Get on the Fast Track
It took me three years to get my first promotion. I’m not proud of it, but in that time I certainly learned a lot about what not to do in order to be successful working in business. I realized that it doesn’t matter how smart you are or if you have the best ideas. If you can’t express yourself in a diplomatic way, if you can’t roll with the punches, and if you can’t be proactive, you’ll be invisible. Here are a few pointers from the fast tracker’s playbook.
Goal: Cope effectively with uncertainty
How to Get There: The first step is acceptance. Realize that the professional world changes on a dime, and you will not be able to control these developments or their timing. Let go of feeling personally responsible for whether they make sense or are truly the best thing for the organization. Repeat to yourself: “it is what it is” and take action to prevent any negative outcomes you can influence. Focus on what you can control, and don’t waste energy getting frustrated over what you can’t. (Meditating — or just taking slow, deep breaths — helps.)
Goal: Promote yourself without bragging
How to Get There: If your work isn’t visible, neither are you. At the same time, you don’t want to annoy your colleagues (or your boss) with constant boasting. The key to achieving recognition for your efforts without going too far is enthusiasm. If you emphasize your passion when describing an achievement, people will think you're just excited about it. An excited person appears earnest, and it's hard to be critical of someone who’s being earnest. Practice on your boss, who is supposed to know about everything you're doing and can't fault you for keeping him, or her, informed. You might also consider the subtle tactic of sending emails thanking your team for a job well done. This achieves two purposes: it demonstrates gratitude to your co-workers and shines a light on your work as one of the project’s organizers.
Goal: Speak up at the right times
How to Get There: Work on being more assertive. It’s not as easy to master as it may seem. It means expressing your views while also respecting those of others. Assertive communicators validate others’ feelings and express their own feelings using a combination of honesty, specificity, conciseness, and directness. They stay calm and ask for clarification when they don’t understand. Assertive communicators also consciously choose when to interject their opinions and when to stay quiet — especially in large meeting situations in which there are multiple contributors. It’s a fine but important line to walk.
Goal: Build your network
How to Get There: Loyalties in the professional world shift all the time, so being at the center of a single clique could quickly backfire. And limiting your relationship-building activities to your immediate group might land you in hot water if you are suddenly transferred or asked to work on a project with an outside team. Instead, make a conscious effort to get to know the superstars in every department by walking the halls and introducing yourself, and meet senior leaders through organization-wide volunteer or recreational activities. Leverage these relationships to learn about new work opportunities and become a cross-functional whiz, or someone who can meaningfully contribute in different areas of the company.
Goal: Develop Your Skills
How to Get There: In a recent survey conducted by DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board, two-thirds of hiring managers said that employees should be responsible for developing their own skills. While your organization probably does have your best interests at heart and may provide some training, no one will ever put as much time and energy into your professional development as you will because no one benefits from it as much as you. So don’t be passive and hang around waiting for your next performance evaluation. Advocate for the best learning opportunities and experiences every day, and be proactive about keeping your skills fresh.
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