Tips for Making the Most of Career Development Programs

Employers often spotlight their career development programs when recruiting and retaining workers. That’s because many professionals — including IT workers and lawyers, according to various surveys conducted by Robert Half — place a premium on companies that make the effort to help them learn and grow.

But are you taking full advantage of your company’s training options? Chances are they go beyond classroom instruction to include a wide range of activities, such as individual coaching, mentoring and job shadowing.

Here are a few ways to use your company’s career development programs to your advantage:

Make the most of your individual development plan

At many firms, managers discuss long-term career goals at least once a year with their direct reports. These annual or semiannual reviews can seem like a chore. But they can help significantly with career development, when you approach them with the right attitude.

In other words, don’t view your individual goals as nothing more than a checklist you have to get through during the year. Rather, work with your manager to set meaningful objectives that will help you grow toward the position you hope to one day land. For example, if you aspire to become a manager, ask if you can include “leading a project team” in your goals, along with your productivity and efficiency goals.

Also, don’t wait for your annual review to assess how you’re doing with your individual development plan. Ask to meet with your manager once a quarter to discuss your progress and to explore new initiatives that might help you reach your goals.

Use career development programs to find a mentor

Many career development programs include a mentorship component. Mentoring allows you to learn from someone who has already mastered a particular skill. If you’re lucky, your company already has a formal mentorship program, in which they train mentors and match them with interested employees. But even if that’s not the case, you can create informal mentoring relationships.

First, explain to your manager that you’re looking for a mentor who can help guide your professional development, and ask if there’s anyone in the management ranks who might be interested in taking on the task.

Another option is to set up a “mentoring partnership” with another employee in your department. Maybe you’re an expert in a certain software program, and a coworker is a specialist in a different program. Pair up with that person and teach each other your respective skills during slow periods in the office.

Look for job-shadowing and volunteer opportunities

If you’re considering a few different career paths in your company, ask if you can spend time with senior employees in each of those positions. Job shadowing is an aspect of many career development programs that allows you to see first-hand what a certain position is like and what skills are necessary to do the job. With that knowledge, you can work on developing those skills — or you can decide that the career path is not for you.

In addition, keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities at work that allow you to work on new skills. If you want to improve your social media proficiency, you can offer to help the team that’s developing your company’s social media marketing plan. If you want to work on your organizational skills, consider stepping up for an event-planning group. All it takes is a willingness to learn and a little assertiveness to move your career along the right path. Have you found other career development programs that have been helpful to your career? Which ones would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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