a clear, actionable format. To do this, sort your goals based on realistic time frames in which they could be achieved.
What types of skills or advances could you realistically accomplish in a year? In six months? Today? Regardless of whether it's a big promotion or simply organizing your workspace to promote better productivity, it deserves a place in your plan.
In a situation where you know what you want but not how to accomplish it, figure out who you need to talk to in order to get answers. Usually, this will either be your company's human resources department or your boss, but it could also be a mentor, career coach, or thought leader in your industry. Whenever you're uncertain, one of the best options is to consult someone with experience and expertise.
Putting Your Development Plan to Work
For the vast majority of professionals we've worked with, we've found it useful to frame personal development as if it were any other project you might be assigned at work—though much more important.
When you start thinking of your personal development as an actual project, complete with deadlines, required skills, and potential impact, it transforms from an ill-defined "maybe" into something you can work on each and every day.
This especially simplifies putting the plan into action. If you were assigned a new project tomorrow, with complete control over its execution, how would you go about starting it? Typically, you'd build a timeline, begin gathering the resources necessary to make the project's goal (your development) a reality, and then get to work.
Personal development is no different. Set yourself a timeline, identify what you need to meet that timeline, and then start putting in the hours. The double-edged sword here is that you're your own boss when working on personal development: you set the pace and decide the direction, but it's also up to you to keep yourself on track.
If, from time to time, you find yourself neglecting your own deadlines, losing sight of the ultimate goal, or just needing a bit of support and guidance, you can also consider meeting with a career coach to get things back on track.
Networking for Success
Online or in-person, a cold approach or warm, networking has always been a staple of professional development. And while the digital age has changed how many professionals find and connect with one another, the core of what makes networking so important remains the same.
Making Connections for Career Advancement
Perhaps you've heard the saying, "You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with." First said by the famous Jim Rohn, the quote still holds weight today—with a few changes. In previous generations, a person's access to peers, mentors, or simply the perspective of industry leaders was limited by their immediate professional circle.
Today, networking platforms like LinkedIn, X (formerly Twitter), and more have greatly expanded that access. Now, professionals can engage and connect with experts in their field, regardless of their personal experience level. With such enormous access, however, learning how and with whom to connect is more important than ever.
Done correctly, networking could be one of the most impactful things you do for your career in 2024.
Cultivating Your Working Relationships
Although we do not agree with the advice to "treat your professional connections like family members" for a number of reasons, we strongly suggest trying to build strong, healthy relationships with coworkers, managers, and professionals in your field, more generally.
Beyond simply interacting in friendly, respectful ways, there are two main things you can do to build relationships at work: offer help when appropriate and ask for help without imposing expectations.
For the former, it's important that you only offer help when it's genuinely needed or requested. Often, trying to step in and give unwanted help—even when done with the best intentions—can read as overstepping or presumptuous, especially when the person in question is under greater-than-usual amounts of stress.
Instead, work on staying open and perceptive of how your coworkers, manager, and other people in your professional sphere are doing. Is their workload higher than normal? Have they recently taken on new responsibilities that you have experience with? Are they usually receptive to input? By taking the time to answer these questions before reaching out, you can ensure that your help is taken as genuine and further improve your relationship with that person.
Conversely, knowing when to ask for help can also strengthen your relationship with another professional. The vast majority of people appreciate having their expertise and hard work acknowledged by a peer—so long as you ask for help appropriately.
The rule of thumb here is to never make a request with the expectation that the person will say yes. You're asking for a favor, not demanding one. Additionally, apply the same perception as you do when offering help: make sure the person isn't underwater before asking them to help you stay afloat.
Building a Mentorship Network
Research shows that 90% of professionals with mentors are happy at work, yet only 37% of workers have one. So why does this disconnect exist? Simply put, it has to do with opportunities—or at least a perceived lack of them. While upwards of 70% of Fortune 500 companies maintain mentorship programs, that number drops dramatically at other levels of business.
