Career Advancement Strategies

Career Advancement Strategies

You will learn about:
  • How to set and evaluate your professional goals
  • Improving and keep your motivation
  • Knowing when it's the right time to leave

48 min – Estimated reading time

Career Advancement Strategies

Career Advancement Strategies

One of the biggest incentives for employees to succeed in their profession is the possibility of advancing in their careers. Career advancement brings a host of benefits including higher pay, better benefits like vacation time, more fulfillment and more respect from co-workers. Whether these advancements arise in the form of internal promotions or a change of jobs is a matter of both personal preference and opportunity. 

There are several key characteristics shared by those who enjoy a swift climb up the corporate ladder. It isn’t just about meeting deadlines or staying a few minutes later than your scheduled shift. To be successful in advancing, you must possess numerous skills that are visible and can be measured by your counterparts and supervisors, skills that separate you from the rest of the workforce. This guide has helpful tips that can put you on the path to a promotion or advancement.

Creating a Goal-Oriented Timeline

You may have heard that if you want something badly enough, you can have it. However, this is only true if you create goals and put in the work to achieve them. The key to achieving anything you desire is establishing a goal and pursuing it. 

In your professional life, you must develop goals that relate to your wants and needs. Are you happy with your career? Do you envision yourself being the boss? Can you see yourself in this profession for the rest of your working life? The answers to these questions are not always clear-cut; it takes time to evaluate yourself as an employee and determine your career goals. 

Evaluate Your Goals

There is nothing more frustrating than achieving a goal and then realizing that it isn’t what you really want after all. So before you set your goals, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What do I really enjoy doing? 
  • What am I really good at? 
    • What type of position at my current company, in my current field or at another company/field will allow me to both enjoy and be good at my job? This will give you your dream job.
  • What is involved and what will be required of me once I have my dream job? For example, long hours, business travel, relocation, working with a team or alone, etc.
    • Can I envision myself doing this and being happy?
  • What is the career path to get to that dream job?

Types of Goals

The goals you develop for your career should be difficult, but attainable. You may have a plethora of career goals. Some goals involve polishing your skills, while others are more external, such as getting assigned to a coveted project.  They can include small victories, like earning a pay raise or taking on additional job duties. They may also come in the form of monumental triumphs, like rising to the top of your industry. Chances are, your career goals span varying levels of difficulty and timeliness. 

Creating a timeline will help you break down the larger goals into easier-to-manage sub-goals. It would be detrimental to your career advancement to believe you can become CEO overnight. Like most good things in life, promotions take time. There are many smaller steps that must be taken before the largest leap in your professional career. Once you’ve broken down a large goal into smaller steps, it becomes easier to see how the pieces fit together, which will motivate you to continue working toward it. 

Short-term Goals

These are things you can realistically accomplish within the next year. Here are some examples of short-term career goals: 

  • Increase your performance metrics by a specified amount- These are things that your boss already evaluates you on and that you are already doing. The idea is to perform better, setting milestones for continuous improvement. The metrics will depend on your job, but may include closing more sales, measurably improving customer satisfaction, delivering all of your projects within deadline or reducing costs.
  • Earn a professional certificate – More training equates to more skills and shows the company that you are putting in the effort to be a better employee. See “Attending Workshops and Training Programs” in this guide for more information.
  • Create a personal website – A personal website lets you showcase your skills and accomplishments, whether you are going for a promotion or a new job. Every time you master a skill, get recognition or achieve a goal, document it here. Creative professionals can use this as a portfolio of their work.
  • Read industry publications every month – By knowing what is going on in your industry, you can be a force of innovation in the company, you show that you are dedicated and you look smart.
  • Join networking groups and make a set number of new connections per month – You may have heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” By expanding your network of contacts in your chosen field, you can learn of new opportunities, get advice and accumulate recommendations that will help your career.
  • Become more efficient at work – With wise time management, you can accomplish more the same number of hours. Your increased productivity will be noticed by your boss (or if not, you can always bring it up yourself – see “Communicating Your Worth” in this guide). 
  • Make connections with co-workers – It is easier to get promoted if you don’t have enemies in the organization (see “Navigating Office Politics” in this guide). So the next time your co-worker invites you to happy hour, go along. Be a team player, and when it’s time to get promoted, you will have cheerleaders instead of saboteurs. 
Long-Term Goals

Long-term goals are typically things you think will take more than a year to accomplish. Here are some examples: 

  • Get a promotion – After putting in your time consistently achieving your short-term goals, you may deserve a promotion. But whether you get one or not also depends on whether there is a suitable vacancy and who is advocating for you (see “Communicating Your Worth” and “Navigating Office Politics” in this guide). 
  • Become a subject matter expert – Studying knowledge related to your job in depth can make you an expert who is consulted not only by the managers and executives in your company, but also externally by industry publications and associations. This makes you a valuable resource to the company and attractive to other companies in the industry.
  • Break into management (or even the executive suite) – When you’re given responsibility for managing a department or function within the company, you have achieved a major milestone. Be sure that you have been developing the relevant skills in your short-term goals so you can be successful at this level and above.
  • Earn a degree – Nothing says commitment like earning a bachelor’s or graduate degree that is relevant to your job. The time and effort will show management that you are serious about your job and you will learn skills that will make you a more valuable employee.
Be Flexible with Your Goals

What if, after doing the work, you are not making progress toward achieving your long-term goals? This is the time to reevaluate. Some organizations don’t like to promote from within. Other times, it may be a particular manager who is impeding your forward progress. While you may prefer a straight climb to the top, it may be necessary to make a lateral move to a different department or division to keep your career advancement on track. Or, if you determine that there just aren’t advancement opportunities at your company, it may be time to make a move to another company in the industry where you can advance.

