Young professionals often reach out to me seeking career advice when they are having a difficult time meeting their career advancement goal. They are often working nights and many weekends. You know the adage, “that if you want something done give it to a busy person.” They get stuff done.
These individuals often have an excellent education, solid work history, and willing to take on extra work. What’s holding someone like this back? These young professionals are feeling trapped in a demanding job. They do not have a clear career path forward. They were beginning to think about a job hunt and want advice.
I recently provided insights to help folks in this position to start looking at both sides of the coin:
- know when it is time to look for a new job. It may be better to find an alternative position at your current company before expanding your job search to the external market
- perhaps you may just need to fall in love with your current job (again)
These may be short-term fixes. They think it is only education and experience that matters, and career advancement should happen once they put in the time. Chasing promotions will lead you to rise to your level of incompetence – the Peter Principle. Career advancement should be a step to take you closer to your envisioned future.
Career Advancement is a Journey of Discovery
To start a young professional on their journey of discovery, we look at the elements of their talent stack – skills, knowledge, wisdom, behavioral traits, and accomplishments. Once we have the full set captured, the young professional knows their career capital – the value they offer. Customers and employers pay for career capital. Like any investment, the more capital you have, the better return you get.
Ted Pryor, managing director with Greenwich Harbor Partners, offers five rules of career advancement to young professionals. These rules apply to everybody considering a job or career transition, regardless of age.
No. 1: Get Close to Customers
If you are not selling or servicing customers, then you should be supporting people who are. If you are not selling or servicing in general, you should be marketing, measuring results, developing products or solving client problems. If you are not facing customers or supporting people who are facing customers, then you are overhead and risk being expendable. A year or two working at headquarters or in the office of the chief of staff is a great experience and can give a bird’s-eye view of the organization. However, don’t get locked in there. You should transition to a customer-facing function as soon as you can.
If there were only one golden rule of career advancement, this would be it. Progressive companies have 80 percent of their resources focused on serving customers or supporting the front line. Legacy companies are often inward-focused with lots of time spent crafting memos to ‘go up the line. Ambitious professionals should work to be in customer-oriented functions.” – Ted Pryor
No. 2: Become an Expert
The most successful among us are walking flaws who have maximized one or two strengths.” —Tim Ferriss
The modern world pays for expertise. Someone who is well educated, well-traveled and speaks multiple languages, and has a broad perspective. However, getting to be an expert, for example, on China, or Southern China or in an industry sector within China will make that same person invaluable. Get to be an expert in the politics, the people, the trends, the economic forces, and, the culture. Read books on the subject. Attend lectures on the area. If you’re not spending 5 hours per week learning, you're irresponsible. You may also be asked to work on other projects or client matters but establish yourself as an expert in something relevant to your company.
You may have many duties in many areas, but if you are expert in a couple of subjects, you will get pulled in when that knowledge is crucial. A young person who has control of the facts is extremely useful.” - Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric
Understanding your strengths — behavioral traits — provide you insight where you can naturally become an expert. You have unique talents. When you do something your really good at, and it comes naturally to you, you are using your strengths. Experts derive tremendous satisfaction from sharing their expertise. Many companies have two tracks of career advancement: management and the expert track.
No. 3: Manage People
Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall." -Stephen Covey
You want to head in a direction where you will eventually be managing a group or a team. Organizations can see only growth if good people are recruited, nurtured, trained, developed, and motivated to become leaders and contributors. However, the most valuable employees are the ones that do a great job and can teach other people to follow in their footsteps. If you are a solo producer by nature, then get into a position where you can manage, mentor and develop other solo producers. There are plenty of player-coaches who lead a team and focus their own time on larger projects, larger clients and developing new channels of opportunity.
The point is not to empire-build, but to be committed to the future success of the company through developing people. Today’s best leaders are first class mentors, and this should be part of your skill set.” – Ted Pryor
Ladder of Leadership
Evidence-based decisions drive long-term success. Climbing the leadership ladder is no exception. We offer the ladder of leadership, a behavioral competency model for driving top performance at three corporate leadership levels. Our program helps you identify your high potential employees. Succession planning and talent management initiatives provide a basis for meaningful individual career planning one, two and three moves ahead. Identifying the strengths and development opportunities helps individuals know if leadership roles are right for them.
We provide insights to help individuals progress up the leadership ladder. We explain the core competencies that are required at each level and address the transition between levels. Using our model across your entire organization uses a common language for management development. It also allows you to assemble teams with a diversity of behavioral competencies in addition to technical skills and knowledge. This results in better outcomes.
SuccessFinder’s research identified the two fundamental behavioral competencies that are important at every level of management — Leads Decisively and Thrives in Chaos. Specific competencies are key in more than one level as one progresses up the ladder. Some stay important through a leadership transition, and some competencies are less relevant, and thus their demonstration must be adjusted to be an effective leader. Our roadmap to success ensure development efforts contribute to career advancement and long-term success.
