Yes. You can!
When we think of career development, we usually think in terms of vertical or upward movement. This could include a new title, a bigger paycheck/bonus, a higher level of responsibility, a team to manage, etc. However, in smaller companies, this option may not be available because there are much fewer upward opportunities overall. You may be waiting years for someone to either leave the company or retire. There is also a much greater internal pool of potential candidates as your competition.
Therefore, you will need to get creative in these situations and be open to lateral moves to grow your career. The following are options to develop your skillset without a formal promotion:
- Take a different internal role that is equivalent to your current one. For example, if you are an engineer, you may want to try technical sales, quality, or purchasing. If you are a production operator, you might want to move to a maintenance role. In this situation, you are adding to your toolbox of skills and learning new tasks.
- Transfer to a different team within your functional area to experience new projects and work for a new manager. In this example, an HR Generalist might move to the training department. Another example would be moving to a team that supports a different product line than your current one.
- Volunteer for cross-functional stretch assignments that will challenge you. This will give you exposure to different people in the organization.
- If your company is global, volunteer to take an assignment overseas for a year or two. This will add valuable cultural and process experiences.
- Join a special task force to solve a critical problem. This assignment will likely be short-term, but it will give you a sense of accomplishment once the project is over.
- Volunteer to mentor new, inexperienced hires. You will be able to share your vast knowledge and develop others at the same time. This will give you coaching experience without being an “official” manager.
- Jump in to cover for a co-worker who may be on a short-term leave. You will learn how to do their job and broaden your background at the same time.
- Become a project manager on a core team. Along the same lines of mentoring, this will give you the ability to show off your leadership skills.
Any of the above examples will give you internal visibility and allow you to demonstrate your skills. You will be much more marketable because of the cross-functional training and experience you have gained. Even if there is no vertical opportunity that develops at your current company, you can now use the new skills to build your resume and apply to other companies if that is your career goal. At the very least, you will continue to be challenged and inspired within your current role.