Assign Deadlines to Goals

The best way to ensure you achieve these goals is to create a timeline. This timeline, if followed with patience and diligence, will better prepare you for career advancement and promotion opportunities and help organize your efforts so you know what to concentrate on first. Deadlines force people to complete their work in a timely manner by creating urgency and holding you accountable. 

Each goal should have a realistic deadline. Once you conquer it, you can move on to the next goal on your list. For example, if one of your goals is to move into a higher department at work, consider all the steps you need to take before it can happen. Perhaps it requires you to take on more projects, volunteer to lead meetings or broaden your job duties. If you believe all three of these steps can be completed within a year, then you’ve just nailed down your timeline for that specific goal. See how simple it can be?

Set Aside Dedicated Time

Your goal-oriented timeline should allow you to clearly see how your daily activities will contribute toward its achievement. Creating a timeline is a great first step, but following it can prove more difficult. Each day, you should commit a certain amount of time to your goal. The time allotted should be reasonable; always give yourself extra time to complete a task to avoid feeling pressure or anxiety about not finishing it. For example, maybe you decide to dedicate 30 minutes each week to meeting with your supervisor to discuss extra work. This is a measurable step in your timeline and will help you feel as though you’re actively working toward the success of your goal.

Celebrate Your Victories, No Matter How Small

Some goals on your timeline may take longer than others. For each one you accomplish, make sure to track its progress. You can never underestimate the satisfaction you’ll feel from dragging your pen across a once-impossible goal of yours. As you cross items off your list, allow yourself to relish in your small victories. A little celebration here or there is deserved, but don’t let it distract you from your ultimate goals. 

Developing a Go-Getter Mentality…and Acting on It

We all know the type. The “overachievers” who are the first to volunteer, the last to go home and the ones who laugh at all of the boss’ jokes. All too often, people respond to these personality traits with negative thoughts and attitudes. In reality, it is these very same people who thrive in the workplace. You don’t have to kiss the boss’s butt to advance in your career, but you must have a certain drive to succeed that is recognizable to your colleagues and superiors. This drive may be viewed negatively by jealous co-workers, but if you want to propel yourself up the professional ladder, you need to develop a go-getter mentality. 

In order to climb, it is important to focus on your productivity. The more efficient of an employee you become, the harder it is for supervisors to let it go unnoticed. However, to temper negative attitudes and win allies, learn how to be a good co-worker (see “Be a Good Co-Worker” in this guide), find a champion (see “Find a Mentor” in this guide) and avoid internal conflict (see “Navigating Office Politics” in this guide).  

Here are some of the qualities of a go-getter:

Unparalleled Persistence

It’s no secret that failing is unavoidable. In fact, it is often our failures that allow us to connect with others, who provide us with comfort and help us to rally through defeat. Having a go-getter mentality means understanding that you will sometimes fail, but having an ironclad resolve to keep going. There can be no doubt in your mind that you’ll achieve what you’ve been working toward, even if it takes longer than expected. For you, quitting is never an option. It might take more than one try, but eventually, you will complete what you set out to do. It’s not easy, especially on those days where it feels like everything that could possibly go wrong, goes wrong. With extreme focus and faith in yourself, your persistence is an essential element of that desired go-getter mentality. 

Discipline

Picture this: it is 7 A.M., you got about three hours of sleep, the kids are late for school and you spilled your coffee all over your shirt. The old you would be keen to call in sick to work today, right? Well, the disciplined you—the one with a goal-oriented timeline—isn’t about to let a bad morning stand in the way. 

To be a go-getter, you must be disciplined. This means showing up for work on time or early each and every day, barring extreme situations like terrorist attacks or debilitating illness. Once you are at work, discipline means being on task, paying attention to details, being prepared for meetings and exercising excellent time management. Each day is one step closer to the finish line. It takes a lot of self-motivation, but if you want to reach your goals, you won’t let anything get in between you and your personal victories. 

Confidence

Shy, timid employees are the least likely individuals to receive promotions. This is due to the fact that they are less likely to approach their supervisor or manager about their career goals and aspirations and they are more likely to avoid talking about their accomplishments (see “Toot Your Own Horn” in his guide). Go-getters aren’t afraid to communicate openly with their superiors. They are confident in their skills and abilities and want to show their managers they have what it takes to excel. Many promotions are reserved for those who demonstrate an ability to lead; timidity and shyness are not indicative of leaders. Go-getters understand this well and adapt accordingly.

