Each of us is responsible for our own professional growth path, including the experience and exposure we gain within our industry and our future employability. The challenge is, that many of us still confuse tenure with experience.

One thing we can count on is the speed of change in business today. As such, turning your focus toward continual learning and skill acquisition rather than tenure is essential to maintaining professional relevance in today’s competitive market.

The question is, who should ultimately be responsible for your professional development?

As you’d expect there are wide-ranging views on this and the approach will differ from one employer to the next. Fortunately, the best employers are increasingly recognising the value of creating the right environment for professional development, beyond the basics and beyond remuneration, as core to their Employee Value Proposition (EVP) in attracting and retaining top talent.

Creating an environment that supports professional growth is a step in the right direction from the employer.

But it’s only valuable when you step up, take control and make decisions regarding your own development that you can positively impact your own career.

1. Experience is not about tenure

There is a common misconception that tenure is tantamount to experience and seniority; perhaps we can call it an outdated truism. That you can only progress in an organisation if you’ve ‘earned your stripes’, and that respect should be a result of time in a role rather than the results you’ve delivered from performing that role.

Loyalty is important and the power of institutional knowledge should be recognised, but promotion based on tenure is no longer the fait accompli it once was.  Particularly as new blood enters from markets where competitiveness is reliant on a hunger to learn and grow.

Experience is also more aligned with exposure; both across an organisation and across an industry. Even if your career has been tied up with the one organisation, progression and role diversity can be a key differentiator in market and a draw-card for potential employers.

Irrespective of your tenure, it’s critical to understand how employable you are outside of your current role, organisation and sector. How relevant and transferable are your skills?

Which begs the generation-dividing question: How long is too long in a role?

That is the multi-million dollar question faced by businesses today. Businesses which are equally responsible for placing emphasis on time served rather than value added.

2. Complacency is a career killer

As recruiters, we are constantly on the lookout for talent that can make a tangible difference to organisations as they continue to evolve. We look for those who understand that what got them to where they are in their career today, is unlikely to get them to that next step tomorrow.

Faced with a choice between two equally capable individuals for a role – one motivated to invest in their own professional development and to step outside of their comfort zone, and another who expects their employer to take responsibility for their professional development and lead them up the chain of command – it should come as no surprise who will be offered the role. For those playing at home, it’s the former.

3. Invest in yourself

Regardless of your seniority, the key to success is maintaining your professional relevance by investing in yourself. It may surprise you just how high the ROI can be.

Have you followed a conventional path forward, working your way through the ranks relying on your tenure? Or have you used the environment created by your employer as a springboard for your professional growth and development?

There is always going to be a healthy dose of ‘being in the right place at the right time’. But ultimately, like anything in life, what you put into your career – and yourself – is what you’ll get out of it.

So what shape could an ‘investment in you’ take? There are the traditional routes such as studying for an MBA or Masters or taking a course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD). There are more informal approaches such as attending networking events, participating in committees or volunteering in the community.

Interestingly, a growing number of executives are choosing to take professional investment that one step further; investing in a side project as a catalyst for personal growth and development.

But there is one often overlooked opportunity that can provide the greatest return on investment; putting your hand up, rather than your hand out.

Whichever way you choose to invest in you, what’s important to remember is the amount of time you spend in a role is not what will give you the dimensions, character and experience you need to accelerate your career.  On the plus side, it’s never too late to start.

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