top of page

Taking Control of Your Career Development When Your Company Won't

In an ideal world, companies would invest substantial time and resources into developing their employees' careers. Unfortunately, that is often not the reality. Many organizations today are focused on short-term goals and quick returns, leaving little room for employee career development. This puts the onus on individuals to take charge of bettering their own skills and experiences if they want to advance professionally.

While it's understandable to feel frustrated with a lack of organizational support, it is still possible to thrive in your career - even when your company doesn't seem to care. By taking matters into your own hands, being proactive, and getting creative, you can find ways to build the knowledge, abilities, and connections that will fuel your professional growth.

Understanding What You're Evaluated On

The first strategy is to understand what your company genuinely values and seeks in employees when making promotion and compensation decisions. This may require some sleuthing if formal criteria are not clearly laid out. Talk to your manager and ask what specific skills, results, and behaviors they look for. Observe patterns in who climbs the ladder fastest in your workplace. Look at past job descriptions for higher-level roles you aspire to someday.

Once you identify the key areas your workplace cares about, such as driving sales, client satisfaction, efficiency, collaboration, etc., you can focus on excelling and gathering proof of your talents in those domains. Make sure what you spend time bettering align with the items that show up on your performance appraisal. This alignment sets you up for the strongest reviews and fastest advancement.

Getting Feedback on Blind Spots

An additional strategy is soliciting candid feedback from others on your skills, work products, and collaboration style. Target trusted colleagues, mentors, or even your manager. Ask them to point out any blind spots where you may be unaware of development needs or performance gaps. Listen with an open mind, resisting any initial defensiveness.

Use their critiques to honestly assess your abilities versus what is expected in roles you want. Look for recurring themes about weaknesses to address or strengths to build upon further. Then act upon this feedback with targeted improvements. You may be oblivious to shortcomings hindering your progression, so others' input offers rare valuable insight.

Self-Evaluating Your Skills

It also helps to personally grade your talents in every area relevant to your job. This allows you to judge where you can still gain mastery.

For each major skill, honestly rate yourself on a scale like: novice, proficient, expert. Gauge both your abilities now and your level when you started in the role. Any major gaps indicate zones to bolster with further practice and education.

Prioritize enhancing skills that are heavily utilized in your position and vital to the quality of your contributions. Focus first on raising proficient areas to expert versus novice to proficient. Deepening your existing strengths has a greater impact than broadening skills from scratch.

Increasing Visibility

Beyond sharpening abilities, also raise your visibility with decision-makers whose opinions influence career advancement. Volunteer for high-profile assignments that provide an opportunity to impress executives. Speak up in meetings with senior leadership present. Join important committees that give exposure to those at the top. Attend social events where mingling allows networking with higher-ups.

Also proactively share your wins and accomplishments with leaders who may not see your day-to-day work. This keeps you relevant in their minds for new openings and promotions. Find natural ways to let them know of your unique value and talents. Just avoid seeming like a braggart.

Becoming the Expert on an Emerging Issue

Developing deep knowledge on an emerging topic important to your company is another avenue for attention and growth. Identify a trend in your industry that will only grow in relevance. Dive into fully understanding it before anyone else does. Position yourself as an expert source your colleagues rely on to explain this issue and predict implications.

Lead the charge in preparing your organization for capitalizing on the opportunity or overcoming the challenge. Share articles, give lunch-and-learns, publish blogs, present to executives - provide value by disseminating your wisdom. When you establish yourself as a pioneer thinker on changes affecting your workplace, people will take notice.

Finding a Mentor

Finally, seek out a more seasoned professional willing to mentor you. Choose someone well-respected who understands your company's unwritten rules of advancement. Meet regularly to hear their objective advice on boosting your skills, overcoming obstacles, and opening doors. Be receptive to tough feedback.

Ask your mentor to make introductions to influential contacts. See if they will recommend you for prized assignments. Request their advocacy when promotion opportunities arise. With the guidance and backing of someone invested in your growth, you gain a invaluable asset for developing your career - even without company support.


While lacking organizational career development programs is far from ideal, you still have options to take your professional future into your own hands. Be proactive with self-assessment, seeking feedback, building expertise, increasing visibility, and finding a mentor. With concerted effort over time, you can create the conditions for your continued success independent of your employer's involvement. It requires perseverance through roadblocks, but the control and empowerment of directing your own advancement is well worth it.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



bottom of page