You’re awesome at what you do. You’ve mastered the skills you need, gained some solid experience, and built an impressive portfolio. That’s what it takes to land you that promotion or next job, right?
Well, yes, that’s part of it. But there are many more factors that contribute to your career advancement—factors that have nothing to do with how well you’re doing in your current gig. In fact, many of the things that can impact your future and success aren’t really about you at all.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the external factors that can influence your professional growth—and the best ways to leverage them into bigger and better things.
1. The Right Industry
Yes, you can advance your career in any field out there—but your opportunities to climb the ladder are going to be much more plentiful in a field that’s growing versus one that’s going through tough times. So, it’s always a good idea to look for opportunities in emerging industries (or at least ones likely to remain stable over time, like education).
Of course, that’s easier said than done if you’ve already established yourself in an industry that’s waning or going through a difficult period, or if your passions are leading you in that direction. In that case, you don’t necessarily have to jump ship, but it’s not a bad idea to explore other fields you might be interested in. Ever thought about technology or healthcare? Now might be the time to parlay your skills that way. And in the meantime, focus on what you can learn from your current experience, like how to manage teams through change and the best strategies to navigate through layoffs—valuable skills no matter what industry you’re in.
2. The Right Location
If you want to work in television production, you’re most likely to succeed in LA or New York. If you have an interest in higher education, a state with tons of colleges and universities makes sense, like Massachusetts or Texas. And we all know that Silicon Valley is still the capital of tech.
In short, if you’re committed to a certain industry, it’s helpful to be in the right place. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but when you want to work in an area where your field is less prevalent, there will certainly be fewer opportunities—and stiffer competition for those that do exist. On the other hand, being surrounded by companies that do what you’re passionate about is a great way to establish relationships with people who can help you find opportunities and expand your future.
If relocating isn’t an option, think about other ways you can expand your network and increase your exposure in your industry. Join professional associations, attend and speak at national and regional conferences, or even take on freelance work in other markets.
3. The Right Network
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: It’s not always what you know but who. Relationships mean everything professionally, and the people you’re connected to are often your best bet in finding a new job or receiving a promotion. Don’t underestimate the power of meeting and staying close to people in many different positions and companies, even when you’re not looking for a job.
One of the easiest ways to expand your network is to join a local industry group (like PRSA if you’re in public relations, or Toastmasters if you frequently deliver presentations). In addition to helping you meet like-minded professionals, these groups frequently offer training and job boards, tools that ultimately can boost your career growth.
4. The Right Mentor
No matter how great your industry, your network, or your experience, one of the most crucial factors to career advancement is having the right mentor by your side.
For one, there’s a lot that you’ll never learn in management textbooks and seminars—but that you will from firsthand conversations with a trusted advisor. A great mentor can also help you figure out which new areas you can explore within your field and which skills you should be expanding upon.
Having a mentor within your company is particularly valuable—she can identify opportunities for advancement you might overlook, guide you through challenging projects, and help you build relationships with higher-ups. Most importantly, if she’s influential, she can earn you recommendations for special projects or teams that you might not have been considered for otherwise. And these are the factors that are going to pave the way for success at your company.
If you aren’t sure exactly how to find a mentor, start by asking your manager or HR for suggestions. It doesn’t have to be formal, either—look around and see who the stars are in your organization, and ask them out to coffee. If you’re not finding anyone in your company, approach members of professional groups you belong to or check out industry organizations with official mentoring programs.
It would be awesome if there was a clear recipe we could follow to ensure a successful career path—but, well, you already know there’s not. Career advancement isn’t an easy or straightforward task, but by continuing to do great work and identifying and leveraging the other factors that can impact your goals, you’ll put yourself on the right track.