For most companies, the summer months mean lighter work schedules, rotating vacations for staffers, and overall, a more relaxed atmosphere around the office. It's also a great time to proactively advance your career prospects, and doesn't have to mean more time in your cubicle, either.
"As summer approaches, you're hitting the halfway mark in the year, and it's the perfect time to check in with your yearly goals," says Vicki Salemi, Monster's career expert. "The key is leveraging your downtime to create new opportunities for yourself."
Here are some tips from career experts on ways to advance your career this summer, and how to get your boss on board:
#1 - "Try on" some additional tasks outside of your department.
Sometimes in the summer, there are situations in which you might be able to cross-train because people are more frequently in and out of the office, says Ryan Alexander, general manager of Addison Group, a recruiting and staffing services firm. "You can ask if you can help out while a person is on vacation. It's an easy way in to learn new skills," says Alexander.
Getting to shadow a colleague in another department is almost like getting an MBA on sight, says Salemi. Start by having an off-the-record conversation with your department of interest to inquire if shadowing is something you can do, she suggests.
How to convince the boss: Make sure he or she understands that even if you're going to help out another department, your job isn't going to suffer. Explain how this endeavor could have a positive impact in your current role, and articulate some of the specific insights you hope to achieve by working within other groups, says Alexander.
#2 - Hit the conference circuit.
Are there summer conferences, seminars or other events taking place in your industry that you might be able to attend on behalf of your company? "There is a lot of value in becoming active in a professional association, and meeting people in related fields," says Lynn Berger, a New York-based career counselor and coach. Not only is it good for your own career management, it's a great way to get your company's name out there, too. Informal networking lunches and gatherings are also great options.
How to convince the boss: Start with a smaller outing, and make sure you follow up and show the value of attending. That can make it easier to get approval to go to the bigger events. If you think budget constraints might prevent you from getting the green light, Salemi suggests pursuing conference speaking or volunteering opportunities so you still get to attend and network without the full price tag. Do your research and homework in advance so you know the exact costs, which can prepare you to make a compelling case about the potential return on investment.
#3 - Shadow someone at another company.
Find someone in your career field whose work you admire, and ask if you can make an on-site visit for a day. Bouncing ideas off of other industry professionals and learning their best practices can be very beneficial for your own productivity, and for helping your department grow. "You don't want to work in silos all the time," says Salemi. The challenge here, however, is to define a clear desired outcome of shadowing that benefits the company, not just you.
How to convince the boss: "Have specific ideas. Spell out how this is going to help your department. Explain that the other company is going to share their policies with you, and it will help build relationships," says Salemi. Afterward, initiate a debrief meeting, saying something like, "I visited office XYZ and this was what we talked about, this was the take away, and this is what we should do."
#4 - Take a summer training course.
Whether you find a class at your local community college, an online training course, or a few webinars, talk to your HR department about educational opportunities that are supported by the company. Summer could be just the right time to pursue extra training or learning you've been putting off in favor of a lengthy to-do list. More and more companies are recognizing the value of a workforce that participates in continuing education, too. For instance, Starbucks offers to pay the tuition for employees to attend Arizona State University's online bachelor's degree program.
"Obtaining professional certifications is a very savvy career move," says Robin Ryan, author of 60 Seconds and You're Hired. "These are typically expensive and take one to two years to complete. But if you really want to advance your career, say get the certificate in HR, or payroll, or project management areas, then have a chat with your boss and get their buy-in on this career advancement program," she says. Of course, there are shorter-term training options, too, if you simply need to add a new skill to your repertoire.
How to convince the boss: "Carefully follow the process to get the company's approval to pay for your program," says Ryan. You'll also likely have to get approval for any schedule changes that might be needed to accommodate your coursework, whether it's working flex hours for a few weeks, or logging into class from your desk. Explain that once completed, the training will allow you to increase your contributions to the company.
#5 - Ask for time to do good.
Exploring volunteer opportunities that can be done with your company's backing is good for everyone involved. "Try to come up with a cause and propose a community project," says Berger. She suggests looking into what other companies in the area are doing and finding out if there's a way to piggyback. Or, you can contact nonprofits of interest to get information about how other company-sponsored volunteers have contributed to their efforts. In a recent survey of employers by the Society for Human Resource Management, 20 percent of companies said they give their workers a bank of paid time off specifically for volunteering.
How to convince the boss: "You can add value to the company by being engaged in some type of an outside project," says Alexander. When you connect and meet people at volunteer events, you're not only spreading goodwill, but you're creating brand awareness in the community.
"When it comes to your career, if you're not pushing forward, you're probably going backward," says Alexander. If you truly want to grow your career, you have to be comfortable asking to do more, and there's no better time than summer.
- "More Companies Encourage Workers to Volunteer, On the Clock," http://www.npr.org/2013/08/14/211961622/more-companies-encourage-workers-to-volunteer-on-the-clock
- Lynn Berger, interviewed by author 6/23/15
- Robin Ryan, interviewed by author via email, 6/24/15
- Ryan Alexander, interviewed by author 6/24/15
- Starbucks College Achievement Plan, http://www.starbucks.com/careers/college-plan
- Vicki Salemi, interviewed by author 6/23/15