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Last Updated on February 20, 2019

The Most Critical Career Advice that Helps You Climb the Career Ladder

The Most Critical Career Advice that Helps You Climb the Career Ladder

You’ve got about three years in your current gig, and you love it. But you are reminded every now and then that there is greener grass somewhere. You would like for it to be here. But you’re willing to go elsewhere.

Regardless of whether you stay or go, you want more. How do you advance and skyrocket your earning potential? Where do you go to seek career advice?

In preparing for this article, I started hearing myself giving little tidbits of advice to my former students and new professionals. It occurred to me that these gems of wisdom are applicable to almost any career setting, and are especially impactful when you want to advance.

Then I recalled various bits of career advice I had been given over the years. And these have definitely resonated with me over the years as I’ve changed jobs multiple times.

Let’s get started.

1. Be Diplomatic

I shared this with a student leader at a large urban institution back in 2003. She was a very bold and outspoken young woman who wanted to be heard and make a difference.

On occasion, these desires made her difficult to work with. Olivia Edwardson wrote this about diplomacy in the workplace,[1]

“To be diplomatic, you need to understand and define your expectations clearly. What is it that you need, and what needs to be done in order to achieve this goal? At the same time, you must consider everyone else’s perspective: some tasks require different levels of help, and finding a balance between what everyone wants is crucial.”

How does this apply to you boosting your earning potential? In considering others’ perspective and finding balance, you show your managers that you are a team player and willing to work with others.

This insures that you are adding value to the company on a regular basis.

2. Embrace the Shades of Gray

I’m not talking the best selling novel here; I mean dealing with ambiguity.

In my first senior management position, my entire staff was also brand new and we were learning institutional culture day by day.

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Through this process, I had to model to my team the importance of being in the middle and not always making decisions from an all-or-nothing perspective. The plan isn’t always going to go from A to Z in alphabetical order.

Melanie Allen has said,[2]

“the best leaders are those that rise to the challenge of ambiguity and respond with confidence and adaptability.”

This means not being in control all the time, and learning to deal with uncertainty. It also requires that you be present, in the moment, so you can roll with the punches.

Getting comfortable with shades of gray can impact your earning potential in demonstrating your flexibility and willingness to accept change.

In trying times at corporations, managers and supervisors want leaders who are not stuck in their ways. Advancement comes to those who can go with the flow.

3. Keep Your Resume Updated (And Your Skills Fresh)

When was the last time you updated your resume? When you started job searching? After accepting a new job? Or every time you learned a new skill or took on a new project?

Prior to landing in my current position at a community college, I changed jobs every two years or so. That’s the topic of another article, but suffice to say that I got comfortable making updates and changes to that document.

When I switched to a Strengths-Focused resume in 1999, that changed everything for me. I learned how to represent my skills and achievements in my resume rather than just listing a bunch of “stuff” that I’d performed in my various jobs.

I push my agenda of a strengths-focused resume to about every career-changer with whom I interact, and for good reason.

This type of document has never failed to get me interviews.

But getting back to how often you should update your resume…

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Any time you develop a skill, create a program, or make a major change at your current place of employment.

In my current position, I’ve learned the basics of public relations, web design, communications and marketing, and branding all from the assignments and projects delegated to me.

Based on these new skills, I taught myself to use WordPress and other online tools because of the added value I bring to the organization now that I know these skills.

Walter Yate from Career Cast says of your resume,[3]

“You can start to change the trajectory of your life as soon as you take control of your career, with the careful development of the tools and skills of the new career management; and that all starts with owning a resume that gets results.

A resume is the foundation of your brand and is your primary marketing tool. When your resume works the doors of opportunity open for you, when it doesn’t they don’t. Keep your resume current at all times because you never know when you will need it, for that next promotion or a new job.”

Well, I couldn’t have said that better myself.

4. Never Turn down More Responsibility

Wait, doesn’t this advice fly in the face of the whole work/life balance thing?

Yes and no.

Let’s first ask why you are being offered the additional responsibility.

Is it because someone left the organization and the work needs to be spread out amongst the team?

Is it because you did an incredible job on the previous assignment and your supervisor trusts you and recognizes your added value?

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Is it because you’re being groomed for a promotion and your supervisor is running a little experiment with you?

It could be any or all or none of these. Your attitude and response will mean everything in this situation.

Accept the additional work with grace and style, and learn as much as you can. Then two or three weeks later you can bring up the new tasks with your supervisor and explore why the work was given to you.

Business Insider says,[4]

“Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to take on more responsibility is a great way to grow personally and professionally.”

Talk to your boss, be proactive, and make the new work fun.