Passion

This quality is extremely hard to fake, which is why it makes the list for go-getters. If you don’t love what you do, how could you possibly muster the energy to advance in your career? Go-getters are passionate about their jobs, which is why diligence comes naturally to them. It’s a lot easier to dedicate your time and energy toward a cause if you truly believe in it. In addition, other people can sense your energy and will enjoy being around you. This makes it easier to make allies (see “Leverage Connections” on this guide) and get noticed. If you aren’t passionate about what you do, perhaps it’s time to consider a change of direction. 

Vigilance

So far, we’ve talked about keeping your nose to the grindstone, so to speak. However, it is also important to be aware of your surroundings so you can identify and act on opportunities. This includes new projects or clients waiting to be assigned, befriending people in other departments who could help you in the future (see “Reach Across the Organization” in this guide), finding out about new offices or territories where you can show your leadership skills and learning about job vacancies that you want to fill. 

A Willingness to Accept Support

It may be difficult for independent personality types, but a successful go-getter is ready and willing to receive support from peers. Career advancement is a tricky path to navigate on your own. You need to have a good support system in your work environment. Your co-workers, clients and supervisors can be stepping stones toward your goals. Hard-headedness can be detrimental to your career aspirations. Be sure to accept advice from those who want to see you succeed. You never know when you’ll need to call on someone for support. 

Tools to Keep You Motivated

Advancing in your career is a long-term project, so it can be difficult to stay motivated, day in and day out. Keep up your energy by using these tools and strategies: 

  • Find your “big why” – Start by asking yourself why you want to advance in your career. Once you have an answer, ask yourself why again. Keep repeating the process until you get to your core motivation. For example, your first answer might be to earn more money. Why? Perhaps your answer is financial security. Why? Your ultimate answer might be so that you can comfortably retire and travel the world with your spouse.
  • Visualize your success – Periodically take a moment to visualize what you will be doing, who you will be with and how you will feel once you have achieved your ultimate goal. Try to make this visualization as detailed as possible for maximum impact.
  • Create a vision board – Once you can visualize what your success looks like, put together a vision board with visual reminders of it. If, as in the previous example, your ultimate goal is to retire and travel, find photos of the places you want to go, food from those areas and unique activities  and put it somewhere you will see it, like on your desk. You can print pictures and put them on a bulletin board or create a digital vision board using Pinterest.
  • Get energized by others – Spend time with others who are upbeat about your ability and goals and talk to them about your journey. This can be friends, co-workers, family members and mentors. Their encouragement can help get you over frustrating times.
  • Keep a checklist – Put together a checklist with all of your smaller and larger goals. As  you accomplish each goal, check it off. By looking at all of the smaller goals you have already accomplished, you can get a confidence boost that will empower you to keep going.

Attending Workshops and Training Programs

You probably groaned just reading that title. Whether you like it or not, attending workshops and training programs that correspond with your current or desired profession can make an enormous difference in your likelihood of earning a promotion. Not only do these programs fine-tune your job-related skills, they also show employers a willingness to learn and better themselves for the sake of the company. 

Some workshops may be mandatory, like First Aid or safety classes, but there are plenty of voluntary enrichment opportunities that can influence your career advancement. Even if you believe you’re the best in your field, there’s no harm in taking a class or two to sharpen your skills. Learning opportunities include: 

  • Internal company training classes (in person or online)
  • Industry-wide annual conventions and seminars
  • Industry accreditation classes
  • Third-party certification classes (online or through your local college or university)

In addition to the above, earning a degree from a college or university takes your self-improvement educational efforts to a whole new level. Many organizations will pay some or all of the cost of employee degrees from accredited colleges and universities and other types of training. Ask your Human Resources department if your company has this kind of policy and if so, what kinds of training they are willing to pay for. 

Embrace the Learning Opportunity

Especially if you want to advance in your career, you should want to be the best employee in your workplace. Regardless of what your less ambitious co-workers may say, it’s you who will come out on top in the end. Enrolling in a workshop or training program outside of work will bolster your skills and may actually make it easier to do your job. For example, if you work with a spreadsheet program, you may be doing things the hard way. Taking an Excel class can give you the latest software version’s shortcuts and show you how to use advanced formulas to do things you previously had to do in multiple steps.

Technology changes constantly, and only the best employees are willing to navigate the new methods of communication as they develop. Most employees use some kind of technology, but those who work with more sophisticated technology tools should especially consider enrolling in training programs designed to show them their most efficient uses. No matter the job field, there is a training workshop out there that fits the bill.

