by Sharon Fleshman
Many of you will be starting new jobs in the next few months and you’ve probably already heard the term “on-the-job training” mentioned in one place or another. I’m going to tweak the language a little bit and use the term “development” as some organizations are currently doing. There is a finite quality implied in “training” which typically has a beginning and end. On the other hand, I think that “development” points to more of a dynamic and continuous process. The bottom line is that wherever you find yourself, you need to be proactive and responsible for your own development. To that end, here are some steps that you can take:
Embrace the present. It’s good to plan ahead and envision the future, but you also need to make sure that you focus on the job that you have been hired for. Take advantage of all of the resources at your disposal so that you get off to a strong start. Attend relevant training sessions offered or sponsored by your employer. Ask good questions and be on the lookout for potential mentors. Be clear on the expectations regarding your role.
Assess. Most employers have at least an annual review process for their employees, but you should not wait for your formal evaluation to assess your performance on the job. Ask yourself a few key questions periodically. How am I using my strengths and skills in a way that produces results and maximizes impact? What are some areas for improvement for me to work on? How should I elicit constructive feedback from my supervisor and peers? How can I best align my work responsibilities with my own work values and goals in this environment?
Network. I realize that we’ve already inundated you with encouragement to network, network, network, but the benefits of networking are not limited to searching for that first job. Building bridges to others on the job, through professional associations and by way of alumni networks can pave the way to progress at your current employer as well as future career opportunities. While you’re at it, don’t forget that networking should be reciprocal, so look for ways to give good information, advice and leads to those who have helped you as well as current students who will follow in your footsteps.
Broaden your horizons. Once you have established a solid track record in performing your current job responsibilities, it’s time to develop in other areas that can expose you to new people and possibilities. Think about skill sets that you need to move forward in your career. Is training available in those areas? Perhaps you can participate in special projects or committees that involve staff from different functions or departments. Remember that similar opportunities also exist outside of your job; professional associations and volunteer work are two potential contexts for your career development.
As you transition from your time at Penn, I hope that you’ll see your first (or next) job as an opportunity to continue your journey of lifelong learning.