Ask Jo: Six Ways to Take Charge of Your Career

I’m interested in advancing my career. I am currently working on an individual development plan for the short and long term, but my company has limited resources available to support employees’ goals. How can I continue to grow and develop in my career? – Business Process Improvement Manager  

I’ve been going back over transcripts from four years of women’s leadership webinars, looking for an interesting quote from each of the over 50 women leaders who have made guest speaker appearances.

These women leaders hold senior-level roles in the corporate, academic and non-profit sectors but share some things in common, namely the desire to share what they have learned about career and leadership development, and to support the success of women coming up in the leadership pipeline.

As I highlighted my favorite quote from each of the speakers, I noticed that their career development advice fell into certain, specific categories, such as building your brand, managing upward, speaking up and delivering valuable business results, among others.

Each of these topics is a valuable action step to include in your career advancement plan. But by far the most popular category of advice given by the speakers was self-advocacy, which was neatly summarized by the Vice President for Research at an academic institution, when she said, “Own your own career trajectory. You have to make your own opportunities.”

If you are committed to your career advancement goals, you can’t afford to wait for someone to recognize your ambition, take you under their wing and develop you, especially if your company has limited resources available. Here are six tips shared by senior women leaders, for taking charge of your career:

1. Have a career plan

“Make a plan or someone will make one for you. A mentor told me that years ago and I have always lived my life in accordance with that. It starts with making choices with each and every opportunity you’re presented. Many of us are over-achievers, so the minute something comes up, you want to throw up your hands and say, “Sure, I’ll do it.” You want to be the good corporate citizen. But you don’t always have to do that. There’s a balance that you can strike where you say ‘yes’ to the activities that are not in conflict with those things that are important to you.”– VP of Services, insurance industry

2. Take career risks

“I’ve taken a lot of risks with my career. I believe in “large risk, large reward”. No matter what happens, do a great job, give it your all, and people will remember you. Do you want to be in the driver’s seat or do you want to be a passenger?” – VP of Strategy, security industry

3. Choose one thing that is most important in your next role

“Choose the one thing that is most important to you in your next role, be it location, be it a particular function, a particular level in the organization, whether you’d like direct reports next, or whatever it is – and then, be as flexible as you can about the rest.” – President, automotive industry

4. Market yourself, but stay on theme

“You have to know what you want in your career. Market yourself. Stay on theme. Interesting is no longer a good criteria (for taking a role). Know what experience you need and what kind of jobs will give you that experience.” – VP of Finance, energy industry

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want

“Sometimes, you have to ask for it. If you see something, don’t expect it will be there for you or it will be given to you. One very important part of my career was when I decided to go back to my professional role but not full time. I really was afraid to ask for it, but somebody said, “How will you know unless you ask?” So, I went in. I presented a proposal along with someone else who I knew wanted the same thing as I did, and we proposed a job share. If I hadn’t asked, I would probably have just either gone back full time or done something I wasn’t very comfortable with personally. So, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Be prepared. Have your plan. But ask for it.” – SVP of Staffing, banking industry

6. Put yourself forward to be developed as a leader

“Don’t be shy or hesitant about putting yourself forward as someone who’s interested in being developed as a leader. Sometimes, there’s not a formal way to do that in your organization, so be sure to communicate that to people that you work with. Let them know that you see yourself as someone who has that potential and interest to develop in that area. Waiting for something to happen to you may well bring disappointment.” – Corporate Secretary, energy industry

The Takeaway

I’ve been so inspired by these six spot-on quotes for taking the wheel and steering your own career. I hope you have, too.

What will you do to take charge of your career?

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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