Examples of relevant training opportunities: 

  • Individuals employed in healthcare (clinical and administrative) can take multiple care workshops to decrease their chances of making a tragic mistake
  • People in sales can take seminars on how to close more business, lead generating or qualifying prospects
  • People in accounting and bookkeeping can take classes to keep them informed of the latest tax and accounting laws and regulations
  • Computer programmers can take a seminar in cybersecurity to protect their programs and systems from hackers
  • Anyone, but particularly those in customer-facing roles such as customer service and sales, can take courses in improving communication skills 
  • Employees who work on projects or proposals can take classes in written and oral presentation skills
  • Any employee can take courses in cultural, racial and gender sensitivity
  • Employees in the marketing field can learn about current demographic and cultural trends that impact demand for products and services

Employers Love It

A good employer understands the importance of work-related training. A company is only as good as its workforce. Having a team of educated, trained and informed employees is an employer’s dream. When employees voluntarily attend training sessions on their own time, they are viewed as a go-getter.

Sometimes, a promotion comes down to two highly-qualified employees. A supervisor tasked with making the decision will likely choose the one who has taken initiative in his or her own learning. When the opportunity to attend a workshop arises, take it. Even if it isn’t mandatory, you should attend and be an active participant. Employers will appreciate your dedication to your craft, and it reflects positively on your productivity. 

See It as a Positive, Not a Disruption

Why do employees groan when told they have to attend a training workshop? Well, the short answer is that it’s simply a disruption to their normal routine. When people come into work, there’s a certain sense of comfort in knowing what to expect for the day. With the exception of careers in the emergency services sector, most employees have an idea of what their day will look like and when they get to leave. Attending a workshop throws a wrench in the plans and can make the entire day feel off. 

However, this interruption can be viewed in a more positive light. An employee’s attitude toward a training program greatly affects the program’s effectiveness. Those who sit quietly through a training program and refuse to participate are not getting anything from it. If you’re forced to go to a workshop, why not think of it as a distraction from the rest of your job duties? Chances are, there’s some level of stress stemming from your duties. Use the workshop as a de-stressor of sorts, giving your mind a break from its usual work-related chaos. 

If Nothing Else, It’s a Day Off Work

If you think about it, attending a workshop or training program has benefits aside from just learning new skills. If the program is sponsored by your employer, you’ll likely get to miss a few hours of work while you participate in the program. Who wouldn’t want to get paid to skip a day of work? Employers use this as a motivational factor to encourage their employees to attend. Remember, even if the workshop is poorly planned and you haven’t learned much, it will still look good to your boss and can help your career. Plus, if it is an external event, you can use the opportunity to network with other attendees, possibly setting up your next career move.

Improving Your Efficiency

One of the top qualities that managers evaluate in their employees is their efficiency, how much they accomplish within a certain period of time. This is distinct from whether someone is hardworking because you can work hard and still not accomplish that much if you are disorganized and distracted. You can improve your efficiency at work using these time management techniques.

Create and Use a To-Do List

Taking a moment to create this simple tool will give you a chance to think about the task at hand (short-term goal) and break it into steps. Writing down these steps (or typing them into an app) frees your mind from trying to juggle everything that needs to be done and allows you to concentrate on one thing at a time. After you have created your list,  think about what tasks must be done before you can do others and rearrange your list if necessary. Make sure that you give some extra weight to the more important tasks so you know to do those first. Checking tasks off as you do them can give you a sense of accomplishment.

Manage Distractions

Your office environment can be full of distractions including chatty co-workers, noise, social media notifications and phone calls. Since it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus after a distraction, you should minimize distractions for maximum efficiency. Identify things that distract you during the day and take steps to counter them. For example, you could politely tell colleagues that you are working on a deadline now and suggest chatting during lunch, close your office door and turn social media notifications off during the workday. 

Schedule Your Time in Blocks

It can be easier to be efficient when you are concentrating on one thing at a time. That’s why some people use the block scheduling strategy to manage their time. You would set aside a block of time to do a specific type of task (like answering email) or to work on a particular project. If some of your tasks involve other people, get their schedules in advance so you will be working on those items while your team members are available.

Overcome Procrastination

Procrastination is an enemy to productivity because it wastes time and causes delays. Typically, people procrastinate when a task is difficult, boring, overwhelming or otherwise unpleasant.  You may find yourself working on low-priority tasks, checking social media, reading emails but not doing anything about them and engaging in other time-wasting activities to avoid something that must be done. Here’s how to overcome procrastination:

  • Recognize that you are procrastinating – Since procrastinating involves some self deception, it is important to acknowledge that you are getting coffee for the fourth time because you don’t want to write that sales report.
  • Figure out why you’re procrastinating – If you feel overwhelmed, try breaking the task into smaller parts or enlisting others to help. If it is just boring or unpleasant, sometimes it is best to just “rip the Band-Aid off” and force yourself to do it. Once it is done, you will feel so much better!
  • Change the narrative – By forgiving yourself for procrastinating in the past, you can get the confidence to move forward more effectively.
  • Ask for accountability – Enlist a friend at work to check up on you to make sure you are making sufficient progress at your task.
  • Reward yourself – Promise yourself that when you complete a big or unpleasant task on time, you will get something pleasant, like a massage or a nice bubble bath when you get home.

