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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 May 15, 2019

10 Most Successful Entrepreneurs and What We Can Learn from Them

10 Most Successful Entrepreneurs and What We Can Learn from Them

Apart from making crucial decisions for their own businesses, entrepreneurs innovate and grow their ideas. Albeit there being no cookie-cutter answer that fits everyone’s experiences, taking a look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs today, you might spot some similar traits and characteristics.

Starting and nurturing a business entails a great amount of hard work and commitment. However, for aspiring entrepreneurs who are prepared to dedicate themselves to their vision, here are 10 most successful entrepreneurs you can learn from:

1. Melanie Perkins: Know Your Worth and Keep Trying

    Melanie Perkins founded Canva, a Sydney-based business valued at $1Billion having successfully raised a number of rounds of successful funding and boasting more than 10 Million users in 179 countries.[1]

    She told BBC that one of the biggest challenges she faced getting into the business was talking about her company’s accomplishments when she first got to Silicon Valley. She attributed this difficulty to a cultural difference where Australians tend to ‘talk down’ their achievements and this would slow down her fundraising progress for a few years.

    Despite hundreds of rejections, Melanie emerged three years later with a much clearer strategy and stronger investor pitch that prompted a series of fundraising rounds netting the company $82Million of funding in total.[2]

    2. Bill Gates: Keep Learning and Exploring

      If you don’t know Bill Gates, you likely know the company he founded – Microsoft.

      Bill Gates’ story is a prime example of nurturing an idea that might seem out of this world but make sense in the future. One of the most successful entrepreneurs in history did not complete his degree at Harvard University to pursue a vision that the technology would soon become the future.

      He told a white lie to Altair, saying that he had made a computer program for them, therefore pushing himself to create a system that would change modern history.

      “The most important speed issue is convincing everyone that the company’s survival depends on moving as fast as possible.”

      Gates’ success is built on self-improvement and the seeds of an idea.

      3. Elon Musk: Never Stop Innovating

        Traditional thinking suggests that in order to become a successful entrepreneur, one must focus in a single field or industry.

        Elon Musk, however, breaks that rule.

        Today, the multifaceted tech entrepreneur, investor, and engineer advocates for the diversification of skills and businesses by delving into various fields of interest.

        When done right, skills in a single domain can be carried over then applied into contrasting industries to create something new the world might need. Musk owes his accomplishments to a constant thirst for knowledge.

        Having birthed Tesla and a myriad of products across the arenas of aeronautics and software design, Musk continues to evolve as an entrepreneur and plans to innovate for the long haul.

        4. Richard Branson: Develop People First

          British entrepreneur Richard Branson founded Virgin Records in the early 1970s. Virgin Records has since grown into the Virgin Group, today responsible for over 400 companies.

          The billionaire is strongly particular about working with a team that shares his core values and aspirations.

          Branson believes that managing a business can become taxing, thus he acknowledges his employees for putting in the effort that they have.

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          A good leader knows how to raise morale for positive productivity. Utilising emotional intelligence and compassion is a game changer in seeing results within a team.

          Branson’s supports the idea of nurturing a positive work environment, with the belief that credentials must go hand-in-hand with an enthusiasm for work.

          5. Jeff Bezos: A Relentless Focus on Customer Satisfaction

            Having founded Amazon, Jeff Bezos is known to be one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs. The e-commerce pioneer fixates himself on angry customers with the belief that a business’s loopholes are found in the experiences of unsatisfied customers.

            For the 8th year in a row, customers have ranked Amazon as the number one in customer service (according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index).

            While numerous companies ignore unhappy customers, Bezos found success in learning from reviews and surveys. By focusing on customer service, Amazon shows they care, both for their customers and for rising above their competitors.

            While praise and recognition are signs that a business is accelerating, criticism is an opportunity to improve a product or a service.

