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9 Bulletproof Ways To Get Ahead in Your Career

9 Bulletproof Ways To Get Ahead in Your Career

With so much competition in today’s workforce, it can be tough to get ahead. Whether you’re in journalism, business, engineering or sciences, there are going to be thousands of people who share the same skill set as you. Let’s say you just got hired into a new graduate program at a large company and my cohort was made up of 25 people. How does one go about differentiating themselves from everyone else, when it comes time for a promotion after one to two years? What about when you are two other colleagues are vying for the same position five years later? What is going to set you apart from everyone else and help you get those lucrative opportunities?

Here’s a list of a few ways you can use to take your career by the horns in order to help you achieve your professional ambitions.

1. “You gotta network to get work”

One day, while on the subway travelling through downtown Toronto for work, I overheard a couple of teens catching up with each other. Halfway through their conversation, the topic of their part-time jobs came up. One of them began describing his work and was immediately questioned by his friend about how he got the job, to which the first teen replied, “You know how it is, mayn [incorrect spelling intended] – you gotta network to get work.” That simple statement blew my mind. Never had I thought such wise words could emanate from the mouth of a seemingly carefree hipster. Nevertheless, what he said became cemented in my mind, and I’ve since use this as a principle to helping me get ahead in my own career and in advising others.

Networking appears in many forms. It could be a quick and informal email to someone like a coworker, senior manager or a friend of a friend, asking them out to a coffee or lunch, a LinkedIn invite sent to the recruiter who posted a job you recently applied to, or an actual networking event intended for professionals within a certain industry or holding a certain job role (e.g. networking seminar for project managers).

I’ve personally used all of these above mentioned methods to help me expand my network, and they’ve helped in me achieving my career goals 95% of the time (the remaining 5% is due to misfortune/bad luck). The interview I most recently had with a large Canadian retailer was due to my reaching out to a recruiter on LinkedIn – who actually had nothing to do with recruitment for the role I was interested in. Nonetheless, the recruiter appreciated my message and efforts and asked me to send them a copy of my CV so they could forward it to the actual recruiter responsible for filling the vacancy.

I landed my current position solely due to the fact that I attended a networking event relevant to the role. That translated into me talking with senior managers from the organization, swapping business cards with them, adding them on LinkedIn and emailing them following the event’s completion to solidify who I was in their minds. I ended up name-dropping them on my cover letter for the job – and VOILA! Almost a year later, I have my networking skills and tenacity to thank for landing me my dream job.

Here’s my go-to formula for making a new connection:

1. Meet person.
2. Send thank-you or regular follow-up e-mail.
3. Invite to connect on LinkedIn, with a personalized invite message.
4. Maintain communication with person, whether on a monthly, quarterly or semi-annual basis.

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2. Become an expert

Subject-matter experts (SMEs) are the go-to people for a specialized job, task, or skill within the organization. An SME might be a software engineer, a helpdesk support operative, an accounts manager or a scientific researcher. In short, anybody with in-depth knowledge of the subject someone is trying to understand.

You can become a SME through a variety of methods:

– Learning: Completing education and earning certifications specific to your field of knowledge in order to add credibility to your resume and broaden your knowledge base on that topic.
– Accolades: There is nothing better than independent confirmation of SME status. Most industry organizations, as well as business journals, recognize experts and high achievers through some form of accolade.
– Networking: Meeting and talking with other professionals in your subject area, in order to share or exchange knowledge.
– Research: Doing your own research – whether it’s watching a TED Talk, a YouTube video or reading books, articles or academic papers – is a sure way to help augment what you already know.
– Experience: Plain ol’ experience – if you’ve been doing something for a while and you’ve been doing it well, people are most likely to turn to you or be pointed in your direction the moment they have a question.

As you develop a reputation of being an SME, individuals higher up the food chain (e.g. your manager’s manager, a director, VP, etc.) are sure to recognize your abilities and knowledge, or they’ll at least hear about you from someone else in the organization. Combining your status as an SME and your networking abilities is a great way to help you move up quickly.

