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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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Last Updated on December 5, 2018

How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work

How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work

Being an efficient manager and a charismatic boss at the same time can seem like an impossible task. Is there a way to deliver the desired results for your business while remaining liked and respected by your staff?

We all know bad examples of team leaders who seem to fail at one aspect or the other, or even at both. But we’ve also heard of awesome managers who seem to juggle both things well enough.

How do they do it?

By sticking to few proven ways that let them maintain a positive karma score while remaining efficient. In this article, we’ll guide you through 11 smart management tips on how to lead a team and become something more than a boss – a leader.

1. Find a Management Strategy and Stick to It

There’s nothing worse than a boss that keeps changing his or her opinions and assignments depending on their mood or a book they read this week. Chaotic decisions increase the insecurity and frustration of your team, so you better find your strategy and stick to it.

If you do find some new methods you want your staff to follow, make sure they don’t contradict the general direction you are taking. Otherwise, you risk making your team take one step forward and two steps back.

2. Set Goals​ and Track Progress in Reaching Them

Set individual and collective goals​ for your team and track the progress in reaching them. This might sound obvious at first, but too often we find ourselves stuck between daily customer requests and monthly reports, and the bigger goal or vision seems to fade away.

According to Elon Musk (and many other successful CEOs around the Globe), it’s crucial to have a clear and motivating aim to where the company is heading. His aim for the space transportation company SpaceX is “to make humankind a multi-planetary species”.[1] That’s a huge goal but the company is slowly moving closer to it by reaching smaller steps and milestones, like launching self-landing rockets. This is also a very inspiring and meaningful goal that helps employees endure the company’s extremely high expectations and 60 to 70-hour work weeks.[2]

Even if your goals are not as grand, setting and reaching milestones will give you a clear insight into the team’s overall efficiency and daily progress. With time, you will be able to see the weak spots and improve your results.​

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3. Demand Learning from Your Team

CEO of print on demand startup Printful, Davis Siksnans, believes that:[3]

“The key for a company going through rapid growth is to empower your employees’ self-development.”

His company with 500 employees spanning two continents demands a culture of learning and provides all the tools necessary to do it.

Their idea is –  as the company scales, people have to grow in their positions too, which means that they have to be constantly learning. Siksnans says:

“We try to hire people for what they might become, but they need to have that drive.“

Alternatively, you can provide educational courses for your employees or invite informal lecturers to educate and inspire your team. You can also encourage peer-to-peer learning by asking employees to teach their particular experience or skill to co-workers.

4. Invest in a Pleasant Work Environment

Studies show that a well-designed office environment can increase your team’s overall performance by as much as 20%. You’ll be surprised to see that even very small interior tweaks that don’t require major investments can improve your workers’ performance.

Some ideas for a more productive and pleasing work environment:

  • Invest in modern furniture – offer ergonomic chairs, standing desks, and individually arranged workplaces​.
  • Start an in-house library – reading for pleasure just 30 minutes a day is proven to be enough to become more effective at work,[4] improve focus, and deal with problems like depression and anxiety.​
  • Play jazzy office music – rhythmic background music will help workers feel more energetic and enthusiastic while doing everyday tasks.​
  • Set up entertainment or break rooms – being able to relax and have fun at work creates a strong commitment, helps employees relax and clear their minds, and boosts productivity.​
  • Bring in uplifting office decor – it’s been found that art in the workplace can boost productivity,[5] lower stress, and even encourage employees to innovate.​
  • Decorate the office with live plants for freshness and a welcoming feel. Furthermore, plants are found to ensure better air quality and increase workers’ productivity by 15%.[6]

5. Be Kind and Sincere to Your Team

Did you know that 50% of employees quit because they dislike working with their manager?[7] In fact, most times when people leave their jobs they actually leave their managers. Being friendly and sincere may not be enough to be a successful manager, but it’s a big part of it.

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Some ways to show you appreciate and care for your staff:

  • Celebrate the progress and achievements of your employees. And don’t be shy to simply say thanks.​
  • Talk to your employees regularly and really listen to what they have to say. Address their concerns, help them reach their goals and do your best to improve their work and daily life.
  • If you’re having a bad day, don’t pour out your stress and anger on the staff. Instead, try to recharge yourself by appreciating the achievements of your team and setting the next goals.
  • Try not to overload your team with work. Every company has rush periods when it’s okay to have more work than usual. But remember that people cannot work under prolonged pressure and stress.
  • Don’t be selfish – it can be very demotivating to see that the manager only focuses on what you can do for him and doesn’t care about your goals and well-being.​ As the CEO of Xerox Anne M. Mulcahy put it,[8]

    “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person — not just an employee — are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled.”

