Career Advancement Best Practices

When it comes to your career, always remember that you’re in charge. There are some elements that are beyond your control (amount of job openings, proximity to jobs etc), but in a general sense, you set the pace and the direction. Think of each phase of your career as a project that you manage. In the early stages of your career (up to 5 years), your focus should be on skill development and the building of professional relationships. As you approach the mid-career stage, you should be able to demonstrate the application of best practices and industry standards and start to set yourself up as a contributor of ideas. Finally, as you approach Manager/Director/C-Suite, it’s time to brand yourself as an industry leader and Subject Matter Expert. Look for opportunities to speak and get published (even if it’s on your own blog).

A couple of caveats here. Time-frames are not set in stone. Even though the average age for entrance into the C-Suite is 53, you can get there sooner. You don’t have to be a newbie for 5 years if you master your craft beforehand. Also remember that whatever your title (or age), you are a leader and people are watching you, so act like someone you, yourself, would follow.

Even though your approach to work may change depending on your level of responsibility and experience level, there are some best practices that you should have in place no matter what career stage you’re at.

Continuous Learning

We’ve all heard it said that leaders are learners. This is more than a catch-phrase. The value of Professional Development cannot be downplayed when it comes to career advancement. Studies have shown that organizations that encourage professional development activities are more likely to produce employees who are loyal to the organization, align more closely with the company vision and as a result, progress more rapidly than peers who don’t participate.

Increase your Visibility

In an earlier post entitled 4 Ways to Increase your Visibility at Work, I talk about ways to get out of the shadows and in front of key decision-makers. This is usually one of the first pieces of advice that I give to younger employees. We sometimes have the mistaken idea that as long as you work hard, your boss will notice, and reward you for your diligence. While this may be true some of the time, it won’t make you a stand-out in your field. I was recently impressed by a young female in the accounting field who is progressing rapidly in her career. As we spoke, she told me that she would reach out to her managers for training and spend one-on-one time with them. They were all so impressed with her drive and initiative that they all personally took the time to sponsor her in her career. For mid-career professionals, increase your visibility by getting on the speaking circuit. Volunteer to speak at conferences and other networking events. For professionals with more responsibility, consider becoming a sponsor or mentor. Also remember, the higher you climb in an organization, the more likely you are to be a representative of the brand. Use that platform to help your company shine and to also highlight your accomplishments.

Find a Sponsor

Sponsorship is something that I talk about often as it is one of the most neglected ways to advance your career – at least among women. Sponsorship involves an influential person becoming your career advocate. A sponsor will use their “political capital” to speak on your behalf, recommend you for high-profile projects, put you in front of the right people and help you to get promoted. The young accountant mentioned earlier became a protege of more than one sponsor in her organization. Since she had managed to increase her visibility (through her desire to learn and initiative) now every time a promotion or opportunity opens up, they immediately recommend her.

If you have a sponsor, consider yourself blessed. Your career will progress much more quickly than if you tried to navigate it on your own. If you don’t have one, make a plan to find one.

Network

Networking is another way to increase your visibility outside of the organization. Regardless of where you are in your career, you should make an effort to attend both formal and informal networking events. Conferences, symposiums, and similar events give you exposure to industry leaders, keep you on top of the trends and allow you to be noticed by a wider variety of people. Networking can really open up your eyes to new possibilities and give you a perspective that your job alone can’t give. As I always say, networking is about reciprocity and relationships should be formed from an authentic place of interest in the other person. While networking can reap benefits for you, never forget that you have a lot to offer others. Look for opportunities to meet other people in your industry. An exercise that I like to do at every networking event I attend is to introduce myself to someone just starting out in their career as well as someone more experienced that I can learn from. I’m always surprised at how much I learn from people on both sides of the career spectrum.

Enjoy the journey

As I said at the start of this piece, you have control over your own career. That’s not to say that things will always be easy and that you won’t experience setbacks along the way. The key is to know who you are, set clear objectives for yourself and enjoy every step of your career journey.

Work-Life Balance – Myth or Reality.

When asked recently my views on achieving Work/Life Balance, my response was that it is a little like trying to hit a moving target. You can see it somewhere off in the distance and you might even get close to it, but just as you’re about to hit a bulls-eye, the target jumps two feet to the left. Women can have it all, just not at the same time. Do you ever hear men pondering whether they can have it all or if they messed up their kid’s lives by returning to work so soon? If you want to focus on your career, it may have to be after the kids are in school full time. If you opt to spend more time with family, as was my choice, there is a high chance your career momentum might slow down. You may have to make some sacrifices, but that doesn’t mean your career is over.

Don’t make the mistakes I made like comparing myself to other women or being too rigid with my own standards. The key to achieving this balance is finding what works for you and being flexible when the road gets bumpy.

1. Communicate your vision. This might involve  you and your spouse talking once a month about how things are going. Write down your goals and set checkpoints to see if you are meeting them. They might be too high and you may need to purge some things from your list. Or they may be too low and you realize that now’s the time to up your game. The key is to not lapse into complacency and lose control of the direction your life is heading in.

2. Stay true to your goals. If your career is derailed for any reason, this doesn’t have to be fatal and final. Even if you’re not working, there are things you can do to stay marketable.

  • Take an online course or get a designation
  • Join an association
  • Volunteer

3. Rely on your  network. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when things get hard. There will be days when you have to take off your superhero cape and admit to yourself that you need a break. Your family is always the first and best choice but if, like me, you don’t have family close by, there are other networks you can join based on like interests and experiences. Connect to someone who knows what you’re going through. A little empathy goes a long way.

  • Take the kids to a playgroup or set up play-dates.
  • Take a class (Cooking and Krav Maga are on my list)
  • Join a support group
  • Join a church

4. Find a mentor. I’ve been blessed to have amazing women come to me when they saw weaknesses in my life. I have two women who have helped me in my marriage, and another who has helped me in my career. Sometimes they hit straight-from-the-hip when I was being a jerk, other times they were a shoulder to cry on. Most times, they were just funny, amazing women that became some of my closest friends.

5. Be a mentor. Pay it forward and help another woman through her struggles. You’d be surprised how much this will help you and cause you to forget your own problems, even temporarily.

I’m still far from achieving this balance and still don’t have this elusive “all” we are trying to get, but as I chase this moving target, I will enjoy all that my life offers right now, and that is actually quite wonderful.

Collaborate for Personal Success

Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.
~ Don Tapscott ~

When we look at successful people, we often attribute their success to their own determination, talent or hard-work. While this may be true in some cases, I believe that those “lone-wolves” may be more of an anomaly. Very few people achieve success completely on their own. What often ends up happening is the visionary becomes the face of the product, company or innovation. What we don’t see, however, are the people behind the scenes whose contributions allowed the visionary leader to be propelled into the limelight.

  • Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs
  • Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson
  • Pierre Wertheimer and Coco Chanel

Chances are, most people know only one of the names of those famous pairings. Steve Jobs is the face of Apple. Michael Jackson is the King of Pop and Coco Chanel is the muse for Chanel No. 5 and fashions that transcend time. Yet, without their partners, they may never have become who they were. Wozniak developed the 1977 Apple Computer. Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and Pierre Wertheimer provided the capital for the design house.

Collaboration is necessary for anyone who is serious about success. Among its benefits –

  • Greater output and variety of ideas generated
  • Pooling of resources
  • Higher accountability to accomplish task or project
  • Faster solutions are achieved

This list certainly is not exhaustive and you may have experienced some amazing benefits for yourself. If you haven’t partnered or collaborated in the past, now is the time to reach out to a potential partner. You and your partner might just change the world.

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