3. Look good, feel great

“Let’s be clear: In the big picture of ultimate reality, what you wear neither defines who you are as a person nor determines your value as a human being,” says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of ‘Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results’. “However, in the temporal realm of mere mortals, fair or not, people judge us by the way we look and that includes the way we dress.”

Especially in the workplace, clothing significantly influences how others perceive you and how they respond toward you, she says.

Dressing well and looking good don’t necessarily mean spending wads of money on your clothes. For example, I bought four high-quality tailor-made suits and seven tailor-made dress shirts on a trip to Shanghai, China. These collectively ran me a total of roughly $600 CAD. Had I bought all of these in Canada, I would’ve easily spend over $5,000 for similar-quality items. I get tons of complements on the way I dress at work, and for a great price too.

Looking good at work can also help boost your self-confidence, according to a study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Even without reading the study, this makes sense to me. When you look professional and put-together, you’re likely to be taken more seriously by your colleagues. You’re also sure to get complements on your dress and style, which is a sure way to boost your self-confidence. In the end, looking good and feeling great about yourself will put you in the “I can do it” state of mind, and will allow you to more confidently pursue your career goals and aspirations.

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4. Take time to plan

Think of your career plan as a war strategy – it takes consideration, determination and execution in order to go well. Spend time to think of your short-term (2-5 year) and long-term (5-10 years) goals and how you’ll go about achieving them.

Once you’ve got your short and long-term goals on paper and have figured out how you’ll achieve them, start facilitating the conversations and meetings needed to achieve them. This might be a meeting with your manager to discuss what you want to achieve in your current role, or where you want to see yourself in the next 1-2 years and how they may be able to help you get there. This is a great way to build rapport with your manager; they’re sure to take notice of your ambition and keenness.

As Benjamin Franklin aptly said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

5. Learn a language

How many times have you caught yourself with a huge smile on your face when coming across a great sounding job such as “Senior Business Analyst” or “Senior Reporter” and then slowly felt the smile drift off your face when you saw the word Bilingual following the position’s title? I’ve seen it happen to a lot of people.

The fact is that knowing another language is a great way to start conversations, meet people and a skill that will automatically expand your job search prospects. Let’s take knowing Spanish as an example. If you can currently speak English and recently learned how to speak Spanish, you’ve just expanded the countries you’re a candidate for jobs in from America, Canada, England, etc. to Spain, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Costa Rica and the list goes on!

Did you recently learn Arabic? Congratulations! You’ve just expanded your prospects to the UAE, Qatar, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Libya, Kuwait… it’s endless!

Acquiring fluency in a language may also put you in the ranks of an SME; you may become the go-to person for translation help when there is no one else around with the same level of knowledge as you. Let’s say my company needed someone to go from Toronto to Montreal for business and needed someone who spoke French to tag alone? I might have just won myself a plane ticket for a week of work and sight-seeing due to my fluency in the language.

6. Ask for feedback

Asking for feedback either formally or informally is a great way to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses (which I like to call “improvement areas”) and will help you direct your efforts when career planning or becoming a SME.

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A formal way to ask for feedback might be a coffee or lunch meeting with the people you work closest with and who are accountable to – your direct manager in most cases. This also might come up automatically in the form of a semi-annual or annual review that your manager will sit you down for.

I personally like asking for informal feedback more. After I’ve completed a task or project, I like asking the people I’ve worked with closely to complete those items for their feedback; their thoughts will usually mirror what your manager thinks about you.

Asking for feedback will display your eagerness to improve your current skill-set in your current role and will ultimately help you determine what it is that sets you apart from everyone else when looking to make a career advancement.

7. Put in a couple extra hours

Sick of staying late to do work? Keep it up, as long as it’s not taking a toll on your life. Someone is definitely paying attention to all the work you’ve been putting in – whether it’s a colleague, manager or a client. These people will be able to vouch for you when it comes time to take your next career leap.

Staying longer than your regular 9-5 hours is a great way to demonstrate your ambition, reliability and results-orientation. I’ve experienced this first-hand, and was told by both one of my first clients and one of my project managers how much they appreciated the work I was doing and how much of an impact I was making by putting in a couple more hours every week.

