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9 Bulletproof Ways To Get Ahead in Your Career

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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 August 25, 2021

Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career

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Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career

As a recruiter, I have met and interviewed hundreds of candidates who have no idea who they are.

Without a personal brand, candidates struggle to answer the question: “tell me about yourself—who are you?” They have no idea about who they are, what their strengths are, and how they can add value to the company. They present their CV’s believing that their CV is the key to their career success. In some ways, your CV still has its use. However, in today’s job market, you need more than a CV to stand out in a crowd.

According to Celinne Da Costa:[1]

“Personal brand is essentially your golden ticket to networking with the right people, getting hired for a dream job, or building an influential business.” She believes that “a strong personal brand allows you to stand out in an oversaturated marketplace by exposing desired audiences to your vision, skillset, and personality in a way that is strategically aligned with your career goals.”

A personal brand opens up your world to so many more career opportunities that you would never have been exposed to with just your CV.

What Is Your Personal Brand?

“Personal branding is how you distinctively market your uniqueness.” —Bernard Kelvin Clive

Today, the job market is very competitive and tough. Having a great CV will only let you go so far because everyone has a CV, but no one else has your distinct personal brand! It is your personal brand that differentiates you from everyone else and that is what people buy—you.

Your personal brand is your mark on the world. It is how people you interact with and the world see you. It is your legacy—it is more important than a business brand because your personal brand lasts forever.

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I have coached people who have very successful careers, and they come to me because they have suddenly found that they are not getting the opportunities or having the conversations that would them to their next role. They are having what I call a “career meltdown,” all because they have no personal brand.

A personal brand helps you become conscious of your differences and your uniqueness. It allows you to position yourself in a way that makes you stand out from the pack, especially among other potential job applicants.

Don’t get me wrong, having a great CV and a great LinkedIn profile is important. However, there are a few steps that you have to take to have a CV and LinkedIn profile that is aligned to who you are, the value you offer to the market, and the personal guarantee that you deliver results.

Building your personal brand is about strategically, creatively, and professionally presenting what makes you, you. Knowing who you are and the value you bring to the table enables you to be more informed, agile, and adaptable to the changing dynamic world of work. This is how you can avoid having a series of career meltdowns.

Your Personal Brand Is Essential for Your Career Success

In her article, Why Personal Branding Is More Important Than Ever, Caroline Castrillon outlines key reasons why a personal brand is essential for career success.

According to Castrillon,[2]

“One reason is that it is more popular for recruiters to use social media during the interview process. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and 43% of employers use social media to check on current employees.”

The first thing I do as a recruiter when I want to check out a candidate or coaching client is to look them up on LinkedIn or other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Your digital footprint is the window that highlights to the world who you are. When you have no control over how you want to be seen, you are making a big mistake because you are leaving it up to someone else to make a judgment for you as to who you are.

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As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

In her book, Becoming, Michelle Obama writes about the importance of having a personal brand and her journey to defining her personal brand. She wrote that:

“if you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

When you have a personal brand, you are in control. You know exactly what people will say about you when you leave the room.

The magic of a personal brand is that gives you control over how you want to be seen in the world. Your confidence and self-belief enable you to leverage opportunities and make informed decisions about your career and your future. You no longer experience the frustrations of a career meltdown or being at a crossroads not knowing what to do next with your career or your life. With a personal brand, you have focus, clarity, and a strategy to move forward toward future success.

Creating your personal brand does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of work and self-reflection. You will be expected to step outside of your comfort zone not once, but many times.

The good news is that the more time you spend outside of your comfort zone, the more you will like being there. Being outside of your comfort zone is where you can test the viability of and fine-tune your personal brand.

5 Key Steps to Creating Your Personal Brand

These five steps will help you create a personal brand that will deliver you the results you desire with your career and in life.

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1. Set Your Personal Goals

What is it that you want to do in the next five years? What will your future self be doing in the next five to ten years? What is important to you? If you can answer these questions, then you are on the right path. If not, then you have to start thinking about them.

2. Create Your Unique Value Proposition

Create your unique value proposition by asking yourself these four questions:

  1. What are your personality features? What benefit do you offer people?
  2. Who are you and why do people enjoy working with you?
  3. What do you do and what do people want you to do for them? How do you solve their problems?
  4. What makes you different from others like you?

The answers to these questions will give you the information you need to create your professional story, which is the key step to creating your personal brand.

3. Write Your Professional Story

Knowing who you are, what you want, and the unique value you offer is essential to you creating your professional story. People remember stories. Your personal story incorporates your value proposition and tells people who you are and what makes you unique. This is what people will remember about you.

4. Determine Which Platforms Will Support Your Personal Brand

Decide which social media accounts and online platforms will best represent your brand and allow you to share your voice. In a professional capacity, having a LinkedIn profile and a CV that reflects your brand is key to your positioning in relation to role opportunities. People will be connecting with you because they will like the story you are telling.

5. Become Recognized for Sharing Your Knowledge and Expertise

A great way for you to promote yourself is by sharing knowledge and helping others. This is where you prove you know your stuff and you gain exposure for doing so. You can do this through social media, writing, commenting, video, joining professional groups, networking, etc. Find your own style and uniqueness and use it to attract clients, the opportunities, or the jobs you desire.

The importance of having a personal brand is not going to go away. In fact, it is the only way where you can stand out and be unique in a complex changing world of work. If you don’t have a personal brand, someone will do it for you. If you let this happen, you have no control and you may not like the story they create.

Standing out from others takes time and investment. Most people cannot make the change by themselves, and this is where engaging a personal brand coach is a viable option to consider.

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As a personal brand coach, working with my clients to create their personal brand is my passion. I love the fact that we can work together to create a personal story that defines exactly what people will say when you leave the room.

Other People’s Stories

Listening to other people’s stories is a great way to learn. In his article, 7 TED Talks About Personal Branding, Rafael Dos Santos presents the best Ted Talks where speakers share their stories about the “why,” “what,” and “how” of personal branding.((GuidedPR: 7 TED Talks About Personal Branding))

Take some time out to listen to these speakers sharing their stories and thoughts about personal branding. You will definitely learn so much about how you can start your journey of defining yourself and taking control of your professional and personal life.

Your personal brand, without a doubt, is your secret weapon to your career success. As Michelle Obama said,

“your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

So, go own your story. Go on the journey to create your personal brand that defines who you are, highlights your uniqueness, and the value you offer to the world.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

Reference

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