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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How to Keep Moving Up When You're the Only Person in Your Department

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We all know that ongoing learning is an important aspect of career success and happiness. Many of us dream of a job that provides opportunities to learn new skills, take on new projects, and be mentored by senior colleagues (that is, in addition to free lunch and unlimited vacation).

But what happens when you don’t get to work alongside a team of inspiring co-workers? When there’s no senior mentor to take you under their wing? How do you continue learning in your role when you’re the only one in your workplace who does what you do?

Have no fear: Here are five tips to keep you growing, even when you’re a team of one.

1. Read Everything (and Often)

While writing this article, I spoke to professionals from a variety of industries who have had experience working solo. By far, the most common strategy they used was to read aggressively.

Look for news articles, blog posts, and books that can help you keep updated in your field. Also, it never hurts to monitor what your competitors are doing (and publishing).

Liz Heijkoop is a one-woman marketing department at a ride-sharing startup called Ridj-it. She suggests making a daily habit of reading relevant publications: “If you spend just 30 minutes of each day browsing the news in your field, you’ll not only keep yourself up-to-date, but also leave yourself open to new inspiration and ideas that could wind up being rocket fuel for your company,” she says.

2. Join Virtual Communities

Even if you’re the only one in your company who does what you do, there are probably many people out there who occupy similar roles at other companies. These days, it’s easy to connect with these kinds of people using social media. You’re almost guaranteed to find a group dedicated to professionals who do what you do.

Use LinkedIn, Facebook, and other platforms to find and join these groups. Then, make a habit of contributing your voice to the discussion and asking questions.

If you’re at a larger company with multiple offices, you may be able to connect with others at your company who are in similar positions but at different locations. Some companies even have internal systems that make it easy to establish these connections. You may have to get creative to find the other professionals in your field.

That was the case with Dee Dee Mendoza, who works as a university fundraiser. Dee Dee created a unique fundraising model in which startup founders pledge to support their alma maters when their equity becomes liquid. She ended up starting a blog as a way of sharing her innovative model and connecting with those who occupied similar roles at other institutions.

3. Get Educated Online

Adding some specific skills to your repertoire could improve your performance in your role. There are literally thousands of courses online, many of which are free or available at an affordable cost (we even offer some on The Muse).

Some of the people I spoke with also suggested searching YouTube for tutorials and attending webinars. If you find that the training you need costs money, don’t be afraid to ask your boss for a professional development budget.

4. Attend Conferences

While it’s great to tap the resources of the digital world, nothing beats a bit of face time with others who do what you do.

Find out where professionals in your role meet up in person. Are there industry conferences you can attend? Local meetings or networking events? Aim to attend at least two in-person events per year with others in your industry.

Need a budget? Use the same approach you used when asking for funds to cover an online class. Focus on what you hope to learn at the conference, and make the case that your participation will help your company achieve its goals.

5. Continue to Seek Out New Challenges

Finally, continue to take on new challenges at work. Volunteer for interesting projects, even if they don’t fit neatly inside your current role. Step up to be part of new initiatives, especially those that don’t have an established plan or owner. That way, you’ll be able to experiment with new methods and learn new skills as you work to solve whatever problems you encounter.

The most important thing is that you continue to learn and grow on the job. Otherwise, you risk career stagnation, and nobody wants that! Rest assured that many people have used the strategies in this article to keep learning while on a team of one, and you can, too.

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