If you are like everybody else, then you wish that your career was doing just a tad bit better. It is human nature, after all. We strive. We want more. But, sometimes it is super tough to reach our goals. And yet, it is still doable, especially when it comes to reaching higher in your career aspirations.
Reaching your goals for your career just requires, like most things, a little bit of elbow grease, a whole lot of effort and the know-how to do it. And, of course, the merit. Assuming you have the latter, there are some excellent ways to go about improving the sort of look the boss gives you when passing you at the water cooler — a wink or a stare-through? It really comes down to how hard you have been working, and what tools you have been using in your quest to achieve an excellent career.
Your networking game needs to be on point
There are a few different kinds of networks, and you should be leveraging all of them, in conjunction, if you want to see the most optimized results possible for your career. Firstly, you have what is called your “informal network.” This is largely composed of friends, your family and neighbors whom you chat with in the elevator about the weather. These networks are simple and they don’t require much work. You go next door and knock on your neighbor’s door, and in between chatting about the Yankees game, and asking for a cup of sugar, you casually inquire about that job opportunity you heard they were privy to.
The second tier network is your work network. This is composed largely of your colleagues, your colleagues’ friends and, if you are feeling especially ambitious, your bosses themselves. These are the sorts of networks that are less intuitive and that might require forethought before trying to leverage. In other words, you should be sweetening them up before you ask them for anything. But, owing to the fact that you are rubbing shoulders with these people every day for a large percentage of the day, it would be straight up foolish not to try and take advantage in any way that you can (within the limits of good taste, of course). If you stay alert, you will learn that there is always (always!) something to be gained.
The third and last network is your “extended network,” which is composed mostly of people like your former colleagues, bosses and neighbors (basically former everyones). The robustness of your third-tier network is a lesson in not burning bridges. If you find that you have not held onto many people, and thus have a very small, fragile extended network, do not despair. Just focus on the first two networks, and do better in the future vis a vis not burning bridges.
All three of these networks should be tended to like gardens. That is to say, they need constant love and attention. Even if you aren’t feeling particularly garden-y (damn I wish I could think of a better word) it doesn’t matter! You still need to tend to those azaleas. That is to say, even when you do not need anything, or want anything, from your “formal,” “work” or “extended,” networks, you should still always be flattering, complimenting, doing favors and just generally being a good gal or guy. You never know when that day will come that you want to leverage a network. So keep those compliments comin’!
Start small. Maybe buy your boss a coffee, or do a co-worker a favor. Then, when that day finally comes, don’t jump right into it. That is overly utilitarian and brusque. Instead, ease into it perhaps over a drink, or a dinner that you invite whomever this person is to join. It’s all about finesse!
By the way, your network is not all in-person. You should be sure to leverage your online social networks, too. You’d be surprised what kind of amazingly connected friends we mop up inadvertently through the social networking game. Last, but not least, always be sincere. To sweeten the pot, butter people up, and have a lead-up to your ask by way of a nice dinner and/or drink, is not to imply insincerity. Do everything in earnest because humans are observant. They will sniff out insincerity. And they won’t like the smell of it!
You can’t just be networking
Networking is great, but it is only one brick that must be laid to build this career par excellence. And to have a thriving career there are a whole lotta bricks. Another one of them is pretty simple — working extremely hard. Leveraging an excellent network only truly will work to your favor if those people whom you are leveraging can look at you and see a person worth investing in. If not, you will be going from rejection to rejection to rejection, and it will not be fun.
The good news is that you do not have to be Nikola Tesla to work hard. And if you have even the teensiest of brains, pairing it with a strong work ethic will take you very far. Then that networking potential will truly kick in. Be sure not only to work hard, but to work frequently (ideally, more so than the coworker next to you. Thus the whole idea of outperforming the competition), and most importantly, be doing something unique and eye-catching. Innovation is always more visible than the same-old-same-old.
Careers thrive when people keep up with changes in their fields. In every endeavor there is new technology, new “best practices,” changing regulations and previously unforeseen challenges. Although your field may appear in stasis, or even stagnant, to the observant eye there are always incremental changes that are worth noting. Without being vigilant, you might fail to note a change coming around the corner that will directly affect your job aspirations or even your job security itself! So, be like a sentry on top of a jailhouse watchtower — ever on the look-out for fugitives trying to escape their cells! But replace fugitive with career!
Some scenarios to look out for: You may see an unexpected opportunity when a job opening is posted. Or your vigilance may tell you that it’s time to get out of your field before it changes for the worse. You can consider joining a professional organization and attending its events to learn about your field’s changes and/or disruptions on a weekly or monthly basis. Maybe consider enrolling in training sessions or even taking classes in your given field. There are many ways to stay up-to-date.
You, my friend, need a hobby
Hobbies aren’t just about … well … enjoying a hobby. Did you know that downtime has been psychologically proven to improve the time you are working, both in terms of work longevity and work quality? If you don’t have breaks, not only will you experience the burn-out effect, but your work quality will suffer, too. That’s why the whole “shower eureka” phenomenon exists. It is because we need a break to be at our most productive and creative.