Delegate Where Appropriate

Some go-getters feel like in order to be successful, they have to do everything themselves. However, as far as the company goes, the boss just cares that the task gets done and done well. If you are a manager, you can take a look at the overall project and assign some of the legwork to the people you manage. That will free you up to focus on synthesizing and correcting the work product you get back from them and working on higher-level parts of the project. Remember, if you are a manager, your boss will not look down on you for managing! With proper delegation, you will be more efficient and can therefore take on more projects.

  • If you are not yet in a management position, you still may be able to delegate to co-workers on a team project or to resources in other departments from whom you need input.

If you work for a typical company, there are probably those in your organization who are masters of office politics and the majority who hate it. In order to climb in your company, you will need to be aware of the political climate. This entails knowing who is on the rise, who has allies in high places and who is on the outs as far as management is concerned. It also means having good information about prospective promotions and other shifts in the org chart. Ideally, you want everyone to have a good opinion of you, you want to develop allies and you want to avoid negativity.

Be a Good Co-Worker

Being a good co-worker means more than just excelling at your job responsibilities. It also involves being liked by others by:

  • Being kind and empathetic – When you see a co-worker having a hard day, express compassion and if possible, offer to help by lightening their work load a bit.
  • Being authentic – Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be the co-worker others know they can depend upon and who won’t throw them under the bus or talk about them behind their back.
  • Actively listening – When a co-worker (or boss) is talking to you, really listen. Repeat back occasionally to make sure you understood what the other person was trying to communicate and ask questions when needed. 
  • Adopting a service mindset – If you see the people you work with as part of your team, it is easy to engender goodwill with them. For example, if you see someone is struggling with a task, you can offer to get some information for them, help them work out a solution that has eluded them or at least give them an encouraging word. Then when it’s time for someone to speak up on your behalf, you will have plenty of people willing to go to bat for you.

Avoid Gossip

 Nobody likes to be gossiped about. Although it can be tempting to bond with co-workers over some juicy gossip, it is bound to create enemies and rebound on you in the long run. Especially when negative talk (gossiping, complaining, mocking or insulting) is directed at the boss, it has a nasty way of coming back to haunt you. Stay above the fray and avoid this kind of conversation. If a co-worker starts talking like this, try to shift the subject to something else that is more positive. You may notice that some of your peers are always complaining or gossiping. This behavior has probably not gone unnoticed by management so it is a good idea to minimize your interaction so you don’t get lumped in with them.

Likewise, when there is conflict within the organization, try to stay neutral. Staying away from the drama will prevent you from becoming collateral damage and remaining calm can actually de-escalate the situation.

Reach Across the Organization

You may think it’s only important to look good to your boss, but there is also value to developing relationships in other departments and divisions. Developing good relationships with your Human Resources person, people in other departments, management and your peers can give you not only an insight into potential opportunities, but it can create a network of people in the organization who bear you goodwill and will help you if they can. Sometimes that involves their putting in a recommendation for you to be promoted, but it can also be bringing you into their department in a lateral move if that is your fastest way to advance.

For example, if you work in customer service, operations or product development, reach out to people in the sales department. Typically, salespeople have the most insight into what the customer wants, needs and appreciates and also what they don’t like but they are rarely consulted about it. By asking salespeople to share feedback they have gotten from customers, it can enable you to do your job better, shows your boss that you are being proactive and makes allies in the sales department. 

Human resources professionals can be great sources of information about people leaving, promotions and positions opening up and other opportunities. They are also sometimes consulted by hiring managers to see if they recommend someone for a promotion based on their skillset, so it’s good to have them on your side.

Find a Mentor

Mentors are experienced people in your field who agree to give you insight regarding work-related challenges, negotiation tactics and your career path and may be able to recommend you for promotion. Ideally, this mentor is in senior management or on the executive team of your company and can help you move up the corporate ladder. But a mentor can also be someone who has retired from your company, works closely with your company or is even a college professor. The important things are that your mentor:

  • Should have experience doing what you are doing or something similar
  • Is now or has been successful 
  • Has contacts that can help you (optional but recommended)
  • Is willing to meet with you periodically and help you with your career

How to Identify Potential Mentors

Think about people who are more advanced in your career than you are and whom you respect. These might be people in your current company, in another company in the industry, a college professor in your field, a family connection or a businessperson you have met while volunteering or participating in an industry association. In order to take you on as a mentee, the mentor must like you and see potential in you. The mentor also needs to be willing and able to take some time to talk to you periodically. Make a list of prospective mentors, in order of preference.

The Ask

Before you approach your prospective mentor, come up with your elevator pitch, a short paragraph about why you think this would be a beneficial relationship. It should include:

  • What you admire about the prospective mentor and how much you respect him or her
  • What your career goals are
  • How you would like the individual to help you
  • Thanking them for considering it, whatever the decision

If the first person you approach is not able to become your mentor, repeat the process with the next person on your list. Be sure to send a thank-you note to each prospective mentor thanking them for their time. This will build goodwill and can benefit you down the line if that person is ever in a position to help you.

