The golden rule: Never stop learning!

Michigan Ross School of Business has led studies on why people stall in their career paths – and how they can pick up their momentum. While the results were comprehensive, Professor of Management Scott DeRue sums up one overarching takeaway: “We’ve discovered the one thing you can do to keep you on track to the top and that is: never stop learning.” (00:10)

Against a backdrop of constant changes in best practices, technology, and culture, it’s hard to stay ahead of the curve. DeRue’s advice suggests that you can’t rely on what you learned in the past; you have to keep moving forward. Here are a few tips on how to advance your career even when you feel you’ve hit a plateau.

1. Change your perspective on mistakes and risk

It’s not how many times you fall that’s important, it’s how many times you get back up. 

With such a dynamic job market these days, a cautious approach to business will leave you in limbo. You’ll find yourself unsatisfied with where your career is, but too afraid to take the leap to the next level. 

If you sit waiting for the perfect idea to come along (newsflash: it won’t), you will lose the skills and instincts you need to capitalize on opportunities. By embracing risk and accepting failure, you’ll stay up-to-date on the trends and techniques that are relevant today. 

As DeRue says, “Instead of only setting goals focused on achievement, set goals for how many experiments you will try or how many ideas you will explore.” (01:05)

2. Write down your development goals

One super simple, but often overlooked, method for how to advance your career is by writing down your goals. With SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely), you can give a structure to your work. This isn’t just great from a practical perspective – it also gives you a huge motivation boost. 

Think in a timeframe of three to five years – long enough to make a difference, but short enough to visualize. As part of your development plan, consider what (skills) you need to learn to reach your goals. 

Scott DeRue adds, “Once you’ve identified those goals, break each one down into specific actions that you can take.” (01:26) Now that you’ve got a plan on pen and paper (or more likely a Google Doc), you’re ready to go.

3. Treat yourself with respect

As much as we might like to be a Tony Stark character who can do it all, it’s important to recognize we’re humans. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to hold down a full-time job and a family while doing an MBA in the evenings and learning Python on the weekend. As mundane as it might sound, your health really is the most important thing in the long run. By overpacking your schedule, you’ll quickly burn out.

DeRue suggests, “You need to carve out time in your schedule for yourself to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally.” (01:45) By making this a priority in your agenda, you’ll be able to perform at a high level throughout your career.

4. Draw on your support network

A skill all entrepreneurs possess is knowing how to advance their careers by surrounding themselves with the best people. Sure, they offer support, guidance, and new perspectives, but they shouldn’t just give you what you want. The best contacts will know when to be blunt and honest, while still having your best interests at heart.

As DeRue puts it, “You need what I call your personal board of directors – the people who will proactively support you, advocate for you, and give you the honest and candid feedback and mentorship that you need when you need it the most.” (01:58)

These people are instrumental in your motivation, too. It’s all too easy to break promises to yourself, but if you are close to people you look up to, you will strive that bit further to achieve your potential. 

Bringing it all together

Our tips for how to advance your career aren’t exactly rocket science, but they do take hard work and commitment. Combining a growth mindset with a development plan, self-care, and a support network, will seriously increase your chances of success.