No. 4: Take on Tough Projects
Everyone always wants to work on the most prestigious projects and the most prestigious clients. However, that often means working in mature situations as the third, fourth or tenth person on the team. Many careers have been accelerated by taking on a product, division, geography or industry sector that no one else was eager to work on, that wasn’t as prestigious, or needed a turnaround. Maybe it is redesigning the sales incentive system, looking for a new warehouse location or oversight of a handful of small accounts.
Taking a problem off your boss’s desk and doing an excellent job with it is a great way to get noticed. You are likely to have more autonomy and freedom to try new things and pursue your ideas. The experience will be much more potent than documenting the ideas of your team leader on that ‘prestigious’ project. Sometimes this rule is written as ‘take risks,’ but that does not provide much guidance when you are at a decision point. Taking on tough projects for your leaders is a much clearer lens. It leads to career advancement.
It is sometimes counter-intuitive, but solving a tough problem that no one else wants, or taking on a losing region, or working on a declining product will be more satisfying and give you more visibility than being part of a large team on projects that everyone else wants. Many careers have been accelerated by solving a tough problem in a niche area.” – Ted Pryor
No. 5: Develop Your Brand
A reputation takes a lifetime to build and only a few minutes to ruin. You build your brand conversation-by-conversation, presentation-by-presentation, project-by-project, report-by-report. The amount of time your work is exposed to colleagues and superiors is surprisingly limited.
Your reputation is built on your personality, appearance, and humor, your insights and results, but often these are measured in short bursts of exposure such as one-on-one, group meetings, presentations and reports or analysis.
You must obsess over your results, research, ideas, and content, but for those few moments of exposure, you must also obsess over the quality of the presentation that may be the only thing your colleagues ever see. Re-read reports carefully, use spell and grammar checkers. Use the read-aloud app on your computer. Hearing what you wrote helps you pick up an error. It can help ensure you are setting the right tone. Have someone proof-read them. Practice your presentations in front of the mirror or with a friend. Good content, poorly presented, loses almost all its impact.
Even though you are visible every day at a company, your personal brand and reputation are really made in a very limited number of touch points, including presentations and reports, so extra effort must be put into content, creativity, neatness, and results for your highly visible work product.” - Ted Pryor.
Add more value
All companies exist to increase shareholder value. There are two necessary conditions for that to happen: satisfied customers and an engaged workforce. Companies promote leaders. When you understand the above, you can figure out how you can lead without being in a leadership position. Going beyond adding value to your role is a sure way to career advancement.
Shareholder value may be more than financial. (In non-profit organizations your mission is your value). Annual reports and the core values provide insights into what shareholders value. As above, being closer to the customer offers increased opportunities to deliver value.
Bain and Company and Netsurvey analyzed responses from 200,000 employees in 40 companies. They found two troubling trends:
- employee engagement declines with employee tenure — the most experienced and knowledgeable employees are often the least engaged
- employee engagement is weakest at the lowest levels of the company and in service and sales departments — the least engaged workers are on the front lines and in daily interaction with your customers
An engaged workforce is the pillar of any successful business. Disengaged employees are a significant cost for companies. Engaged employees give their best at work every day, committed to success. Only about 20 percent of employees are engaged. If you are interested in advancement, you must be in that 20%. Take my Indispensable Quotient quiz, to find where you stand.
Getting your coworkers engaged will be a significant feather in your cap. Here are a few things you can do today:
- Engaging coworkers through their knowledge and skills and encouraging them to share this knowledge and their experiences is one of the most powerful ways to integrate employees into the company mission and collaborate with you and each other.
- Given that the most experienced and knowledgeable employees are often the least engaged, you can learn a lot from them. Let them know you view them as a thought leader in their space and grow and encourage them to share relevant content with you and other team members. If you inspire them to become re-engaged, the company will benefit. They will be a willing mentor for you.
- Help coworkers be aware of the company’s mission — a sense of being part of the company’s strategy. Alignment with the company drives engagement.
Challenge — What's Right For You?
Solution - Leverage Your Talent Stack — Build Your Career Capital
Identify your unique behavioral strengths, build your career capital and leverage your unique talent stack for lifetime success.
- Grow your leadership potential by targeting your key developmental needs
- Determine your key career success factors, allowing for more focused efforts
- Discover your best and most successful career direction
- Find out about your strengths and interests in different career areas
Knowing yourself is the first step to being happy. And staying happy is an ongoing process of regrounding your long-term goals within your current objectives. When those align, you’re on the path to a job you can adore. Know when to find a better job as your best option may be to fall in love with your job (again) We also offer a personal development plan to help you achieve career success and satisfaction.