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How to ask about career advancement at work

Doubtful unconvinced african american hr manager talking to caucasian applicant at job interview feeling skeptic rejecting seeker skill, bad first impression, lack of experience or failed performance
It’s also important to consider what you consider important in a job, such as flexibility or a regular income. Photo: Getty

You’ve been doing the same job for years and although you enjoy it, you don’t feel like you are making any progress. You power through your emails and projects, sit in meetings and chat to your colleagues, but it feels a little like you are treading water — rather than moving forwards.

It’s a scenario many people recognise. On average, employees in the UK tend to stay in the same job for around six years, during which it can be easy to become stuck in a rut and unsure how to progress.

Although there is more to life than work, we do spend a huge proportion of our time working, so it’s important to find some fulfilment in what we do. That being said, finding out what you want from your career and achieving your aims can be a challenge. So where do you start?

“Taking responsibility for your own career development is one of the most empowering things you can do,” says Penelope Jones, career coach and founder of My So-Called Career.

“Before Covid, we were seeing greater levels of change and ambiguity, the rise of non-linear career paths, discrete career phases, lateral moves and more individual responsibility as companies offer less traditional growth and structural support,” she says. “While this can be incredibly challenging if you’re not prepared or well equipped, it can offer a huge amount of possibility and growth which might not have been available previously.”

Work out what you want

First, you need to think about what you want from your career. Think about the aspects of work you enjoy, whether it is working in a team, helping people or making sure things are organised and run smoothly. It’s also important to consider what you consider important in a job, such as flexibility or a regular income.

Jones recommends asking yourself several questions to figure out what you want from your working life. “What do you want from your career, both in the long term, and in the more immediate term? What do you want to do more of, what do you want to do less of, what do you want to learn, how do you want to grow?” she says. “You also need to be able to understand and articulate your impact, and the value you bring to projects, teams, companies.”

WATCH: How To Negotiate A Pay Rise

Make connections

Once you’ve got an idea of what you’re interested in and what you can offer, the next step is to start networking. “You can start to create possibilities for yourself by connecting with your career community, your managers, your peers, your networks, and the people who can take you outside of your own networks and into new territory,” says Jones.

“Seeking out people whom you can have open and honest conversations with about how you might use your experience to get closer to your aspirations - asking for their experience, their insight and their opinion.”

These conversations open up new avenues and opportunities, as well as different insights, perspectives and ideas. You may even gain new skills to help you move in the direction you want to go.

Don’t be passive

“The key is to be active, and to make it easy for other people to help you, by communicating what it is you are interested in and why,” Jones says. “Opportunities could look like entire new roles, projects or opportunities to develop your strengths or try something new in a safe environment.”

She adds that exposure to different teams or ways of working, as well as formal training or self- learning, can all be brilliant ways to develop and advance too. “A helpful development model you can try is 50/25/25,” Jones advises.

“You use your day-to-day work as the basis for 50% of your development, seeking ways to stretch and grow, 25% is exposure focused, looking for different people or teams who you could connect with, and the remaining 25% is education focused – events, courses, training, self learning, reading relevant books or digital content.”

READ MORE: How to communicate your request at work and get things done

Recognise when you are feeling stagnant

Moving up in your career doesn’t necessarily have to mean handing in your resignation and searching for a new position. It can be possible to advance within your company by taking on new challenges, or moving to a different team. However, this might not always be the case, so it is helpful to recognise when it might be time to consider moving to pastures anew.

You may no longer feel that you are growing, or things may feel static. There may also be little room for progression by promotion, or you may feel a disconnect in terms of values or culture.

“These can all be signs that you are running out of runway in your current position, organisation or sector, and this is not a bad thing,” she says. “A job for life is becoming a rarity, so don’t be afraid to be upfront about your own development needs, and if your company can’t meet them, look for other ways to grow either in parallel or instead.”

Speak to your manager about whether there are opportunities to advance or try new things.

“You’re not being a traitor by wanting to grow and develop, and in most cases, it is better for your company if they can find a way to help you grow internally,” Jones says. “If you think you are out of runway not just in your job, but also in your organisation, then start to spread your conversational net more widely.”

WATCH: How To Resign Without Burning Bridges

Careers Clinic
Careers Clinic