            6. Mark Zuckerberg: Start Small, Think Big

              Valued at over 55 billion dollars today, Mark Zuckerberg built the first version of what would become a social networking giant in his Harvard University dorm room. As one of the world’s youngest entrepreneurs, Zuckerberg undoubtedly took countless calculated risks to get his brilliant idea to its current status with 2.38 billion active monthly users.

              “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”

              He’s always daring to explore with a fearless mindset.

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              The young tech entrepreneur never shied away from innovating outside of the box. Soon after Facebook became a hit to users and advertisers, big corporations took interest in buying Facebook from Zuckerberg.

              However, he took the risk and decided to stay with his creation. Turning down billions of dollars offered by Yahoo CEO, Terry Semel, he envisioned turning his brainchild into something much bigger than what it already was then.

              7. Steve Jobs: Live Your Own Dreams

                Steve Jobs lived a rocky path all his life and an aspect of which is a tumultuous career.

                The founder of Apple endorsed his beliefs on the temporality of life and limitations of time. He preached about the importance of working on the very legacies people wish to leave behind, an achievement he’s undoubtedly etched into the the archives of human history.

                Never one to hide under someone’s shadow, Jobs did not live by anybody else’s principles so he formed his own. He tirelessly dedicated himself to building a unique brand of products that became the benchmark for contemporary technology.

                After his highs and lows through his brief battle with cancer, Jobs concludes with yet another lesson to takeaway from his remarkable life. “No matter how much money you have, even the richest man can’t buy time.”

                8. Warren Buffett: Balance is Essential to Success

                  Despite being the third wealthiest person in the world, Warrant Buffett sported a frugal lifestyle for most of his life.

                  After buying a house in Omaha, Nebraska for just above 31,000 dollars, he has lived there since 1958. As a leading investor and a founder at Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett believes in setting aside an amount to save and spend only on necessities.

                  With a long term goal as a top priority in mind always, treating oneself can be sustainable once in a while. He advices to save money by deciding first and foremost what aspects to scrimp on and what aspects to splurge on to ensure a happy and balanced lifestyle.

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                  9. Jack Ma: Never Give up

                    On every journey to success, everybody stumbles and arrives at roadblocks. Some more than most, like Jack Ma, who survived countless rejections and failures only to get back up and brave every storm.

                    Ma is the founder of multinational technology conglomerate Alibaba Group. Despite being rejected to Harvard after every one of his 10 applications, Ma was never defeated.

                    His grit and tenacity is a fine testament to the fact that grades do not determine a future. While qualifications on paper are important, the development of skills and an attitude is just as helpful in making a recipe for success.

                    Despite finding himself in the verge of bankruptcy in the 1990s, Jack Ma possessed the resilience to put one foot in front of the other until he finally made it. “It’s important to have patience,” he says.

                    10. Tan Min Liang: Passion Can Pay Off

                      Tan Min Liang is the founder of the leading high-performance gaming hardware, Razer. Always on the look out for new opportunities to connect and scale his business, Tan has been bold in making many of his life’s decisions.

                      Having deviated from a traditional path set by a family that consists of doctors and lawyers, Tan was to find his life’s work and passion while gaming with his older brother.

                      The idea was simple: there were so many games out there to play, however, there were hardly any gaming equipment to match this.

                      So he dropped out of law and began going a different direction, into creating solutions in the gaming industry. At the start of 2019, Tan wrote to tech luminary Elon Musk to which Musk’s reply suggested of a joint venture between two of the most successful entrepreneurs today.

                      Final Thoughts

                      In today’s cutthroat world, the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur is a long and arduous process trailed with ups and downs. A valuable lesson that a good hand of entrepreneurs would love to convey to aspiring entrepreneurs is to keep the spirit of innovation and to explore uncharted waters.

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                      Learning from experience and failure is one direction to a desired end goal. Exhibiting the same dedication and grit so many entrepreneurs have through their unexpected careers – today’s budding visionaries ought to hang on their dreams and leave room for improvement along the way.

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                      Featured photo credit: Patrick Tomasso via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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