I was extremely lucky to begin my career under a mentor that was one of, if not the fastest, advancing person in the 500-person firm I worked for. He became partner in a public accounting firm in record time, with a strong book of business that said ‘yea- I’m here for a reason’. More importantly, he spent the time to sit with me and taught me his thought process and how he made his success a reality. I made a conscience effort to implement his teachings as I learned them and six years later, at 27 years of age, I’m a Controller in a leading HR firm. Advancing quickly is not for everyone and is in no way definitively better for everyone to do so. Although, when looking out on the next few years, one may find it prudent and exciting to reach a certain step in their career sooner than average.
All tools needed to advance quicker in your career can be self-taught and require proactive effort. It is definitely “harder” than doing the minimum or status-quo, however, chasing after a goal can make your career more exciting and meaningful. Here is a breakdown of what I’ve learned over the years:
- Become the expert– One of the most important lessons I learned is that you have to have ‘substance’ if you want to advance quickly. By substance I mean your technical abilities must be strong. I don’t care what you do– but you have to become the company expert at it. I want you to know more about your role than the person 20 years senior to you. In examples: 1) you’re a salesperson who sells software—you should read every book you can find on sales strategies and every book about the type of software you are selling. Ask a senior to be your mentor and ask him questions on how to learn more. Take classes or obtain external certifications. Do not skim the surface of understanding just to get by each day – invest in yourself and be proactive. Don’t be in a situation where anyone questions your ability or knowledge as you advance.
- Be organized– If you are overwhelmed, stressed or have too much on your plate—it’s your fault, not your workload. Become more organized, create systems to track open tasks, and devote uninterrupted windows of time to critical tasks. Shut off the outlook notification box every time you get an email. Interruptions and dropping projects to pick up another is an incredible time-suck and you need to take control of this. Don’t believe that being ‘busy’ means you are being efficient. Set expectations more effectively—see next.
- Communication– Communication is everything. Stop overpromising and under-delivering to your bosses and to your clients. If you are approached with a new task and you’re organized – see above – you will know when you will have time available to tackle this new task. If possible, tack an extra day or two onto this date as the expectation. If some client fire doesn’t come up, you’ll complete the task early (imagine such a world!). It’s important when taking on a new task to ask your boss or client what their expectations are, every time. You will be surprised at the disconnect of perceived importance of the issue (you were about to tackle it right then, but they don’t need it until next week). Communicating and setting expectations to almost exhaustion is the best way to show your superiors you are extremely organized, reliable, and going places.
- Attack your Potential Promotion Now– Working many or excessive hours does not entitle you to a promotion or even a raise. If you’re working excess hours bosses may perceive this as the trait of an unorganized person who is all over the place (busy but not efficient). What does entitle you to a promotion? — If your already operating at the level of role above you. In practice, you would print out the job description of the role you are hoping to be promoted into. Run down the list checking each qualification/trait you already have and circling the ones you don’t. Draft a game-plan that details how you are going to get to that next level. Feel free to share this with your boss and make sure to build evidence for your case. Put your boss in the situation that he/she doesn’t have a choice but to promote you because it’s undeniable you’re now operating at that next level.
- Implement a new process every time you make a mistake– Every time you make a mistake you have to change something- this is a rule. It can be small tweeks to your current system but you have to do something to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If you operate under this mindset, instead of the ‘oh well sh*t happens mindset’, after a few years you will be killing it at your job. This mindset forces you to create best practices, be able to handle more, and be less stressed during times of work chaos.
- Speak up or delegate– If you are super organized with processes in place, set expectations up front, and are still overwhelmed you need to speak up and/or delegate. Extrapolating off the Pareto’s principle, 20% of what you do accounts for 80% of your value to the company. Identify these valuable tasks (the value of a task does not correlate with the time it takes to complete or its urgency), and pitch to your boss that you should shift some of the other tasks to someone else. If you’re not comfortable enough to do that at least speak up and let them know you’re going to burn out if something doesn’t change.
Follow these steps, along with the things you’ve learned over the years, and you’ll be advancing faster than Uber’s international public relations crisis. Remember to focus on investing in yourself – your knowledge, skills or organizational systems – because they will stay with you from job to job.
Most important of all – hustle!
Have a great weekend all,