Whenever you are having doubts about your kind attitude, remember – satisfied employees are productive employees which lead to satisfied customers and eventually – success for your company.

6. Offer Flexible Work Hours

The traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job is beginning to slip away. Increasingly more people are working remotely or having flexible work hours, and we can expect this trend to continue. To adapt to these changing habits and remain competitive in the labor market, more employers are offering the chance to choose your own work hours, work from home or even from another city or country.

Offering flexible hours is a powerful way to inspire your existing staff and give them intrinsic motivation. Why not let your employees choose their preferred working hours while keeping the 8-hour day? For example, night owls are unhappy and unproductive if they have to come to work before 10 AM, while others might prefer to start at 7 and finish earlier.

You can go even farther and hire remote workers – this way you’ll be able to recruit from a global talent pool and even save money on office expenses like desks, stationery, electricity, etc.[9]

7. Track Your Team’s Productive Time

Not monitoring your employees’ progress and efficiency can result in poor performance and slacking. Instead of letting things go with the flow, you should consider installing time-tracking software on your employees’ computers and see who’s doing great and who might need a productivity boost.

But don’t get it wrong – there’s no need to become big brother and watch every step your employees take. If you use the time-tracker as a spying tool, you will only see increasing suspicion and insecurity around you, and your employees’ happiness levels will drop.

On the contrary, choose software that allows employees to mark private time that won’t be tracked. In addition, consider these time-management tactics:

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  • Allow flexible work hours. (see Tip No 6)
  • Encourage breaks – studies show that employees who take regular breaks are more productive than those who don’t.[10]
  • Enable remote work to show your employees that you trust them and that they can work from home or even from another country (if they can maintain sufficient productivity).
  • Consider offering bonuses to your most productive employees (those who show productivity levels above 90 or 95%).

8. Use Only Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism means offering valid and rational opinions about the work of others, involving both positive comments and remarks about what should be improved. Constructive criticism is usually expressed in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one.

When you evaluate your team’s work, give them feedback that’s helpful, specific, and sincere. Don’t be shy to praise, but also be direct and even strict when necessary.

9. Don’t Give Special Treatment to Yourself

The boss’s actions are – directly or indirectly – observed by your team. This means that your employees look up to you and often mimic your attitude towards your work and the company – especially if your actions don’t show commitment. Nobody wants to work for a leader who doesn’t go all in or inspire motivation.

What you should do is lead by example. If you expect your employees to arrive at work on time and work 8 hours, do the same yourself. If you want them to show initiative, show it yourself and encourage others to do the same.

Jeff Weiner is the CEO of LinkedIn – a company of 3,000 employees that consistently ranks as one of the best workplaces with a 92 percent employee-approval rating.[11] Weiner’s workdays are reported to be equally long or even longer than those of his employees, allowing him to stay “extremely credible as a leader.”

10. Empower Your Employees

Here’s a common mistake many managers make:

They don’t motivate their staff and assume they simply love to work for their company.​ Such belief can result in painful losses for the company – especially these days when many companies are in desperate need of a reliable workforce.

Instead of directly thinking about bonuses and perks, consider intrinsic motivation. For example, enable flat organization in your team and listen to your employees’ ideas when they come up with opinions and suggestions. Your company might actually benefit a great deal from the feedback, and the unique ideas employees come up with.

You can also start an initiative where employees can freely share or pitch their business ideas to you or the founders of the company. If the idea is accepted by the management, the project can be developed, and the employee can have equity options.

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If people feel they have an impact in the company, they become more motivated, engaged and interested in the company’s growth.

11. Nurture Your Company Culture

Company culture is the personality of a company that defines the overall work environment and relationships between teammates. It also includes company mission, values, ethics, and goals.

Some examples of company cultures are the Horizontal corporate culture (collaborative and equal; popular among startups and free-spirited businesses) and Conventional corporate culture (a more risk-averse and hierarchy-based approach common in traditional companies).

However, you don’t have to stick to pre-existing boxes when creating your corporate culture. You might think of your team as a family, a sports team, or even a hippie camp if it fits your business and purpose. But keep in mind that by the time a company’s size reaches 20 employees, the company culture is set,[12] and any changes will need to be implemented in smaller teams.

Whichever personality you choose for your company, make sure to live by it and nurture it. Some things that might help:

Team building events, relevant books in your office library and proper on-boarding for the new employees to get everyone on the same page from the very beginning.

Be a Leader, Not a Boss

Using the words of Printful’s CEO Davis Siksnans, the ultimate goal is to “Hire great people who don’t have to be managed.”

However, when you do need to demonstrate some initiative and control, act as a leader rather than as a boss.

In other words, don’t be afraid to show the personality behind your role. And keep these 11 tips close to your heart.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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