8. Find a mentor

This is definitely one of the most overlooked methods of career advancement. Finding a mentor who shares a similar interest, career path or who has extensive experience in a particular field or industry is a great way to help you fast track your career. This is someone who will provide sound advice and who you can look towards to ask all your career-related questions. A mentor will hopefully provide you no-nonsense tips and the uncensored truth about getting ahead in your career, since they’ve already been down that road. Your mentor will help you make connections and will help you reach out to people that will help you get ahead.

Since they will probably get to know you on both a personal and professional level, they will have a good idea of what you can bring to the table, so if they should hear about a position which they think would be beneficial to your career, they’ll be the first one to tell you. Since a mentor-mentee relationship is just like any other relationship, I would highly recommend trying to find someone who you have “chemistry” with. Being able to speak to someone about your future is a fairly intimate topic and one which requires openness and honestly.

9. Speak up

Speaking up can mean one of two things:

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1. Making your voice heard in meetings.

2. Letting those with decision-making abilities know you’re interested in a particular role.

When it comes to speaking up at meetings, this is a great way to gain recognition amongst your peers and managers. Perhaps you’re privy to particularly impactful information not many people in your meeting are aware of; sharing this information and your insights on a discussion topic is sure to turn heads. This is especially important if you’re more of a bystander in meetings and don’t regularly provide input. Keep this up and eventually your manager will assign you bigger roles in meetings, knowing full well what your abilities are.

The other side of speaking up simply means drawing your manager’s – or the hiring manager for a certain role – attention towards a job you’re interested in advancing to. No one will ever know you’re interested in a role unless you speak up and make it clear. If there’s a position you want to go for – make it known. This will allow you to gather the necessary support around your organization and facilitate the appropriate conversations needed to help you land the role. At the end of the day, your career is in your own hands. No one will go out of their way to help you advance if they’re not even aware of how you feel about an opportunity.

Now what?

After reading these tips, the first question that might come to your mind is, “When should I get started?” The answer is NOW. Mark Twain once said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

Every moment you wait to send out those e-mails asking for coffee dates, every connection you do not add on LinkedIn after meeting a fellow professional, is another opportunity missed and another connection lost.

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Published on August 14, 2018

17 Versatile Work Skills Employers Want to See in Potential Employees

17 Versatile Work Skills Employers Want to See in Potential Employees

When we look at a job advertisement, it can seem as though employers want an exhaustive list of experience and technical skills from their new hire.

They list desirable qualities such as ‘initiative’, ‘team player’ and ‘strong work ethic’. Those words can mean a variety of things to different people and it can be quite hard for employers to illustrate fully the combination of technical and soft skills they want their potential employees to have.

What they often want is a mix of versatile skills that make it easy for them (and you) to adapt to the changing needs and demands which occur in businesses today.

After all, adaptability and innovation are what make businesses thrive.

In today’s ever-changing environment, versatility is a mandatory attitude every working person needs to have. With the following seventeen work skills, you will not only make your employer extremely happy and confident that hiring you was their best decision, you will experience greater personal satisfaction and results.

1. Know what you want but more so why you want it.

Employers need to sense you have a solid idea as to why you are a fit for their role and their organization. They need to sense you have your own sense of purpose.

However, it can be a double-edged sword to say you know exactly what you want to achieve and gain if you are successful in your application and interview.

Some employers can perceive this as arrogance; your needs first, theirs second. What employers are really looking for is your internal sense of knowing that potential to join their organization is a winning combination for both of you.

2. Diplomacy and conflict resolution skills save money, lost productivity and efficiency.

Can you agree to disagree? Can you evaluate without passing judgment or at least be self-aware of your own biases? Can you put these aside to find solutions for the betterment of the team?

Employers look for versatility in soft work skills that bring peace, lower stress and contribute to creating harmony. If you have ways with words to help heated arguments reduce to a simmer so there is space for compromises, negotiations and reasoning to take place your employers’ respect for you will jump at least tenfold.

Peace-making skills are invaluable in changing workplace culture, particularly toxic ones. Any good employer knows a strong in-house negotiator will save them thousands of dollars in engaging an external mediator.

