I have not written about what I do for a living on the blog but it’s important to how Mr. Debt Albatross and I will be able to achieve our goal of paying off $97k of debt this year.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to land a great job, in a well compensated field, and working for a large company – all important ingredients in the recipe for career growth. I worked at smaller companies prior and while I found my jobs interesting, I did not see growth potential nor competitive compensation. This recipe for growth (large company, hot field) is not for everyone and is not the only way to success, but has worked for me.
This past week I received my second opportunity for promotion in two years. I have been promoted years earlier than my peers at the company and I am now at the same level as employees that have 20+ years of experience on me. The recipe for growth laid the ideal foundation for my success but it was up to me to get noticed and climb the ladder. The following is what I have learned to be the key to getting promoted quickly:
For individual contributors:
There are three main components to this one. The first, get up out of your desk and walk around the office. If you make a habit to talk face to face when you can, you will get issues resolved more efficiently and you will get noticed in the process. Secondly, speak up and don’t be afraid to ask questions. And when you’re in meetings with the big boss – make sure you contribute. I have tee’d up direct reports to showcase their talents in front of our leaders in meetings and a few of them blew it – by clamming up and sitting silently in those meetings out of intimidation. It’s definitely scary to be in that situation, especially the first few times you experience it, but it’s also a huge opportunity to further your career. Lastly, don’t be afraid to promote yourself. I love when the employees I manage let me know when they’ve done something well. There is a way to go about it that’s not bragging and can seriously pay off. I make sure to share my successes with my boss and believe this practice has been fundamental to my growth in the company.
Managers will be more likely to delegate important assignments to you if they trust you. I have a few direct reports that have told me they didn’t do something because of obstacles such as the hotel wifi not working. While their obstacles were real and not just excuses, I really appreciate the direct reports who would have sat on the phone with the help desk even if it took an hour or who would have went to a nearby Starbucks in order to get something done. Showing reliability with little assignments can go a long way to landing the bigger ones.
This third item differentiates the average employees from the winners. Many employees go to their bosses with problems but few come to their bosses with three potential solutions and a recommendation. A can-do attitude is the key. I have dealt with a employees that spend more time explaining why something shouldn’t or can’t be done and I have a few go-to employees that I know can get anything done.
Stay Above the Fray
This one is difficult since it can make you happier to have friends in the office but it can also hurt you to be too close to others. First, avoid commiserating with others about what you hate about the office or specific people. It will just make you dwell on the negative and feel worse. Second, realize everyone is talking about everyone – even you – so if you hear something bad said about you, just let it go. If the talk is something related to your performance, it’s best to acknowledge the perception that is out there and then do something to change that perception – even if it’s incorrect. Maybe 20% of that feedback is right but 100% of feedback is helpful. Lastly, keep your cool in stressful situations. Even if another employee is wrong, tries to engage you in a conflict, or goes off on you – keep your cool and you will come out on top. And when the situation is over, don’t hold a grudge against the employee. You’re going to have to work with them again so it’s best for you although difficult to just let it go.
Work for a Good Manager
A manager who delegates important assignments to you, gives you great coaching, and puts your name out there for stretch opportunities is key. Next time you are in an interview, evaluate your potential manager at the same time they are evaluating you. My current boss is fantastic – he gives great feedback, delegates effectively, and recommends me for stretch opportunities – the most recent of which is leading to a promotion.
Know the Business
Knowing the financials, how your work connects to the overall company objectives, and being able to see and communicate the big picture is key to moving up. Don’t get caught up in the little things that don’t matter as much to the business and deliver on all of the big things that add value $$$ to the company.
For people managers:
In my experience, all of the items for individual contributors apply to managers with the addition of these important things.
Hire Top Talent
I didn’t phrase this as hire good people for a reason because good just isn’t good enough. Hire the best people you possibly can – absolute rockstars. When I first started hiring my team, I would look for experience in specific areas, would hire someone who I felt could do the job well, and I wouldn’t necessarily wait to find someone who wowed me. I quickly learned that you are only as good as your people. If you accept nothing less than the best into the company – and you can answer yes to the question “could this person be my next star?” to every person you hire, then you are golden. Experience with a specific tool or process does not beat out the personal characteristics of a perpetual high-achiever. If you hire a real go-getter, a quick learner, and someone with polish – that person will outpace the average person very soon into the job. If your recruiters are not giving you rockstars – work with them to find what you want. Maybe they need to switch up their approach – headhunting on Linkedin, campus recruiting, etc.
Let Your People do the Work
Hoarding is a common trait amongst managers but it’s a big mistake. The power of a team is much better than the power of one. Good managers delegate important assignments to their people, put them in situations that will help them grow, and don’t hog all of the spotlight for themselves. When your people get recognition and praise, it’s a reflection of you.
Don’t be Afraid of Attrition
If you’re really good at hiring top talent, you shouldn’t be afraid of attrition – the right kind of attrition. You want to be deathly afraid of losing your stars (outside of the company – helping them find higher positions within the company is a good thing for you and them). You should not be afraid at all of losing your under-performers. In fact, you want them out. It can feel really awful to give someone a bad performance review, no raise or bonus, but it’s worse for you and them if you let under-performers coast by without letting them know they are not meeting your expectations. It’s not good to be emotionless in management – you want to connect with your people and let them know you care – but its also not good to let too many emotions blind good decision making – such as keeping under-performers because you feel bad doing anything about it.
I hope this list is not taken as hubris. I received much help, coaching, and a little luck to get where I am today but I thought sharing this knowledge I have acquired might help others looking to get to the next step in their careers.
I am especially passionate about women in business issues and hope that this advice will help other young, female professionals get ahead.