What can I do to make a significant step up in my career? – I.E., Education Director
Career advancement is a popular new year’s resolution, so many readers probably resonate with IE’s question on just how to do that. Here are 10 steps to take:
1 — Get clear on priorities
IE wants to make “significant step” but what does that mean exactly? If it’s a certain salary you wish to reach, improving your negotiation skills LINK could be a good next step. If it’s a promotion, then a job search for a bigger role in a smaller company, same or bigger role in a larger company or even a smaller role in a much larger company could make more sense. Or, if you want to serve a different customer or mission altogether, then next steps could be to change roles or industries or both. Your strategy and subsequent action steps will depend on your career priorities, so taking the time to get clear about what advancement means to you is a critical investment.
2 — Expand what is possible
I gave some examples of next steps (like negotiating better or switching companies), but don’t be so quick to jump into any one thing. Instead, push yourself to think bigger and expand what is possible for you. Brainstorm at least five ways forward. For example, if more money is the priority, improved negotiation skill is just one strategy. Moving into a higher-paying industry is another. Getting an ownership stake or profit-share is yet another. Starting a side gig or getting your finances in order are other possibilities that don’t involve your current career. Making a habit of considering (and even pursuing) multiple options before deciding on any specific one will benefit you in other areas of career and life, as you become more thoughtful and creative.
3 — Set stronger boundaries
Setting strong boundaries is another skill that will benefit your career and life beyond just making a “significant step”. Boundaries will protect your time and increase your confidence. People may be less inclined to mess with you if they know you as someone who is not easily swayed. Regarding career advancement specifically, stronger boundaries are critical because you will need to dedicate time to pursuing that next step. This means setting boundaries with colleagues who encroach on your work to ensure you don’t take on more than your fair share. You may also need to set boundaries with your current manager to protect the time that you have scheduled for your career priorities beyond your day-to-day. You may even need to set boundaries with family and friends, as you earmark time away from other obligations to your career advancement.
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4 — Start a you-first routine
Many of my coaching clients are so smart, hard-working and efficient that they end up picking up the slack for others, even if that eats into time for themselves. Stronger boundaries will help, and so will adopting a routine of you-first activities. Pick 1, 2 or 3 habits you can commit to on a regular (daily!) basis. Reach out to one person – a new contact you want to get to know or an old connection you want to rekindle. Journal ideas and inspirations to get in a positive state of mind and to help with resolutions 1 and 2! Before diving into your day-to-day work, spend just a few minutes on projects aimed at your long-term career goals.
5 — Drop an outdated practice
Since you’ll be starting something new (the you-first, long-term career investing!), you’ll need to drop other things. We all have 24 hours in a day, so what will you say No to, in order to say Yes to your new you-first activities? Checking email first thing in the morning could be dropped and diverted to the long-term projects. A weekly meeting could be turned into bimonthly or cut in half. If you’re not running the meeting, maybe you can skip it altogether or send someone from your team. Or revisit a volunteer commitment you made previously or a professional association you joined – are these still rewarding for you?
6 — Build a supportive community
You cannot grant yourself a raise, promotion or new job. People hire people. How many people do you know who are decision-makers or have influence with key decisions, such as raises, promotions and hiring? How many people are advocating for you? Do you need to meet new people, rekindle old connections where you fell out of touch or raise your visibility to people you don’t know well enough?
7 — Identify your UVP
UVP = unique value proposition. What are your special skills, expertise, experience and personal qualities? Ask people at all levels. When I recruit senior professionals, I insist on three levels of references – people you managed, colleagues and people who have managed you. Direct reports will give you an idea of how you manage down, colleagues can give insight into how you collaborate and senior leaders will have opinions of your executive presence, bottom line contribution and leadership potential. Ask professional and personal connections to get a sense of how you communicate and relate in different situations. What people value about you may be different than how you perceive your own strengths, and your UVP changes over time so may have changed since you last reflected deeply on it.
8 — Promote your UVP
Don’t assume people know the value you bring. Your manager might not know all that you’re working on. Colleagues are so busy that you need to nurture relationships to stay front of mind, especially with people you don’t work with day-to-day. Recruiters and prospective employers will have to think of you and find you when there are openings. Is your digital footprint complete and compelling? Do you write, speak or otherwise put your expertise out there?
9 — Prioritize process over results
Self-promotion isn’t a one-time thing. Building a supportive community is also in the ongoing follow up. A you-first routine takes time to yield dividends. Resolve to stick to a process of doing things and not just gunning for results. First of all, you’ll feel better about yourself as you track your effort, rather than rewards since you can’t control outcomes 100%. Secondly, the biggest reward is in the process – in the discipline you build and the skills you hone.
10 – Increase flexibility
Becoming more flexible is another new year’s resolution that will yield benefits in various areas of career and life. You’ll be resilient when problems arise. You’ll be curious and open to new opportunities and differing opinions. You’ll stay even-keeled as others are overwhelmed. For career advancement specifically, flexibility helps you course-correct as needed. For example, you don’t stubbornly cling to a tactic that isn’t working (e.g., negotiating a raise), when you can move to something else (e.g., landing a higher-paying industry or generating a second income stream). Flexibility is also about being willing to take a beginner’s mindset and learn new things – critical to career advancement which may require expanding your leadership capacity or learning a new area of your field.
There are multiple paths to career advancement
Adopting any of these new year’s resolutions will help strengthen your foundation and improve your odds of career success. Try one per month, and be at the next stage in your career development before the end of 2022!