3. Know how to set and reframe your own goals.

Much research has documented that when employees have a clear purpose, mission and goals, they are more likely to be highly productive. They are less likely to flounder around in many directions nor be busy and not produce results that matter.

Employers know well that employees who develop their own goals and can align these with those of the company are more self-driven, self-sufficient and take greater ownership for performing their role.

And the benefit is not only to the employers. You personally will find greater personal satisfaction from achieving targets you have chosen to set yourself. Everyone wins!

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4. Great time management and organization skills make you highly productive.

Being able to exercise versatility with these work skills needs no explanation. Great time management does not mean multi-tasking. It actually uses more brain power and reduces effectiveness.

Having great skills to prioritize your activities and demands, being able to assess how long things might take you to address are planning skills which greatly aid effective and better execution.

Working in harmony with your colleagues’ timetables makes for better teamwork and workflow plus a less stressed environment.

In today’s working world, any strategies for reducing stress-invoking opportunities are like finding golden nuggets. Your employer will want to hold on to those for dear life!

5. Be a flexible team player by being able to change roles when required.

Employers will be looking to see how flexible a team player, a potential employee could be.

If you are a natural leader, being a better team player might, in fact, mean you stepping down from the helm and encouraging someone else to exercise and step into their leadership potential.

It might be more beneficial to your employer to play the role of Indian as opposed to the Chief in certain situations. Stepping into different positions on your team not only helps you grow but also the rest of your team.

Employers relish having a versatile work team which can adapt and is ready and willing to play different roles, even if uncomfortable when crises happen.

6. Initiative, self-motivated and driven.

When you have your own internal reasons for looking to undertake a role your motivation is driven by something sizzling inside of you.

There is a personal drive and desire for the satisfaction you will experience when you meet a certain target that no other person will be able to give to you.

When you can genuinely identify and demonstrate your own personal connection to the role’s objectives and the greater goals of your employer’s business, they will see you have an internal drive that they don’t need to whip and flog to keep the momentum going.

Any employer will be grateful they just need to help navigate you and support you with the right tools and network and off you go.

7. Be confident but not arrogant.

Imagine if you were conducting initial telephone interviews with shortlisted candidates and one of the questions they asked was:

“How long would it be until I’ll be eligible for a pay rise or promotion?”

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There is a significant difference between being confident and arrogant. Employers are not looking for confidence purely in you being able to perform every aspect of your role at gold star level.

It comes with being comfortable to say you don’t understand, you have made a mistake, you need support, further training, acknowledging what your limits are and being willing to risk stepping outside your comfort zone.

When you’re a new kid on the block, respecting that you may need to learn to walk before you can run is essential. Unless it is your job to start making significant changes from day one, chances are you’re going to create enemies if you’re so confident your new methods and ideas should replace existing processes.

8. A positive attitude.

Demonstrating positivity as a work skill that will truly win over your new employer is about being genuine and actively applying strategies which look for the glass half full.

Recruiters and employers are not dumb. They can easily see through short-term bright smiles, nervous giggling and general ‘you just need to think positive’ statements.

In the face of grueling challenges, employers are going to look much more favorably on that candidate who can acknowledge the negative features of a situation but still encourage another solution-focused perspective to be adopted.

Even better, if you can use language effectively to demonstrate how you have adopted a positive perspective and helped turned around a tough situation.

It is one thing to have a positive attitude but your potential employer will see you as a superhero if you can show them how you have successfully applied it.

9. You are resourceful but know the value of asking for help.

There is nothing more unproductive (let alone frustrating) than that person who simply asks out loud a question to their team when they could simply have Googled the answer.

Or worse still, they have a manual at their fingertips which has the answer to their question…they were simply too lazy to look for themselves.

Be that person with Sherlock Holmes as their middle name who sleuths like a dog after a buried bone. You can research and turn over stones to discover and learn what you need but you also are able to ask for help and assistance when you need to.

Any employer will relish that person who looks to discover the answers to their own questions first before reaching out and asking for help.

10. Emotional intelligence creates a harmonious workflow.

Despite the level of seniority of your role having a strong ability to handle emotions is fast becoming an essential work skill (and also life skill).

