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How to take the next step in your career

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 3 Jul 2023

Taking the next step

Have you reached a point in your career where you're unsure on what to do next? When we start our careers, it can be easier to know where to start looking. Typically, we go for entry-level, graduate or apprenticeship roles, to allow us to kick-start our career and learn on the job. However, when you’ve been working, learning and developing, it can be hard to know what steps you need to take to move up the ladder. Without guidance, this can feel like a really scary change. Especially, when you don’t really know how to make a change. This article is going to talk about what you can do to plan the next step in your career and how to go about it. 

Why are you thinking of next steps?

Depending on what stage you are in your career, you may be beginning to think about next steps and changes you can make to reach your goals. Knowing where you want to be in your career can help you feel satisfied in your role and determined to carry on learning. A lot of the time, we think about taking the next step in our careers because we feel like we’ve learnt everything from that position. If you aren’t feeling challenged in a role, it can be a big indicator that it’s time to move on. 

Where do you want to be?

In order to move on from your current role, it’s good to have an idea of where you want to be and what you want to learn next. Whether you are re-entering the workplace, or you’ve been in your current role for a while, consider your current situation when making decisions about where you want to go. It can be good to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want to stay in the same sector?
  • Are you looking to stay in a similar role?
  • Do you want to advance with your current employer?
  • What’s your next step in your PDP?
  • Do you want to step up the ladder into more senior positions?

Looking for the next step in your career isn’t always linear. There are different pathways available and it’s important to consider them all. You may want a change in company or even a step up with your current employer, whatever it is you’re looking for, it can all start with a plan. 

Planning your career move

Take the time to consider what steps you want to take and if useful to you, document the process. Keep a list or PDP of what you want to achieve, when and how you’re going to do it, to ensure you’re taking everything into consideration. Taking that bit of extra time to plan your next steps can help you achieve your outcome. 

Set your goals - What is it you’re looking for and when do you want to achieve it by? It’s important to set yourself realistic targets and give yourself the benefit of the doubt when needed. Job seeking is difficult, and it can be hard to pick one route to go down, so make sure you’re setting smaller goals, opposed to one big one, to ensure the journey gets you to the right place. 

Self-assessment - You are your harshest critic, but make sure you’re taking time to appreciate what you can do, as well as what you can’t do. There’s always something new to learn but make sure you’re giving yourself a fair assessment. Reflect on why you’re not currently happy at work and use this to fuel your motivation. Allow yourself to talk proudly of what you do and understand the skills you have, in order to build on ones that can help you reach your goals. 

Your PDP - Your personal development plan is there to help you reach your goals. By having everything laid out in one place, can help you see just how far you’ve come. It can also help you visualise your goals and future out exactly how you’re going to reach them. You use your PDP to strengthen your understanding about yourself and your achievements. It’s a guide that can help you a lot when job seeking. You can read more about the importance of a personal development plan on our careers and advice page. 

Reflect on your career - What steps have you taken to get where you are now? Are you looking for promotion at work or are you looking for a bigger change? Whichever goals you have, make sure you’re using your experiences to guide you. Understand exactly what it is that’s not making you happy and aim to fix that. 

Consider the short and long term

Not everyone’s goals are the same. Some individuals love to find a company, apply for their job and stick with it for a long period of time. Others like to jump around jobs at a faster pace and learn new skills as they go. There is no right way to form your career, everyone works and learns in different ways and embracing your own way of working can be very important when looking to take next steps. 

Ask yourself: What type of job are you looking for now and is this going to be what you want in the future?

That’s not a question that everyone can easily answer. You may know what you want now but it might change in the future and that’s okay. Your PDP can be a great way to document your overall goal for your career, which may warp and change over time. But whilst thinking about your ‘big’ career goal, focus on what you want now. What are your current interests? What are you looking to learn? How can this next step help you towards your overarching goal? Questions that are all equally as important as each other. 

Understand what success means

Success can mean one thing to you and something completely different to another individual. It can be really easy to compare your workalike and decisions to those around you. Especially when social media has made it so easy to see what everyone else around us is doing and experiencing. However, when it comes to your career, it’s important not to make comparisons. We all have different goals, expectations and priorities that lead us on our work journey. Understand what it is you want, what is important to you and taking the next step can start to feel that little bit easier. 

Talk to your current employer

Depending on your goals, it may be a good idea to discuss your concerns with your line manager. If you’re working through your PDP and realise that you have goals your current employer may be able to help with, take advantage of the opportunity and don’t suffer in silence. Sometimes, the need for change isn’t because you don’t like your job or your employer, but because everything becomes the same, day in and day out. We crave change and learning, so when this stops, it can feel very easy to feel deflated in the workplace. Make sure you are talking about this in the workplace and with others in your life because chances are, it’s not just you with these thoughts. 

Listen to your gut

When we have a feeling about something, whether positive or negative, it can be instinct to push away the initial feelings you have. Take some time to rationalise your thoughts and feelings. However, our gut can tell us a lot. Being rational and taking time is a good thing, but why was your gut trying to tell you that thing in the first place? If you want to move roles, change career direction completely or just looking for a promotion, go for it. Don’t let your own thoughts become the thing that holds you back. 

Taking the next step in your career is never easy, especially when you don’t even know what the next step may be. But you have a bigger support network than you may have initially thought. Talk to people. Don’t hide these feelings. You can talk to your colleagues, line manager, friends and family. It can be scary when you don’t know what you’re doing, so chances are, someone can help guide you a little.

Remember, each step, no matter how small, won’t go unnoticed. Each goal you reach is another step in the right direction. Even making mistakes helps you become a better professional. Write a PDP, assess your goals and skills and make sure you’re giving yourself credit where credit is due. Change can be scary but don’t be the thing holding yourself back from success.