Some companies make an effort to help employees grow in their careers. That might mean offering education opportunities, sending them to industry events, or offering in-house training.
In most cases, however, some if not all of your career development is in your own hands. That means you need a concrete plan, and you should be willing to invest some real money in your long-term future.
Evaluate where your career stands now and where you hope it will go. Figure out what skills -- either hard or soft -- you lack and determine what it might take to get them. This could mean going to school, taking an online class, or developing skills in a less formal way (like forcing yourself to speak in public more often).
You should also evaluate whether you have the connections to get where you want to go. You might find that networking and meeting more people is the key to taking the next step.
1. Get a new degree or certification
If most people who work in the position you someday hope to have hold an MBA, then you might want to get an MBA. The same is true of various certifications, and sometimes just starting the process can help you when looking for a job.
Many degrees and certifications can now be earned online. Shop around for your best pricing options, and check to see if your company offers any sort of tuition assistance.
2. Learn a valuable skill
Sometimes it's not a formal degree or certification that can make you stand out, it's a skill. Maybe you're the one candidate for the job who knows Photoshop really well, or perhaps you have learned enough of another language to hold basic conversations.
There are generally online classes through which you can learn skills like this. Some towns and cities also have adult enrichment classes that might get you started.
3. Attend a trade show or conference
Trade shows and conferences generally offer educational opportunities, but more importantly, they give you an opportunity to meet people. Many have mixers designed to serve as networking events, and some even offer chances to spend time with people who you otherwise would not be able to talk to.
Bet on yourself
It might not be clear what personal development will open the next door. When that's the case, focus on constant improvement. Look at how you can keep learning, gaining new skills, and meeting new people. Push to make yourself uncomfortable. Find ways to become competent -- maybe even good -- in areas that used to scare you.
People spend money improving their wardrobe or buying better tools, yet they often hesitate when it comes to spending on improving their skills or building their network. Money spent on any of the things above is an investment in your future. It might not pay off directly, but if you keep improving, it will almost certainly help you outpace the crowd.