That means that, for many professionals, the responsibility to find a mentor falls mainly on their shoulders. Sometimes, this process can mean speaking with an old professor from the university you attended, reaching out to a manager or senior-level employee in your company, or even cold approaching established thought leaders in your field with a respectful, well-crafted email.
Perhaps the most effective way to find a mentor, however, is by working with a career coach. By finding a coach with experience in your specific industry, you can learn to build relationships with potential mentors via networking platforms and then turn those friendly relationships into something that provides massive growth opportunities for your career.
Navigating the Promotion Process
Promotions and raises are important milestones for any career, but how do you pursue them without burning out or spinning your wheels? Thankfully, the process comes down to two main phases.
Preparing for Promotion Opportunities
Preparing for a future promotion is all about focusing your growth efforts on specific, relevant skills. If, for instance, you're chasing a role that requires strong leadership skills, consider asking your manager for the opportunity to take point on a smaller project or initiative. By doing so, you simultaneously improve your skill set while also showing that you're dedicated to growing into a larger role.
The second key element of this is a willingness to stay open and receptive. As you move through your career, you'll encounter people who are experts in different skills and subjects that may prove useful to you. By staying open to learning from coworkers and other professionals (even those "lower" on the corporate ladder than yourself), you'll build strong relationships and expand your abilities that much further.
Communicating Your Career Goals
Clearly communicating your ambitions is one of the best things you can do for your career. Now, while this doesn't mean that you should spend your days telling anyone and everyone that you "will" land a certain promotion or role, being transparent with your goals in a humble, respectful way tells the people around you that you know what you want out of your career.
Often, people struggle with finding the right vocabulary to communicate this information in effective ways. If that sounds familiar to you, consider looking into personal branding tips or career coaching to guide you through the process.
Also, communicating your goals should always be accompanied by honest, hard work toward those goals. Know what you want, communicate it clearly, and put in the work.
Overcoming Growth Obstacles
As you continue to evolve professionally, you'll inevitably encounter obstacles that push you to your limits. Knowing how to overcome them is crucial for continued growth.
Identifying Common Career Advancement Challenges
There are countless hurdles that you could potentially encounter while working to advance your career—but that's not a reason to worry! Often, these challenges are what will push you to adapt and grow more than anything else. Some of the most common challenges you may encounter include:
- Skill gaps
- Friction with company culture
- Interpersonal challenges
- Self-doubt or imposter syndrome
Strategies to Navigate and Overcome
For all of the above challenges, enthusiastically embracing change and learning opportunities is key. Stay open and adaptable, especially when faced with opportunities to learn from an expert in a subject. Remember that industries across the board are experiencing rapid change due to technological advances and that professionals who are most willing to learn will be the ones to come out on top.
Also, the tips we gave previously for finding a mentor or networking are invaluable for conquering difficult phases of your career. When faced with a particularly intimidating challenge, don't hesitate to reach out and tap the relationships you've spent so much time building.
Finally, career coaches are your best bet for overcoming stubborn roadblocks in your career path. When you reach a point where it feels like nothing has worked, consider scheduling a session with an expert career coach to get yourself to that next level.
Professional Development with JobTest.org
At the end of the day, the opportunity for career growth is one of the most important deciding factors as to whether you're genuinely happy at work. And, because this aspect of your professional life is so important, it's not something that you should leave to chance.
Instead, investing time to build a plan, learning more about your skills and work personality, and even meeting with the right coach can dramatically increase your chances of success. Luckily, this kind of data-driven approach is more possible in 2024 than ever before. With JobTest.org's AI-powered career test, for example, you get a personalized, accurate assessment of who you are as a professional, how to take advantage of various career opportunities, and what skills to build for the maximum return on investment.
If you're interested in devoted one-on-one advice and guidance, our expert career coaches can help you navigate everything from building a better resume to finding a mentor—often with insider tips and information that you wouldn't find anywhere else.
Regardless of what you ultimately choose, 2024 is shaping up to be a year of massive growth for professionals everywhere. Make sure you're ready to make the most of it.