What matters most to you in your job? Is it a sense of meaning and fulfillment? A culture where you feel welcomed and supported? A stocked snack counter and coffee bar?
Sure, all of those things carry some weight; but if you’re anything like the vast majority of professionals today, there’s one important thing that’s missing from that list: development.
According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, a reported 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.
Yep, I get it. We all want to be expanding our skill sets and broadening our horizons at work.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you find yourself in a job where that just doesn’t seem possible. I remember being stuck in an administrative position where I spent my days stuffing envelopes and passing out brochures — and I was convinced that there was no way I was learning anything valuable that would benefit the career I really wanted.
That was when I realized something important: ultimately, I was the one in charge of how much I was learning on the job. There were things I could be doing to make the most of that position — even if it wasn’t where I wanted to be long-term.
So, what did I do? Here are a few of the tactics that I put into play.
Have the honest conversations with your supervisor
When I felt like my own job was fruitless, I was plenty content to complain about it. I felt like I was being underutilized, and my employer had no idea what they were missing out on.
But, here’s the thing: there was no way for my employer to know how they could better use my skills and expertise because I never actually made that clear.
There was no way for my employer to know how they could better use my skills and expertise, because I never actually made that clear.
When I finally sat down with my supervisor to talk through some of my own career objectives and desires, she was quick to advocate for me and figure out how she could better support me. Together, we set some goals and mapped out a plan for how I could continue to advance within my current position.
That gave me ample opportunities to really leverage that job to my advantage, while simultaneously boosting my level of engagement. According to a Gallup poll, 69 percent of employees who “strongly agree” that their managers help them set performance goals were engaged in their work — compared with only 8 percent who strongly disagreed.
Set self-imposed goals
Having your manager help you set some goals is highly motivating, but that doesn’t mean you need their involvement or direction in order to work toward something bigger. Ultimately, you’re in charge of your own development.
When I was eager to make the most of that job that wasn’t quite aligned with my career goals, I found it really helpful to set goals for myself.
Whether it was trying to meet a certain number of new connections per month or honing a specific skill (for example, mine was email marketing), those self-guided objectives gave me the structure I needed to keep challenging myself — even if my daily to-do list was a little more mundane.
Network within your company
Speaking of making connections, that’s a great way to ensure you’re maximizing each and every position you’re in.
Networking might inspire visions of rooms full of strangers wearing name badges, but it can actually be super valuable to network within your existing company.
Getting to know people in other departments and positions not only allows you to establish beneficial relationships outside of your immediate team (which, trust me, will come in handy later), but it also gives you the opportunity to learn a lot about the different roles and how the company functions as a whole.
Raise your hand for new opportunities
Regardless of whether you’re already in your dream gig or if you think of your current position as more of a stepping stone, every single job is what you make of it. That means you need to be willing to put yourself out there for new opportunities.
Maybe you wouldn’t typically be the one to raise your hand when your boss asks for a volunteer to lead the charge when you’re switching to a new piece of software. But, summoning your courage and getting out of your comfort zone can help you pick up a lot of new experiences that will serve you well.
It’s also worth looking at what employee groups and extracurricular activities are available through your company. From joining the social committee to participating in the office kickball team, getting involved can teach you plenty of skills that will benefit you — both inside the office and out.
Take advantage of professional development opportunities
Because today’s talent cares so much about growth and development (Gallup found that 59 percent of millennials consider development opportunities to be extremely important to them when looking for a job), companies are investing a lot into development programs in order to attract and retain their best employees.
Explore what’s available with your current employer. Are there seminars? Lunch and learns? Some sort of formal leadership course? Those all present a great chance to continue expanding your knowledge at work.
Additionally, if your company offers tuition reimbursement or covers other education-related costs, don’t hesitate to take advantage of that benefit!
Set aside some learning time
A number of years ago, I talked with someone who set aside a couple of hours every Friday afternoon just for learning. He’d work through part of an online course, meet up with a new contact, or even read industry-relevant articles.
If your schedule allows it, consider implementing something similar for yourself.
Not only does it offer a much-needed break from the regular grind of your to-do list, but it also ensures that you’re gaining new knowledge and staying on top of your chosen field.
Every single job — yes, even the one that might feel menial or meaningless — presents an opportunity to learn. You’re interacting with new people, tackling new challenges, and experiencing new things.
Every single job — yes, even the one that might feel menial or meaningless — presents an opportunity to learn.
And think about it this way: even if you aren’t expanding your actual skill set day in and day out, you’re still learning a lot about what you like and dislike in a culture and job. You’ll be hard-pressed to find information that’s more valuable than that as you move forward in your career.