If you’re ambitious and want to build an exciting career, you’ll look at each job as a stepping stone to the next great opportunity. You can learn to leverage each job to get the most advantage if you pay attention to the dos and don'ts of maximizing opportunities on your way up the career ladder.
Treat this job as your last job. The one you’re going to retire from. It’s not, but if it was, wouldn’t you want to become the expert? Learn everything you can and teach others as well. You can build a reputation as the go-to person in your department, area, industry, or subject matter.
You know what you do, but do you know how your job relates to the rest of the organization? How does what you do affect, hinder, or help other departments? Silos are great for storing wheat and corn on the farm, but are detrimental to organizations where departments or disciplines operate as separate entities. Volunteer to work on cross-functional teams and get the big picture in your organization. You’ll make valuable professional relationships and better decisions that will also build your credibility.
Take a good look inward and ask yourself—would I hire myself to work at the next level? What does it take to qualify and compete for the next rung on the ladder? Ask Human Resources for the job description for the next job you aspire to. Do you have what it takes? What are you lacking? Applying for a job you aren’t qualified for can be at the least embarrassing, at most disqualify you from future opportunities.
If you find you don’t have the necessary education level, experience or skills to move up, don’t waste time. Does your company offer tuition reimbursement, professional development funding, opportunities to attend professional conferences or participate in community service organizations representing the company? Enroll in a local college or find an online program to get the degree or certifications you need for the next step. Join a professional organization and attend local community or professional organizations. Networking is the best way to uncover little-known opportunities for learning in the community.
Dressing for success is still valid in today’s more relaxed, unstructured work environment. Take a look at those already succeeding at the next level. Your wardrobe, grooming, mannerisms and knowledge of professional etiquette are important as you become more visible in the organization. Your personality and professionalism is also reflected in how well you communicate verbally and in print (think email, texting, PowerPoint). Even a casual email with spelling or grammar errors can derail your journey on the fast-track. If you’re going to be noted for something by senior management, make it your strengths instead of weaknesses.
You may view your job as a “starter” job where you’ll stay for a short time before moving on, but your employer considers the job important in and of itself. Ok, so your foot is in the door. Plant both feet under your desk (or firmly in your workspace) and get down to work. Even if you’re planning on moving up fast, don’t let on to your co-workers that you’re just a transient. Doing a great job where you start can open doors upward you never imagined and better than you planned.
Positioning yourself in the right starter job is the first step, but doing a killer job is the next. You may just be answering phones or taking orders but you’ll make a huge impression by giving it the same energy as if you were already in the executive suite. Doing a halfway job can get you stuck where you are, without a chance to move up as quickly as you would like. You may just be biding time, but if you don’t do a great job at each step, you could be left behind when the next opportunity comes along.
It can be a rush to be promoted quickly. You know you deserve it. You’ve worked hard and proven yourself quickly, validated by opportunities that seem to fall in your lap. But be careful. Have you really learned everything you need to know at each step? Are you promoted because others abandoned ship and you’re the next warm body in line? Moving up is great, but there are skills to master at each step. You may get too far too fast and end up with lots of responsibility but few resources.
Sometimes moving up can mean moving sideways. Don’t discount an opportunity to expand your knowledge across organizational levels. CEOs are more effective if they understand all facets of an organization. A training program or temporary position at your level in another department may be the thing that makes you more attractive to an internal or external recruiter.
The fastest way between two points is still a straight line. Career paths are rarely a straight line, but going way off track can derail a career. A high salary, too-good-to-be-true perks, a hefty sign-on bonus, or exotic location can be irresistible. Keep your focus. If the job makes a U-turn on your career path, take a second look. Once off the path, you (or a future employer) may not be able to get you back on course.
Leveraging your current job is all about establishing a strong, balanced stance where you are before making the leap to the next level. Think backpacking instead of a rocket launch. Get the most from each position to prepare you to be successful at the next. It’s not just what you learn, it’s the relationships you build and how much you help others succeed before you move on.
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