Join Our Community

5 Steps to Get to the Next Career Level and Drive Your Own Professional Development

career advice career growth emerging professionals how to grow an interior design career personal development personal growth professional development Feb 09, 2022
How emerging designers can get to the next career level

Do you feel stuck in your interior design career? You are not alone. Many emerging designers express frustration about not reaching their career development goals. One of the more common complaints is that they haven’t reached their desired career level.

To some extent, employers could stand to improve their approach to encouraging employee development. After all, they do benefit when designers achieve their career development goals.

With that being said, you own the ultimate responsibility for your career growth. Unfortunately, for every employee who feels they aren’t receiving the guidance they need, there is an equally frustrated employer.

They feel as though younger designers want career advancement without earning it. Many also complain that early-career designers cannot effectively communicate exactly what growth and development they want.

While some of this may be generational grumbling, it has some substance. Look inward. Are you really doing enough to ensure that your interior design career advances as you want it to? If so, then don’t feel alone. Designers who are more experienced than you have had the same complaints leveled at them.

If the answer is no, don’t feel defeated. Career growth is a difficult thing to navigate. So there’s no shame in needing some help getting started. You can begin by taking these steps to reach your desired career level.


Why You Need to Take an Active Role in Your Career Growth

You need to take control of your career goals because you are ultimately the only person with your best interests in mind. Even if you work for a fabulous employer who truly wants you to succeed, anything they offer to you will be with their goals in mind. Your objectives will always be secondary.

If you rely entirely on a third party for professional development, you risk becoming a commodity. This reduction often happens when your value as a designer is directly connected to a very specific set of skills that your employer just happens to need right now.

Unfortunately, commodities are only held onto as long as they are useful. By taking charge of your career, you can become a more well-rounded creative person. That will give you much more power over the direction your professional life takes.


List Your Career Development Goals

There is no path to growth if you don’t have clear goals. You can’t help yourself reach your objectives, and nobody else can help you either. Yes, it can be challenging to articulate your goals, but it’s a necessary process. Everything else builds on this.

While there is no single best approach to this, you can try asking yourself some important questions:

  • What would I work on if I had complete control over my projects?
  • How do I feel about the work I’ve done over the past year?
  • Which parts of my job caused me to struggle?
  • When do I feel most or least productive?
  • What would clients or colleagues say are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are five things I want to learn more about?

Take some time to consider these questions. Once you begin to answer them, some goals will probably become clear to you. If you have a trusted mentor or supervisor, ask them to discuss these questions with you. This communication is a great way to gain some clarity and objectivity.

Now it’s time to write those goals down. When you do, avoid creating a laundry list of large-scale items. Instead, focus on two things.

You should have goals that you pursue solely for yourself to help you become the creative professional you want to be. Additionally, it’s important to include goals that will benefit your employer and help you be more successful. If you’re self-employed, think about goals that will benefit your clients.

One set of goals will help to keep you motivated and moving forward. The other set will allow you to present a good case to your employer to give you the opportunities you need to grow.


Setting SMART Goals

People often fail in pursuing their career goals because the goals are too big or too vague. This overreach is where SMART goals enter the picture. They help you drill down into your goals and turn them into something you can accomplish.

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. You may find that you have to break some of your bigger goals down to write them as SMART goals.


Make a Plan to Become a Better Designer

The chances are that you will uncover some hard and soft skills to work on during this process. Both are important for building the career you envision.


Developing Technical and Creative Skills

Interior designers use many different tools to do their jobs effectively. The better your mastery of these technologies, the more in-demand you will be.

It can be fairly challenging to stay on top of everything, though. At any point in time, there may be a hot new tool in high demand. Even familiar technologies can become overwhelming with new features and releases.

If you have goals relating to tools and technologies, it’s time to create a plan of execution. Here are a few options to consider:

Some of these resources are free. Others aren’t, but don’t shy away from these options. The truth is that you may need to spend some money to reach your goals. Just make sure you will get a decent return on your investment.

It’s important to continue to foster your creativity as well. However, it can be a bit difficult to quantify your progress here. Still, you will know if you struggle with creativity or make strides in the right direction.

If you’d like to improve your overall creativity, try the following:

  • Seek inspiration in design communities, art museums, books, or movies
  • Pursue art projects solely to become more creative
  • Try working with paper and pencil instead of relying on technology

If you’d like to stay focused on your creativity related to your job, see what you can do to spread your wings a bit in the workplace. Ask about taking on different projects, even if that means shadowing someone with more experience.


Soft Skills for Career Growth

Whether you want to be considered for a leadership position at work, earn the chance to work on more lucrative products, or accelerate your own interior design business, you need well-developed soft skills. These include time management, communication, conflict resolution, sales and negotiation, customer service, and leadership.

When your soft skills are on point, people are more interested in working with you, and the projects you work on tend to progress as they should. To improve these skills, focus on your work habits, interactions with others, and the feedback you receive.

Consider your list of SMART goals. If they include soft skills, make a list of steps you can take to accomplish what you want. For example, if you want to improve your communication skills, you might:

  • Set aside time each day to read and respond to emails
  • Respond to messages from clients within 24 hours
  • Ask a trusted coworker for their feedback on your communication
  • Work on reacting calmly to criticism and requesting clarification
  • Reaching out to colleagues proactively instead of reactively
  • Plan more status update meetings for the projects you lead


Work through the steps you create for yourself methodically, and you will begin to create habits that lead to better soft skills.


Getting Help for Professional Advancement

You are responsible for your career. However, that doesn’t mean that help isn’t available to you. Now you have clear goals and some plans to accomplish them. Consider reaching out for help to accelerate your progress.

If you work for a design firm, start with your employer. Even if you’ve felt as if you weren’t given much guidance in the past, they may still be an excellent source of training opportunities, assignments that can put you on the right path, and helpful feedback.

When they see that you have a detailed plan that includes goals that benefit them, they may be more willing than ever to help you. You can also help your manager help you by making your requests as specific as possible. For example, instead of asking for help with your career, ask if there are any courses they would recommend to you.

Finally, a huge community of creative professionals working as interior designers or in other fields are very eager to share their knowledge and experience with up-and-coming professionals.

You can find help building your career through online discussion forums, Facebook groups, Instagram pages, interior design blogs, and more. Get active and engaged to make important connections and develop your skills.


Resources for Career Advancement

There’s no shortage of available resources for you to use to take your interior design career to the next level. We’d love to be a part of your journey. You can join our community for access to great resources and career-related support.

Sign Up for Our Monthly Newsletter

Get helpful career, business, and design tips right in your inbox each month.

At Behind the Design, we are committed to building a stronger design community by reimagining education, training, and support for interior designers. Through our various software training options, educational articles covering everything from leadership to marketing, and soon Continuing educational courses, we are committed to helping you. Join our newsletter to get the latest education and training updates.

Sign Me Up!

More on Behind the Design...

How Marketing Is Changing in the Wake of AI

May 17, 2024