How to advance your career at any age

We previously discussed who the best resources are to help with your career development: Your boss, your boss’s boss, your company’s HR department, and mentors in your industry. Take a look at that article to learn why they are helpful for your career and how to form a mentorship with them: The best resources for developing your career. In this follow up article, we will talk about how to get their help in your career development.

Advancing your career at age 25 is very different than at age 45, but it’s possible to reach the next level of your career using advice from the same people. At every step in your career, you should get feedback from your boss, boss’s boss, and other mentors.

They will give you different advice at each step along the way, but if you use their advice you will get promoted faster.

Let’s break down how to advance your career by learning how to get good advice from them and how to use that advice to get the best results for your career goals.

Since part of the job for your boss and boss’s boss are to mentor you, you can meet with them every six months to get their advice. After all, the better job you do, the better they look for their bosses. And they can schedule time into their work day to mentor you.

These meetings will be more formal meeting than weekly one-on-ones but less formal than your annual review. They focus less on what you are working on at the moment and more on long term development.

One of the best ways to schedule this meeting is to send a short email requesting their advice.

To: [Your boss]

Subject: Can I get your advice about my career development?

Hi [boss],

As you know, I’m working on Project ABC for our Acme Corp client. That fits well within the analytics work I usually do. [Say something you are working on. Your boss already knows this, but it helps lead into your ask in the next paragraph.]

But I was hoping to talk to you about my long term career development, particularly around other skills I should develop. I have a good grasp of analytics, but I wonder if there are other skills I need to succeed in the company and industry throughout my career. [It can be scary for your boss to talk about your career development. She may wonder if you are gunning for her job or might leave the company. Take a little pressure off by being clear about what you specifically want to learn: In this case, more skills.]

I have a few ideas, but your ideas would be helpful too. I would love to know about what skills I should learn, and also what events I can attend to learn more about the industry. I’d also love to hear about your career path up to this point. [Tell your boss that you have ideas so your boss knows you are being proactive in your own career development. Also give your boss some direction about what you’d like to learn: skills, industry events, and lesson from your boss’s career path.]

Can we set aside some time next week so I can get your feedback? [End with a yes or no question so it’s easy for your boss to reply with a yes response. By asking for next week, you give your boss enough time to clear her schedule.]

Thanks,

[Your name]

You can send this email to your boss or your boss’s boss (CC your boss if she needs to be involved in the conversation two levels up). It’s a convenient way to setup a meeting about your long term goals.

You can also send this type of email to meet with your HR mentor or industry mentor.

Ideally, you’ll meet with an HR mentor or industry mentor about once a year early in your career. Ask about general career development resources. As you get more senior in the company, you may want to meet more often since you will need to deal with more complex issues (such hiring, firing, approving performance reviews, industry trends, and other not-fun-stuff). But still try to meet to talk about your career development from time to time.

When you actually meetup with your boss or mentors, you should try to get the most out of the meeting as you can. One great way to do this is with the ARMOUR technique to feedback.

ARMOUR technique to feedback:

  1. A – Ask for advice
  2. R – Receive the feedback
  3. M – Make a plan
  4. O – Operate on the advice
  5. U – Update your adviser
  6. R – Repeat

Asking for advice is pretty simple. Schedule a meeting with your boss or mentor (using the email above), meet with her, and then have a conversation about your goals. Just remember to have a focused question that you want answered. Otherwise, the conversation will go off topic and you’ll come out of the meeting with nothing relevant to you.

Receiving the feedback is also pretty simple. Genuinely listen to your mentor’s advice and note it down. In the moment of the meeting, don’t think that some of the advice doesn’t apply to your situation. Just write it down so you can reflect on it later.

This step is where most people stop with their career development: They ask for help and listen. But if you want to make faster progress in your career, there are more steps to developing your career.

You will also need to take action. The first step for that is to make a plan. Prepare for how you will use the feedback your mentor gave you. Perhaps, your boss told you about an industry conference that happens every April. You should make a plan to attend next year and do what you can to get prepared now, such as buying a ticket. Or maybe your HR mentor told you about a manager in a different department that could help you learn about a new skill: Put a note on your to do list to get an introduction to that person from your HR mentor.

Then you will need to operate on your plan. Go to the industry conference, meet with the people your mentor thinks can help you, read any books your mentor suggested, and take any classes you hear about. This takes a lot of work and most people give up, but persistence is one of the most important skills for getting promoted throughout your career.

Once you’ve followed through on your mentor’s advice, you should update your adviser on your progress. Tell your mentor that you followed through on her advice and what the results are. Think about how refreshing that is for your mentor. Most people will ask for advice and then never do anything with that advice. You won’t make that mistake. Not only will you taking your mentor’s advice, you will also let her know about the results you got with it. You can send a simple email like this:

To: [Your boss]

Subject: Re: Can I get your advice about my career development?

Hi [boss],

Last December, you gave me some career advice to go to XYZ Conference in our industry. [Remind her about the advice she gave.]

I wanted to let you know that I went to the conference two weeks ago and it was very helpful! I learned about ABC, DEF, and GHI topics which I’m now applying at work. I’m already seeing better results on the Acme project! [Let her know how you used her feedback and why it’s helpful.]

Thanks so much for your advice last December! No need to reply. [Let her know she doesn’t have to reply because you just want to thank her.]

Thanks,

[Your name]

Now that you’ve updating your adviser about how you used her feedback, she will be more inclined to help you again later. No one wants to help someone who asks for advice but doesn’t follow through.

But everyone wants to help people who use the feedback! So the next time you need help, you can repeat the process.

Getting feedback about improving your career once is great, but this technique becomes so much more powerful over time. The advice you receive from a mentor at age 25 will be very different from the advice you get at age 45, but you can talk to them at any age about how to reach the next level of your career.

As you gain mentors over time, you can keep going back to them for advice year after year, improving your skills, and reaching the next rung of the corporate ladder over time.

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