Do you remember the children’s board game Chutes and Ladders?

In this game, players begin at the bottom of the game board and move forward (and upward) based on the number displayed following their roll of the die. To add an element of excitement, the game includes a twist. In addition to moving forward square by square based on the die roll, players also have the opportunity to climb ahead of their competition by landing on a game square with a ladder. Some ladders are short, others are tall. But every ladder gives the player a chance to level up. What about the chutes? Oh, those drop you down. The unlucky player who lands on a game square featuring a chute is transported to a lower level where they must begin their climb again.

The success or failure of players in this game is entirely a matter of chance. Maybe they’ll land on the square that takes them up several levels, maybe they’ll end up back at square one.

A game of chance such as Chutes and Ladders may be fine for children’s play, but it is no way to manage your career.

Yet, some professionals approach their career development as if it were a matter of chance or out of their hands. If their employer offers them a ladder such as training or mentorship, then they move forward. If they encounter a chute such as a layoff or new job skill demands, then they find themselves losing ground.

Don’t leave your career progression to chance

Despite the fact that employees want and expect their employers to provide career development opportunities, an alarming number of employers don’t. In Lack of Career Development Drives Employee Attrition, Gartner contributor Sarah Morris cited research by Global Talent Monitor which indicated that 40% of departing employees cited lack of future career development as a reason for seeking greener pastures. Additionally, Morris notes that modern workplaces offer fewer opportunities for advancement than their pre-2008 recession counterparts.

The harsh reality is that if you are waiting for your employer to provide you with the tools you need to move ahead in your career, you may be waiting a long time.

But that doesn’t mean that your career needs to be stuck in place. You can build your own ladder to success by implementing a personal professional development program–and you definitely should.

Keep reaching for higher career goals. Image of stair leading to top.

Take control of your career’s trajectory

In his book, Knock ‘em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide, resume expert Martin Yate writes, “You can’t rely on hard work and loyalty to deliver a successful career… you have to take a more active role in managing your career.” Yate then instructs readers to regularly assess their skills in reference to their chosen career and to create a professional skill development program that addresses any gaps.

How can you begin this process?

Follow these 6 steps to manage your professional development and level up your career

Step 1. Define career success.

You can’t create a plan to achieve your goals if you don’t know what your goals are. So, your first step in crafting your career development plan should be to define what success means to you. What is your ultimate career goal? What do you hope to achieve as a professional? The answer to these questions will point you to your personal career North Star.

Step 2. Identify the milestones.

Unless you hit the big ladder square, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to reach your ultimate career goal in just a few steps. Instead, you’ll need to pass several career milestones along the way. For this reason, your next step should be to identify those interim jobs and positions that represent milestones on the way to your ultimate position. These are the levels you’ll need to pass as you make your way to the top of your personal career path.

Step 3. Create a professional skill needs list.

Now that you know where you want to go and the milestones you’ll need to pass to get there, the hard work begins. For every position that stands between you and your ultimate goal, including the position that you currently hold, you must identify the skills that position requires. This may seem intimidating at first, but this step is essential. Today’s employers are looking for candidates who come to the job ready to perform and progress. To get to your next milestone job, you need to know what employers for that job are seeking. You can utilize a free data tool like Carmen’s Skills Benchmark analysis.

Skills Benchmark analysis of Senior Data Scientist job on

Carmen’s Skills Benchmark analysis pulls the top commonly requested hard skills and soft skills for any job title, in any industry, that is drawn from a real-time analysis of over 4 million active jobs across 300,000 employers. It then compares what you have in your resume to these top commonly requested skills for your job title of choice and lets you know what you have and what you’re missing. As you make your list, prioritize skills by their importance and how soon you’ll need them. (You’ll want to begin working on the skills needed to advance to the next level first!)

Step 4. Perform a situational analysis.

This step requires an honest and thorough analysis of your strengths and weaknesses as well as your current career status. If you’ve been keeping a results journal or have an updated resume, start with these resources to help you identify the technical, transferable, and soft skills you possess. There are also many career self-assessment tools that can help you get a clear picture of your abilities and aptitudes. As a part of your analysis, evaluate where you are in your career, too. Are you in a job that makes the best use of your current skills? Is there opportunity for advancement in your current role? Is your position on the path toward your ultimate goal?

Step 5. Note the gaps.

Once you know the skills you need to reach your ultimate goal and the skills you have, it is time to identify the gaps. Martin Yate calls this step gap analysis. Look at your list of prioritized skills and note your level of competency for each. In this step you should identify not only the skills you don’t yet possess but those that you should invest time in improving.

Step 6. Launch your plan.

Finally, it is time to take action by launching your personal professional skill development plan. Take your list of needed (and need to improve) skills and begin identifying ways to gain or improve them. Be intentional about setting aside time each quarter to devote to developing one or more of these skills. Revisit your list regularly to make note of your progress. If you find yourself slipping behind, consider enlisting the help of an accountability partner (or app) to keep you on track.

Your career is in your hands

Human nature tells us that no one is more invested in your career than you. Which is why making the most of every opportunity to advance your career should be on your permanent to-do list. Don’t wait for career success to find you by chance, create a plan to achieve your career goals today.

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