Communicating Your Worth

So, you’ve been improving your outcomes, exhibiting a go-getter mentality, becoming more efficient, participating in training and navigating the shoals of office politics. Great! Hopefully, your boss and other managers have noticed, but don’t leave it to chance. To advance in your career, you have to successfully communicate your worth.

Keep Records of Your Accomplishments

To get an idea of where to focus, ask yourself these questions:

  • What unique skills do I have that make me better qualified to [insert your job function here]? – This can be education, training, hard skills such as computer or accounting skills or it can be soft skills like leadership and empathy.
  • What do I do that no one else does? – For example, maybe you stay later, go out of your way to solve work problems, soothe irritable clients or come up with creative ideas. 
  • What problems do I solve for clients or for internal departments? – Perhaps you excel at helping clients get their products quickly or you make sales that put your regional sales territory on top.
  • What value do I add to the organization? – If you deal with money (sales, accounting, operations), you may be able to quantify your value by citing how much money you earned for or saved the company. Other positions also have quantifiable metrics such as the number of satisfied customers for customer service and the number of leads generated by your marketing initiative.

If you have the type of job that does not have identifiable metrics, you can create your own by adding more value. For example, if you are in customer service, you can proactively reach out to 25 customers who were issued a refund each month and create a report with their feedback to the marketing and product managers.

“I Love Me” File

So that you will have a record of all of your accomplishments, start an “I love me” file. Make sure that you keep your file up to date. You can also collect other records that portray you in a positive light. One of the most powerful of these is a customer review or recommendation that mentions you by name. If you get an email from your boss or another manager praising your performance, put those in your file. 

Have you written anything that was published in a magazine, blog or website? Keep a copy. If you have done any work-related public speaking, keep a record of that, including digital videos and printed programs with your name and topic listed.  Did you come up with a great idea that was implemented? Get the information on what was obtained as a result. By keeping these records, you will ensure that you are not forgetting any of the great things you have done.

Toot Your Own Horn

For some people, this can be the most challenging part of working to advance in their careers. Women, in particular, tend to be more modest about their accomplishments saying things like “I’d rather let the work speak for itself” or “It was really a team effort.” However, in the corporate workplace, it is usually those who tout their accomplishments who get promoted. Your boss may be too busy to take particular note of your work unless you bring it to his or her attention. 

This said, few people like someone who is always bragging and talking about himself. Here are some ways to bring positive attention to yourself: 

  • Volunteer for leadership opportunities in your organization – Become a project team leader, volunteer to work on an internal task force or act as the company softball team’s team manager.
  • Be at the vanguard – Become a brand ambassador by doing public speaking engagements, writing articles for industry publications or starting work-related conversations on social media.
  • Become an expert – Read up about your industry and share things that you have learned in conversation with managers.
  • Recognize your co-workers – If you have worked on a team with someone else who has done outstanding work, mention that (and of course, your part in it) to your boss. This works best when your colleague is there with you.
  • Provide progress reports – Managers typically need to create reports on their department’s operations to their bosses. Why not help your boss out by providing a monthly progress report on your activity? It will reduce your boss’ workload, show that you are proactive, ensure that your hard work is being noticed and showcase your accomplishments. For extra impact, send a copy to your Human Resources department and keep a copy in your “I love me” file so you can refer to it later.

Leverage Connections

Did you know that at least 70% of job openings aren’t even listed? The only way to find out about these opportunities is to find out from someone in your network. Your network consists of supportive and trusted:

  • Co-workers 
  • Clients 
  • Partners
  • Vendors
  • Current and former managers
  • Mentors
  • Fellow members of industry groups and volunteer organizations 
  • Social media (LinkedIn) connections

You can build your network by joining a local service club like Rotary, joining the local chamber of commerce, participating in a local networking group or assuming a volunteer leadership position at a local charity. When meeting prospective members of your network, don’t try to sell them; work on building a relationship with them. Express an interest in the other person and act respectful, engaged, dynamic and open to new ideas. 

Once you have built your network, stay in communication with your connections by going to organization meetings, setting up one-to-one meetings and reaching out by email, phone or text with ideas and opportunities. If you need help identifying opportunities or critiquing an article you’ve written, reach out to your network and ask someone who has the relevant information or skill.

Positioning Yourself for Internal Promotions

Many professionals identify their workplace as their “home away from home,” as cringeworthy as that may sound. The reality is that Americans spend a majority of their adult lives at work. Those who work a typical office job see the same people in the same environment every single day of the week. For some, it’s agonizing. For others, it can be a pleasant escape from the chaos of family life. Whichever way you choose to look at it, you should be actively thinking about the possibility of advancing in your career within your company. 

Internal promotions are common in some companies, as employers attribute a lot of value to those who are familiar, have put in hard work and are loyal to the company. Other companies are more likely to look externally for new management hires. Fortunately, we have some helpful tips and tricks that will better prepare you for an internal promotion. 