Approaching the new work with a negative attitude and a “woe is me” is just a sign to your boss that you aren’t up to the challenge. And then that added value you just landed is gone. And you aren’t being a team player.

5. Add Value to Your Organization

By making yourself indispensable to your organization and demonstrating to your supervisor how you contribute, you should find yourself climbing the ladder at your current place of employment or getting the reference needed to secure that ideal job at the new firm.

But what exactly does it mean to “Add Value?”

Simply speaking, adding value is making a product more appealing to its customers. Making it better, showing how innovative and multifaceted it is, things like that.

Now you’re going to figure that out about YOU.

Chrissy Scivicque of Eat Your Career identified six ways that an employee can add value to an organization:[5]

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  1. Save money
  2. Make money
  3. Improve efficiency of a process or procedure
  4. Improve quality of a product or service
  5. Fix an existing problem
  6. Prevent a future problem

These themes are pretty simple: if you can handle money, problems, and processes well, then you can add value to your employer. So start approaching your day to day tasks in those terms.

Do you produce a fundraising event every year? Determine how you can raise more money while spending less on the event.

Do you have a brave idea on how you can make that annual job fair run more efficiently? Draft your idea and present it to your supervisor.

Has your team leader consistently asked you and your peers to think more critically on the problem of staff turnover? Do some research and propose a couple solutions.

Keep in mind that to prove you are adding value, you actually have to do the work. You have to be proactive, innovative, and have the organization’s best interests in mind.

Bonus Tips!

I thought it would be fun to get some additional pieces of advice from some actual managers out there…so I polled some of my colleagues around the country, both from higher education and the private sector. Here’s what they shared with me on how to advance your career:

“Put together data or examples to show the value the said employee has brought to the department. Don’t wait until annual review time – it’s generally too late!”

“Never be afraid to speak up during staff meetings or personal 1:1 sessions with supervisors. Pointing out carefully considered ideas and being willing to take on new responsibilities with various staff members shows flexibility, professionalism, and motivation.”

“They have to demonstrate that they are all-in on the values of the company. This can be tricky in environments where employee and supervisor are of different generations. At 25, I may think I’m working hard, but my 60-year-old boss might think I’m just doing what’s expected.”

“Do what you do well and be fully present at all times.”

“Bottom line is the key. If you are increasing income, you deserve to share in it.”

What was the best piece of career advice you’ve received, and how did it impact your earning potential?

More Career Advice That Can Help You

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

Kris McPeak

Educator, Author, Career Change and Work/Life Balance Guru

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Published on January 28, 2020

How to Ace an Interview: Nailing the 10 Most Tricky Questions

How to Ace an Interview: Nailing the 10 Most Tricky Questions

As someone who has been in recruiting for over 10 years I can tell you the interview is vitally important to getting that new job you really want. During the interview process, there will most likely be at least 2 interviews, a phone interview and an in person interview. Both are important.

Companies can of course have different interviewing processes but in general, there is at least one phone interview, also known as a phone screen, and a live, in-person interview. The in-person interview can be with one person or it might be with a variety of people. While they are both important, the live interview is typically the one that will make or break you as a candidate for the position you are interviewing for.

Many of the interview questions we will review here will more likely come up during the live interview. But it’s a good idea to be prepared for them on the phone interview as well.

To illustrate how important the live interview is, I’ll tell you about my search that happened a year ago. I’d decided it was time to move on from the role I’d been in for a little over 6 years. As I started researching and looking for a new opportunity, I began down the path with 2 companies. With the one I landed with, I’d had 3 separate phone screens, each one an hour long. They must have thought they went well because I was asked to fly to the city where the corporate office is at and do an in-person interview. — with 8 people.

Yeah, it was a long day. The good news is I rocked the interviews across the board. I flew home that evening and the following day, I received a call with the job offer. That was less than 24 hours after I’d had the in person interview. This is how important the live interview is.

So how to ace an interview? We can dive right in to helping you nail the 10 most tricky interview questions:

1. What’s Your Biggest Weakness?

This is a personal favorite of mine. The primary reason for this question is not to actually find out what your biggest weakness is. Unless of course, you say something like “showing up to work on a regular basis,” then it’s probably going to get you kicked out of consideration for the role.

The main reason for someone asking you this question is to see if you are self-aware. That is if you know your weaknesses and are smart enough to account for them.

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The smart play here is to answer in a modest way. You want to be able to show that your biggest weakness actually has an upside. For instance, I usually say that mine is impatience. Which is true, I like to get things done. But what I ensure what I point out is that even though I am impatient, it’s because I like to crank and get a lot of work done.

2. Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Interestingly enough, a lot of people don’t have an answer to this question. It’s designed to find out if you’ve actually done research on the company and if you are excited about this position.

When I ask this question, many people have told me something like “because it looks like a good opportunity”. I mean, can you be any more generic?

The key to answering this is to show you’ve done research on the company and that you are enthusiastic about the actual position. Companies want people that are excited to work there, not just someone that shows up for a paycheck.

3. Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Employers are asking you this question to see if you have somewhat of a plan for your career. It doesn’t have to be completely mapped out in a step by step manner but, a general overall plan is good to see. It means you are goal oriented and are working towards something.

Don’t worry about answering in a way that states you are planning on sticking with the company until you retire. Rather, focus more on how it’s important to you to continue to learn and get better and better at what you do. Companies like to hire self-motivated people.

4. Tell Me About a Time You Messed Up

Or tell me about a time something didn’t work out the way you planned. Similar in concept. The key here is to show that you take accountability for your actions and how you react to things going wrong.

Companies like to see that you are willing to accept responsibility for the things you oversee and own up when you are wrong. People that always find a way to blame their missteps on other people or circumstances typically don’t make good team mates.

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The other component here is things don’t always go as planned, how good are you at adapting and thinking on your feet.

5. Why Are You Looking to Leave Your Current Job?

This may seem like a place to launch into all the things you don’t like about your current job. Or to talk about what a terrible person your boss is. Don’t do it. That’s the path you do not want to go down. And that’s really what this question tends to prod out of many people.

If I am interviewing you and ask this question and you tell me all the ways your boss doesn’t appreciate you and your company has terrible leadership, I’m thinking what you’re going to be saying about me in a year when you are interviewing somewhere else.

Make sure you are framing your answer in a way that doesn’t shed bad light on your current or most recent employer. You want to focus on things like you’ve enjoyed working for the company but your growth options are limited there so you are exploring outside opportunities.

6. How Would Your Current Manager Describe You?

This question gives you the opportunity to show off your strengths and what your boss appreciates about what you bring to the table. You want to focus on the positive traits that your boss likes and how it helps you in your role.

What you do not want to do is sprinkle in the things your boss doesn’t think as highly of. Don’t say something like my boss would describe me as a focused worker, at least on the days I make it into the office.

7. Tell Me About a Time You Overcame an Obstacle

Another one of my favorite questions. Interviewers ask this question to see if you are able to deal with roadblocks.

Things don’t always go smoothly, so having people on the team who are able to solve problems has huge upside.

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Being able to overcome obstacles is a great trait to have. Make sure you have a few stories about how something didn’t go as planned that caused a challenge and how you were involved in solving the problem. It’s a way of turning a bad situation into a good one.

8. Why Should We Hire You?

If you are at the point of a live interview, you should be highly interested in the position.

By this point, you should have a pretty clear picture of what the role is and how your skills and experience will help you succeed. The reason this question is being asked is to see if you are the right candidate for this role.

This gives you a great opportunity to tell your interviewer how your expertise will positively impact the role. Right now, you are in the spotlight to clearly show that your experience is the perfect fit for the position and why. Shine on!

9. What’s Your Greatest Achievement?

Employers tend to ask this question to gain an understanding of what your big wins were. What are the really impactful things that have happened during your career and how you were the reason why they happened.

This is another great opportunity for you to toot your own horn. What you want to be conscious of is how you tell the story about your biggest achievement. You want to make sure you say why it was such a big achievement.

If possible, it’s always good to include your team as part of the big win. Employers love to hire people who can make things happen but, it’s also important they understand the importance of team work.

10. Do You Have Any Questions for Me?

You might be asking yourself why this is a tricky question. Honestly, it’s not a tricky question if you are prepared for it.

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What the interviewer is looking for here is how interested and excited you are for the position. You’d be surprised at how many people answer this question with a blank stare or have no questions prepared.

Again, if you are at a live interview, you should be highly interested in a position and the company. You will convey how interested you are in the opportunity with some well thought out questions to ask.

You don’t want to just ask one question like “How often is payday”? Have at least 4 to 5 questions prepared but don’t overwhelm your interviewer with dozens and dozens of questions. Show that you’ve given some serious thought to this position by coming prepared with solid questions to ask.

The Bottom Line

There you go, insight to nailing the 10 most tricky questions during the interview process. There are, of course, many other questions you might get asked during the interview process but, these tend to be the ones that trip most people up.

Remember to take your time and thoroughly prepare for the interview. You don’t have to memorize your answers or anything but having a good idea of how you’d answer these questions will help you ace the next interview.

Here’s to being career advancement ready!

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Featured photo credit: Romain V via unsplash.com

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