No matter at which career stage you find yourself, or whatever your career trajectory, it is almost certain that you can do more to “get ahead” (whether that means more responsibility, more pay, a better title, higher internet visibility, or ideally all of these!).
Here are some thoughts worth considering:
1. GET ORGANIZED AND COMMIT TO IMPROVEMENT – Good intentions are plentiful at the start of a year, but they have a tendency to fade away pretty quickly as the regular routine of life resumes after the Holidays. Now is the moment to take a hard look at how you spend your non-work-related time and to carve out at least a few extra hours a week to devote to ways of enhancing your career. And when I say “carve out” I mean to schedule them firmly in your calendar. Of course that also means identifying things you will spend less time doing (e.g. watching TV or playing video or internet games) or doing less of (e.g. drinking). Even diverting time away from those kinds of activities towards healthier endeavors like exercise or meditation will help improve your energy level and your job performance.
2. TECHNICAL SKILL IMPROVEMENT – If you are in a field that is evolving relatively quickly (e.g. technology, communication, health care, certain aspects of finance, defense/intelligence, etc.) it goes without saying that you need to stay up-to-date. Take a close, critical look at your skill level and solicit feedback on this from others (and, of course, consider any performance evaluations you may have recently had). Assuming you’ve identified an important skill area in which you are lagging, commit to strengthening it by considering one or more of the following: enrolling in a course, reading technical books, subscribing to appropriate magazines, joining or creating a Meetup or online discussion group, or hiring a coach. Depending on the importance of the skill area to your chosen career path you may want to go further and consider certification or an advanced degree.
More generally, you may want to consider enhancing your entrepreneurial or leadership skills. Dozens of books (by authors such as Jack Welch, Richard Branson, John Maxwell, or Michael Porter – my HBS section mate), websites/magazines (Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review) not to mention educational offerings from Dale Carenegie’s online and in person courses and seminars to Harvard Business School’s Advance Management Program are available to help you advance.
3. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT – What face do you present to the world? Here I am talking less about “branding” yourself (more on that later) and more about the impression you make on people in vivo. The externals (hair color and style, attire, posture, facial expressions, accent, use of language) come to mind at first. Resources are available to help you address issues in this realm: an image consultant or stylist to help you look your best, and Toastmasters International* (or a presentation coach) to help improve the way you come across. The latter can also help pinpoint issues that emanate from the internal: any manifestations of generalized anxiety (men might tap their foot repeatedly, women giggle nervously), insecurity about one’s inherent abilities or qualifications, shyness, or perhaps even lassitude. As far as I’m concerned, we could all use at least an occasional freshening up if not a more substantial series of “upgrades”!
4. NETWORKING – My regular readers are probably getting tired of my preaching about the value of networking, but there is no more effective way to achieve career advancement. Networking is essential in locating new opportunities (80% of new hires occur as a result of networking), in learning about different career fields and different organizations, and in cultivating possible mentors. Some additional networking methods/tips:
a) Blendabout.com, which facilitates dining among fellow enthusiasts of specific topics like tech, politics,or gardening (you never know if the lady you meet at the gardening dinner who gave you some tips on growing peonies might also be a headhunter, hiring manager, or even CEO).
b) Enroll in a learning environment. If you attend a workshop, lecture, or seminar you will find yourself among people who share your interest, and engaging them in discussion is easier because you can use the presented material as a conversational launching pad.
c) Attend events with a friend. You’ll be more relaxed, and will have someone to talk with during the inevitable lulls.
5. BRANDING – Know not just what your strengths are but what benefit those strengths offer to the outside world. The clearer you are on just what that world is, the stronger will be your branding statement. But beware the temptation to prematurely lock into a branding statement so that you can feel that you’ve checked that box.
I wish you extraordinary success in 2019, and would be delighted to help you towards that goal in any way I can!
*There are over 150 Toastmasters clubs within 5 miles of downtown DC, and the cost to join and attend is nominal.