Identify Opportunities

If you are vigilant and are in regular contact with your network, you should be able to identify opportunities for advancement. People talk, so if you hear something such as a rumor that a particular manager is leaving the company or is being promoted, try to find out more. You can discreetly ask around about new positions, especially if your company is growing. Remember your career path may involve some lateral moves in addition to vertical moves, so talk to your friends in other parts of the company and be open to applying for a position in a different department, location or division. 

Of course, the people who really know what is going on in terms of internal positions are the people in Human Resources. This is where having a buddy in the HR department comes in handy. Go to HR to find out the job duties, requirements and salary for any internal job postings. An HR rep can even look over your resume and info from your “I love me” file to let you know if you are qualified and help you prepare for the job interview.

Feel It Out

On one hand, it is good to be perceived as an ambitious go-getter, but on the other hand, speaking out about a potential job promotion might cause more harm than good. Unfortunately, some bosses may react negatively to the news of an employee pining for a promotion. Perhaps he or she thinks the employee is too valuable to lose. Before speaking to your direct manager or supervisor about your interest in the position, try to get a feel for the situation. 

If you believe your boss may be unwilling to see you go, talk with the hiring manager about keeping your application undisclosed, at least until you’re sure that the position is within your reach. When you’re ready to confront your boss, make sure he or she knows that your promotion will reflect positively on their grooming. Good employees are shaped by good managers, so be sure to thank them for preparing you for a new position. 

Capitalize on Your Familiarity

Contrary to popular belief, just because you already work for the company does not guarantee that you will be chosen over an external candidate. While your knowledge of the company and relationships with colleagues are an advantage, you are likely to be competing with candidates from other companies who have more relevant experience. 

Whether you’ve been with the company for a few months or several years, you can use your experience to improve your chances of earning a promotion. Unlike external job candidates, you already know how the company is structured. You’re familiar with the daily operations and can speak positively about this during a job interview. You might even be close with the employee who once held the position up for grabs. 

When it comes to knowledge of the position, you have the upper hand. Instead of making yourself seem desperate for the position, be direct. Speak with the hiring manager about the kind of employee they’re looking for. You will, of course, sell your skills and attributes during the interview, but you may need to fight for that opportunity and lay the groundwork beforehand. 

Admit Your Mistakes

While familiarity can be helpful, it can also cause some turbulence during the hiring process. You don’t have another chance to make a first impression. Your managers and co-workers already understand who you are (or who they think you are) as a person and employee. If you’re being considered for an internal promotion, expect your employee record to be a topic of conversation. 

You might have made some mistakes in the past, but the worst thing you can do is lie. Instead, point the conversation toward what you learned from those mistakes. Employers appreciate honesty and love to see progress. If you made a silly mistake in your first couple of months but have an otherwise clean record, it proves you’re a quick learner and won’t repeat the same mistake twice. 

Know Your Strengths

If there was ever a time to brag, it would be during the internal promotion process. Your years of hard work at the company have earned you the right to speak highly of yourself. Employers want to see what you have to offer, especially since your strengths can often be corroborated by employees within the company. You may need to ask co-workers, previous managers and clients to provide you with some additional testimonials and endorsements to your skills and abilities to add to your “I love me” file. Include anything that speaks to your character and work ethic, especially if it stems from a professional source. 

Before you go into your interview, review your “I love me” file and choose 4-6 accomplishments you would like to highlight. Memorize any relevant detail (amounts, client names, projects) and feel free to bring copies (not originals) of customer testimonials and recommendations to your interview to share with the hiring manager. Update your resume to include the most impressive and relevant accomplishments.  Be sure to relate your work to exactly how it benefited the company. For example, if you were able to save an account that would otherwise have gone to a competitor, talk about how much that account has purchased since deciding to stay.

Negotiating Your Compensation Package

So, let’s say you have had the interview for the promotion and it went great. Now it’s time to negotiate your compensation package. The compensation package may include all or some of the following elements: 

  • Salary
  • Commission
  • Bonuses
  • Benefits such as vacation, personal days, parking space, company car, paid travel expenses, a nicer office, 401K, health insurance, etc.

You may think that every job has a fixed compensation package, but there is usually quite a bit of flexibility there. Naturally, the company will want to spend as little as possible for an employee to fill this position. To their advantage, they already know how much you currently make. To your advantage, you know that it is more expensive for them to recruit, train and hire an outside person for the position. Here are some tools to get the best possible compensation for your new role.

When negotiating your compensation, focus on the value you are bringing to the role (reprise your value proposition from your “I love me” file), not your financial needs. The company has a budget to deal with and they don’t really care if your rent increased or you are trying to pay back your student loans. 

Be Familiar with the Going Rate

Just like any other product or service, there is a market for every job. The amount of compensation varies widely by location, so you will want to be familiar with the going rate in your area. By knowing the average salary (and benefits if you can find them out) for the job ahead of your interview, you can make sure that you don’t undersell your worth. Go to Payscale’s salary survey tool here https://www.payscale.com/wizards/choose.aspx to find out the going rate for your position, experience, education and location. In addition, tap your Human Resources contact to see if you can find out where the position falls on the company’s pay grades.  Remember, they are going to have to pay somewhere near this amount to someone; it may as well be you!

