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3 ways to own your career development

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Don’t leave all your development up to the company, says Chew Han Guan, L&D manager at an aerospace company. Because who knows what you want better than you?

In the fast-paced work environment that we need to grapple with, we may sometimes neglect to spend time or thoughts on our own career development, relying more on the mechanisms of the corporation such as job rotations, performance appraisal exercises, career ladders, succession planning or company development action plans.

These development tools are no doubt time tested and effective, but it seems counterintuitive that we are not the ones who spend the most effort on our own development. After all, if you don’t care about your own development, who will?

And, as important as it’s being aware of the need to develop ourselves, we need to arm ourselves with the tools and knowledge on how to do so. Here are some simple tips on developing our careers:

1. Be aware

While there are a variety of personality tests one can take, you can also gain some degree of self-awareness by discussing this issue with people around you. They can act as your “rear view mirror” to help reveal some blind spots or unknown talents.

This can be done conveniently as a by-the-way-kind-of-discussion during lunch or tea break. At the same time, take a moment to reflect upon yourself – your likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Rationalise the perception gaps between your own self image and those which surfaced during the discussions you had with others.

For example, has your decisiveness and directness which you thought was your strength brought ill feelings to others before? Did you realise you were good at listening, coaching, motivating or entertaining?

Why not do a simple SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of yourself? Just take a piece of paper, divide it into fours and populate each quadrant with, literally, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You may be able to glean some useful insights from this.

But you also need to make sure you are ready to take in the comments and remarks of others, some of whom may not be as sensitive to your feelings. So pick your confidants with care and an open heart.

Completing some courses or reading books will not cut it. You need to ensure you are really progressing in terms of your capabilities and competencies.

2. Set goals

Rome was not built in a day and the same goes for our lives and careers. We should put in gate checks and intermediate goals to help ensure we are on track to achieving our goals.

For example, besides setting interval targets, which probably are already taken care of by your company, you might want to pick up on some leadership or EQ skills through observing role models, going for courses and practising these skills so you can guide and lead your team effectively.

Set timelines and expected results to examine your progress. Are you becoming a better leader and communicator? Make a conscious effort to talk to your boss and colleagues to get some sense of your progress and identify whatever gaps there might be at a regular interval, perhaps once per quarter.

Completing some courses or reading books will not cut it. You need to ensure you are really progressing in terms of your capabilities and competencies. Just like how a CEO will be held accountable for the profit and loss of the company, your bosses will want you to deliver results.

I think the S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) principle is an effective way to help set goals and action plans. Though organisations will usually have programmes in place to groom and develop employees, by design they tend to be broad-based to cater to the general development of employees or groups of talent.

Dedicated succession planning programmes are more specific to the individual, but they are often exclusive due to the resources involved. That is where your own personal development action plan can come in to supplement your company’s career development activities.

For example, the best or preferred way for you to learn to be a leader might not be through training courses available, but through coaching. In that case, you may need to take the initiative to reach out to get your own mentor or coach either internally within the company or externally through skilled friends or expert communities. For some things, the more suitable learning channel may be via other means such as social media or through mobile applications.

3. Prioritise

We only have 24 hours in a day, and even then we struggle to get everything done – especially in countries such as Singapore and many Asian countries, which clock in some of the longest working hours in the world. Time is a limited resource and we should guard it carefully, just like the money in our bank.

At the end of the day, who will know more about yourself and what you want? You are the best developer of your career.

Taking a page from Richard Koch’s 80/20 principle, we should focus on the 20% of the actions which will generate 80% of the results. We need to focus on the development actions that will dovetail towards our goals. In a similar vein, the Eisenhower time management model pointed out the need for us to focus on important, rather than urgent, things.

Unfortunately, the urgent and non-important things get a lot of our attention on a daily basis. Try listing down the important and non-urgent things in your lives. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the items are development activities which will benefit you immensely in the long run, but often are procrastinated on because you are flooded with your daily “fire-fighting” activities.


I encourage you to take a proactive role in your own career development. Find ways and means to partner with your organisation to develop yourself. Because at the end of the day, who will know more about yourself and what you want? You are the best developer of your career.

This article is written in a personal capacity and does not express the views and opinions of my employer.

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