[BLOG] Women in Advanced Therapies: 8 Top Tips for Career Development in a Virtual Environment

women in advanced therapies blog post - career progression
This month’s Women in Advanced Therapies roundtable focussed on how to strategically advance your current career path, addressing 3 key steps: where are you now? Where do you want to go? And how are you going to get there?
It has been a strange year for career development across many different industries with complex dynamics between career stability and progression opportunities. As we come to the end of major disruptions caused by Covid-19 and as the advanced therapies industry continues to grow, unique opportunities for career development are starting to emerge.

After joining my very first Women in Advanced Therapies roundtable as the Editor of Phacilitate, I wanted to share a list of top tips for advancing your career as discussed, agreed and consolidated by the group.

The 3 key steps for advancing your current career path include 3 key questions:
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Where are you now?

To get started, it is important to consider what you enjoy doing, what you are good at and what you are passionate about. Asking these questions to (or about) yourself can be really helpful in defining a new path as well as your next steps.

Tip 1: consider mentorship opportunities
One option for gaining perspective and support is to consider finding yourself a mentor. Mentors can come from many different avenues and could be as obvious as your line manager, for example, or could come from outside of your institution from a role you perhaps would aspire towards. When approaching a potential mentor, the group recommended not to hold back – many people will be flattered to be asked to act as a mentor!
 It is important to remember that not all managers are good leaders or mentors, but there are ways in which poor management can be flipped into a positive experience. You can learn from their behaviour and understand how to manage working with them.
As an extension of exploring mentorship opportunities, keeping advocates, champions or sponsors onside is extremely useful. It may take a little time to build and nurture a relationship whereby someone feels confident about going the extra mile for you, but making sure you keep supportive people in your network can prove very beneficial.

Tip 2: keep your CV up to date
Keeping your CV up to date may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it was stressed a few times that updating a CV after too long can prove arduous and challenging.

Updating your CV on an annual, quarterly or even monthly basis reduces any risk of forgetting valuable skills you may have learned and how best to position them. Reviewing your CV regularly also forces you to keep stock of what you are learning and where the gaps might be.

 An extra slice of advice here – take a look at job descriptions on LinkedIn for similar roles, and save them! You will likely find that you have many desirable skills that you may not have articulated in as good a way, or that you may have left off your CV all-together.

Tip 3: ask for 360° feedback
Something that may be a less obvious step in determining where you are now, is to ask more people than just your manager for feedback. While a good manager may provide comprehensive feedback and support in assessing your performance, it can also be helpful to understand how your direct reports experience working with you as well as other colleagues from other departments you might work with regularly.

 An element of asking for honest feedback may mean that you may receive negative or ‘sting-y’ responses. Be prepared for criticism – critical responses can serve as opportunities for development!

There are also standard tests you can take to gain insight into your personality, values, strengths and brain dominance, just to name a few… While these tests do not serve as feedback opportunities necessarily, they can be useful in understanding how your strengths and personality may factor into your working persona.

Where do you want to go?

If you are looking forward towards the next steps in your career, it is important to consider whether you are aspiring to take the next step in your current role, or if you are aspiring for a whole new role all together.

Tip 4: create a ‘Board of Directors’ for your career
Speak to 3–4 people whose positions you could see yourself in. Consider their own journeys into the positions they are in, take a look at the job descriptions for their roles on LinkedIn and have a think about what you want to be when you 'grow up’.

Considering where people in roles you aspire towards got where they are can be incredibly helpful in guiding your next steps into suitable roles and gaining the experience you need in order get into those positions yourself.

 Speaking to alumni from your institution within industry is a useful first step if you’re unsure what opportunities may be out there (and therefore who to speak to).

Tip 5: understand exactly what progression might look like
In the context of academia, for example, many people do not always realise exactly what might be involved in progressing with additional teaching or management responsibilities on top of research positions. Understanding what progression looks like and, related to the point above, why alumni may have left certain pathways can be a helpful defining factor in determining your next steps.

Another thing to consider is whether progression involves leading people, and whether this is something you are actually interested in. If you are interested in leadership roles, how many people would you want in your team? These decisions could further guide your next steps.

Tip 6: consider roles both inside and outside of your company  
This may also seem an obvious point on the face of it, but rather than discussing the process of applying for a diverse range of jobs, this focuses more on collating a cache of skills for your own development, keeping tabs on what skills and experience are desirable for progression both internally, but also what others might be looking for.

 Sometimes you can be overwhelmed with options for roles and pathways to pursue. Advice from the group is that you can never make a mistake. Even if you pursue an avenue that might not work for you, any role you go for will give insight into the industry, and perhaps from an alternative perspective. Go for it!

How are you going to get there?

Finally, once you have established the different paths you might be interested in pursuing and identified the skills and experience you might need to get there, how do you go about actively and constructively developing yourself in those key areas?

Tip 7: define yourself some objectives
One of the key tips the group agreed on was that defining 2–3 key ASMART objectives with your manager can be very effective, not only in tracking your performance and development, but also in establishing credibility.
  • A – aligned with the overall objectives of the company or institution.
  • S – specific and actionable.
  • M – measurable, although the point was raised that it can be difficult to quantitavely measure performance in certain roles, for example, in academia – make sure you are clear about what is expected from you in your current role!
  • A – attainable, achievable or realistic.
  • R – relevant in the sense that it fits with your role.
  • T – time-bound – set your yourself deadlines or regularly opportunities for reviewing your progress.

Even if your manager is not especially engaged with measuring your performance against these objectives, tracking your own performance over the course of a year can help you to prepare for conversations about progression opportunities internally or elsewhere, as well as identifying possible gaps for further development.

However, it was reiterated that while it may be important to track your development, making sure you are also meeting the demands of the role you were hired into is essential for establishing credibility. Aim to exceed the expectations of your job description and more opportunities will come your way.

Tip 8: devise a development plan
Personal development can be a tricky and confusing area to navigate with opportunities for upskilling apparently everywhere (from LinkedIn to webinars…)

To keep things simple, the following breakdown was commended during the discussion:

⇒ 70% of development should occur ‘on the job’, where you actively challenge yourself within your current role. This could involve you taking on a new project or expanding your responsibilities beyond your current job description, all the while building on your skills and experience and testing yourself.

⇒ 20% of development should come from networking. For example, putting yourself out there at conferences and in specific networking environments. Accept invitations to speak, join roundtables and play an active role in involving yourself in the community!

Another aspect to networking is also speaking to recruiters. Don’t turn down the chance to speak to someone about other roles out there, ask about salary expectations and bonuses – at the very least, you’ll be able to benchmark your own salary and learn more about what’s out there, while making connections with people who may be able to help you later.

⇒ 10% of your development is then left for courses, upskilling and technical training.

As a final note…

As a brief final note, with any advantages or opportunities you do receive, there will always be someone behind you, just starting out on their own journey. The concept of ‘paying it forward’ was brought up by the group towards the end, as the discussion closed with a positive, forward looking perspective.

As I wrap up my blog post, I just wanted to extend my thanks to everyone from the roundtable for contributing to a very insightful and constructive session. I cannot wait for the next one in a just a few weeks’ time…

To find out more about Phacilitate’s Women in Advanced Therapies initiative and to meet this year’s mentors, visit the page, here.