Performance Based Pay

When discussing compensation, it may turn out that the company is not willing to pay more than a certain amount, even though you think you deserve more. Maybe the company had a bad year and is trying to cut expenses or perhaps they are cash poor because they just acquired another company.  If this is the case, getting them to increase the salary for the position is a non-starter but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t earn more money. 

You can suggest that you will accept the offered salary, but would like to add some performance-based pay as well. Performance-based pay is more palatable to the hiring manager during a negotiation because the company is only obligated to pay it if you achieve certain milestones. 

For example, let’s say that your new job involves business operations and improving efficiency. You can suggest that if you save the company $10,000 a year or more in operating expenses that you get a bonus of 20% of the savings at the end of the year. This means that your work will, in essence, more than pay for itself and it shows that you have a great deal of confidence in your capabilities.

Get Perks

If the position does not lend itself to performance-based pay, or in addition, you can negotiate non-cash perks to sweeten the deal. For example, you can negotiate sharing the help of an assistant, more vacation time, tuition reimbursement, a more flexible schedule, a company-paid cell phone or free or discounted access to the company’s products or services. You can even negotiate a 6-month performance review, when you have a chance to get a raise, rather than a yearly review.

Understanding When It’s the Right Time to Leave

Throughout your professional life, you’ve probably had your fair share of bad days, when you’ve asked yourself why you are still at this job. While the occasional bad day is normal, too many can mean it might be time to leave. Don’t hate your job with a fiery passion? Good for you! It may still be time to leave though, especially if you fall into another category of workers who are overstaying their welcome or stuck with no chance of advancement. 

While it may be surprising for some, lifelong careers with one company are quite uncommon and are generally detrimental to the wellbeing of those who hold them. Read the sections below to find out if it might be time for you to consider a change. 

You’re Unhappy

Unhappiness is one of the telltale signs that it’s time to leave your career. We’re not just talking about occasionally feeling sad, bored or uninterested – this unhappiness is persistent and begins the moment you step foot in the workplace, or even the moment you step out of bed. It lasts throughout the workday, and may even build to a startling anxiety-filled apex before you wearily drive home. Your career should never feel like a burden. 

While the occasional bad day is unavoidable, you should wake up excited to go to work each day. If you spend most of your day wishing you were doing something else, why not go out there and do it? Life is far too short to waste your life doing something that makes you miserable. Perhaps you need a complete change of occupation. Or maybe you just need an unfamiliar environment to rekindle your love for your career. 

Don’t ignore these feelings; your gut is trying to remind you that your time is more valuable than clocking into a day full of misery or stagnation. 

Your Workplace Has Become Toxic

A hostile work environment is more than just annoying; it’s downright dangerous. When your boss, superiors or other colleagues are making your job nearly impossible, it has become hostile. What can start with one person’s negative attitude toward work can spread to every employee and become unavoidable. Combine that with blatant mistreatment of employees, obnoxious behavior of co-workers and verbal abuse and you have yourself a prime example of a hostile work environment. 

Your health (and sanity) are far more important than the job you perform. If you’re unable to complete your job tasks each day because of one or more of these factors, it’s time to leave. Your colleagues may not have the courage to depart, but once you decide to search for a new job, it could create a wave. You’ll be doing yourself and others a favor by taking the steps to separate yourself from a toxic environment. 

Your Responsibilities Have Changed Drastically

It would be unrealistic to think your duties would remain rigid throughout your entire professional career. As time goes on, things change; strategies, methods of communication and other policies likely shift to reflect these changes. However, you should still be able to recognize your responsibilities. Do you have the same general responsibilities as you did when you first started? Is your workload lighter, even though your experience has increased? Be aware of any gradual changes in your responsibilities. 

Many companies, in an effort to save money and time, begin off-loading responsibilities from higher-paid employees onto interns or new hires. Their hope is that this will remain unnoticed until they can eventually shrink the size of their workforce while simultaneously saving money. Alternatively, some companies use the opposite strategy, firing workers and piling their responsibilities on the ones who remain, usually without an associated increase in pay.

Don’t let this happen to you. Keep an eye on any changes in your responsibilities, and speak up when your duties are limited or significantly increased. Try to seek an explanation from your superiors about the reason behind this change and try to determine if it is a temporary situation or is the “new normal.” If this change is intended to be permanent, it is probably time to start looking elsewhere for employment. 

Your Chances of Advancing Are Slim

There may come a time in your professional life when you realize you’re no longer able to advance within your company. If you’ve been putting in the work outlined in this guide and have been consistently passed over for a promotion, it may be time to seek an alternate career path. It can be difficult to make this decision, as many hold out hope for a last-minute promotion in a company that they’ve grown attached to. 

However, don’t let your skills go to waste in a workplace that won’t reward you. There are thousands of other career opportunities just waiting to be discovered. If you know you still have potential but feel underappreciated at your current workplace, it’s time to find a company that will notice and recognize your efforts. Break out your “I love me” file, update your resume and start looking for a company where you can shine.

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