It is even more desirable for any employer when your work skill set includes the ability to detect, adapt to and have skills in managing certain emotional patterns of others you need to work with, manage or report to.

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So much time, energy and productivity is lost due to individuals’ lack of skills in this area. Any manager who can see you possess and can demonstrate such versatile work skills will think they’ve won the managerial lottery!

11. Be able to adapt your learning style.

There is no real evidence that using preferred learning styles actually increase the rate at which we learn nor the effectiveness of certain styles.

However, being able to make changes to what we are given to learn and adapting it to suit our needs and preferences does help us settle into a new work transition sooner.

We also need to recognize that even though we feel uncomfortable learning a new skill a certain way, it might actually be the way we need to receive it to cement the learning. It is also likely that our new employer only knows or has a budget to deliver training in a certain way.

Either we can choose to adapt or resist but we know for sure the latter is not going to benefit to anyone.

12. Flexible leadership style.

Dan Goleman has conducted extensive research on different leadership styles, emphasizing that being versatile to switch between different styles (e.g. authoritative, coaching, affiliate, coercive, pace-setting) and knowing when to do is a fundamental skill for any leader.

Being able to change your style to lead other people is as important as how you lead your own role responsibilities.

13. Incredible communication skills that actively listen and give clear messages.

Strong and effective communication across all mediums takes time, life experience and highly developed intuition.

Knowing when to use email, a face to face conversation or telephone discussion is one thing. Another is to use words which emotionally connect and influence the receiver to accept, hear and heed your message.

Great communicators know that it is their responsibility as much as the receiver for good communication to take place. However, they also know that the receiver may not feel this is the case.

When you can listen equally, be sensitive to read between the lines to hear the message of ineffective communicators and can respond kindly with inspiring, equalizing and encouraging words, your influence and general likeability as a new addition to your employer’s team will develop in leaps and bounds.

14. Accountability, responsible and dependable.

We’ve all worked with people or managers at some point who lay external blame the instance something goes wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, making mistakes and owning up to it is a highly desirable and versatile work skill that gains loyalty and understanding particularly when mistakes occur.

Owning up to errors early allows both yourself and the business to recover quickly and shows you’re willing to take responsibility to continue forward on when you have stumbled.

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When you illustrate you can do this, you build your employer’s trust and faith in you.

15. Exercise proactive self-awareness.

Self-reflection is a highly empowering work skill that contributes greatly to becoming better and performing better.

When you actively look for the achievement, celebrate your success and look for pockets of where mistakes you have made can be corrected you improve faster, become more effective and make your work easier.

When you start to look at your own errors, receiving feedback from your employer about the same errors can feel far less confronting and having corrective conversations is easier, transparent and far less stressful and emotional.

You naturally increase your resilience and make life easier for yourself and your employer if you conduct regular self-check-ins and keep your employer updated.

16. Apply a problem-solving growth mindset.

When faced with a problem or challenge, your ability to activate a growth mindset is a highly versatile work skill employers love. Not only are you able to reduce the pain and anguish that a fixed mindset can sustain but your ability to remain open to possibilities to find different pathways or ideas is refreshing and helpful.

If your thought patterns automatically ask: “How can we?” or you often think “there must be a way”, you will only contribute to creating growth opportunities for your organization and inspire others to think the same way.

17. Be teachable.

If you have ever tried to teach someone a new skill or technique and they keep reverting back to traditional ways that are familiar to them, you might have become frustrated to the point of giving up.

Don’t be that person who’s stuck in tradition which no longer serves the business. Whether you are entering a new environment, learning new software or negotiation skills, know that all employers need people who are open to being taught.

Innovation is a core concern of every business. Innovation means change and change means doing something different.

Stay versatile and keep learning

Technical skills can often be taught. Ray Croc illustrated how well a systemized franchise can dominate the planet. Over 36,000 McDonald’s establishments around the world are run by managers barely in their twenties!

Soft work skills, however, take time to develop, learn and confidently apply.

There is a key combination of work skills that would make any candidate employer’s dream. However, the essential factor underlying all of these work skills is versatility.

Equip yourself with these 17 work skills, stay curious and keep learning; and you’ll always nail the job you want.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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