In this respect, if you do not have a hobby — be it a sport, learning a musical instrument, or volunteering for a cause — you actually are shooting yourself in the foot. Gone are the days when we thought the person who worked 100-hour workweeks was the true hero of the workplace. In reality, that person’s work performance is probably piss-poor. Only on paper, do they look so fantastic. So get into taxidermy!
Or. You know. Something less weird.
Self-assessments are important
Understanding your work profile, and how you come across to your bosses and coworkers is key — especially when you walk into your boss’ office hoping for a raise. You better be very aware, and confident about what it is that you bring to the table. Your boss will sniff out weakness, and if you feel like you don’t deserve a raise, or don’t even know why you are asking for one in the first place, then what motivation does your boss have to throw more money at you? You must be your own best advocate. Not just in the workplace, but in life. After all, everybody else will be too busy being their own best advocate to do any advocating for you.
Additionally, it’s especially important for you to have a clearly stated sense of what you want. You should understand your strengths and your weaknesses (especially your weaknesses!) at your present job and be able to point out effectively your strengths and explain away your weaknesses when those conversations with your boss arise. Always have an idea of your most recent accomplishments in your back pocket for pulling out and presenting to people when you need to look good.
You should take the time to write all of these things down, by the way. It doesn’t matter how you do it, so long as you write it down — you can organize the information into a spreadsheet or a personal essay. That part is all about personal preference. Be sure to update the list whenever needed, and return to it for review at least once, preferably twice, a year. The point is to become aware of your own natural strengths and interests. Knowing who you are and what you want prepares you for those interviews with the boss when they finally say “well. What can I offer ya?”
Attaining greater visibility
If you finish doing your self-assessment and are scratching your head, thinking: “Wow, I am super-duper great. Why didn’t I get that raise last month that went to ol’ lazy John Peterson?” Then there may be an answer staring you in the face that you’re afraid to acknowledge. And that answer may be simply that you aren’t visible enough. If you are doing spectacular work but aren’t being recognized for it, then you may have to improve your office-politics skill set. You have to bring greater visibility to your presence!
There are a few ways that you can go about doing this. Volunteer to solve problems that your other coworkers — and most importantly your boss — are too busy or too lazy to do themselves. This will raise you to the level of an amazing team player and throw some gazes in your direction. Even if a few of those gazes are ones of resentful intimidation on the part of your co-workers, it is OK: no press is bad press. Unless it has to do with your work quality or your work output, that is.
You should also be more alert to ways in which you can make your department perform better and suggest them at the next conference or meeting. Always be sure to speak up during these meetings. It is an easy way to get in some facetime with the boss, after all. If you have one, never withhold a helpful comment, good question, or perhaps a game-changing idea — even if you would identify yourself as an introvert. Fight through the pain, and speak up! If you do happen to be painfully shy, some experts recommend trying to be the first person to speak up once the floor is opened up to questions. Just to get it over with!
Your desire for a raise may have been initiated when you saw your super uninspired co-worker’s pay-stub left on his desk. However, that still doesn’t mean you get to stroll through your boss’s door and give him an ultimatum.
Barring a mix-up at payroll, it’s safe to assume that your company is paying you what it thinks your work is worth, given your particular industry and skill set. That means the burden of proof is on you to make the case that you are owed more. Don’t fall for the rookie mistake of feeling entitled. In fact, always err on the side of humility. Humility is not only pragmatic in the workplace, it is an attractive human quality in general.
What if you are trying to find a job?
If you happen not to have a career yet and are searching away, there are a few things to make sure you do correctly to optimize your chance of finding what you are looking for. And then, after finding it, securing it, too:
- Customize your cover letter and resume. This is because no company wants to get a standardized, un-individualized resume, which is painfully obvious that it has been sent to all the applicant’s applied-for jobs without any alteration whatsoever. In fact, it is rude, and even a bit hurtful. Companies want to see that you are interested in them, and not just a paycheck. Make sure to proofread your material several times over! Spelling mistakes and errors are awkward on job resumes.
- Make sure your online profiles are up to date with your newly acquired skills. Job recruiters are always virtually strolling through these sites looking for fresh opportunities to hire excellent candidates.
- Talk to people! Reach out! Don’t stay at home! The more you are doing, the greater the chance is that you will fall into an amazing opportunity. That is just how life works, in fact. If I were writing about finding the love of your life instead of the career-love of your life, I would be saying the same thing. That is, get out there and start chatting people up. You never know what people will have to say. Or what people will have to offer.
- Consider a career mentor because, as silly as it sounds, having an older, wiser person with expertise in the career that you aspire to can be a major game-changer.
We all want to have a thriving, amazing career. And sometimes it is hard to achieve said thriving amazing career. The market can be against us, or all the positions are occupied, or there is little opportunity for a promotion at your company. Even if this is the case, there are always things to do to improve your chances of working with what you’ve got. Even if your chances of getting a promotion are slim to none, for instance, having the know-how to improve your career can be the difference between having a slim chance and having none.
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