I’ve watched so many people go hard, year after year with modest career progression, while others seemingly fly up the ladder. I’ve often been asked about my own career journey, having survived 15 years on Wall Street, which can be notoriously tough and unforgiving. There are many lessons I can share for sure. It took a while to find my groove, but eventually I realized that advancing my career was ultimately up to me, and it wasn’t enough to sit back and hope I got tapped on the shoulder for the next opportunity. So what separates those who thrive vs the rest?
If we assume performance and delivering a strong work product is the baseline, what else needs to happen?
Early on in my career, I was frustrated. I was committed to my job and my firm, I worked long hours, I did what was asked of me, and yet it felt like no one noticed my effort. I remember the lessons my parents taught me… “Do your best, work harder than the next individual, don’t cause trouble!”
While all of that was useful, I made the mistake many of us do. I put my head down, plugged away and assumed my work alone would pave the way for my next promotion or would support the case for a pay bump at the end of the year.
In actuality, I wasn’t getting noticed. I wasn’t invisible, but I didn’t have much of a profile either, and the folks who were in charge couldn’t tell you much about me aside from the fact that I completed my work and delivered as expected. But my career interests or aspirations? The type of projects or work I wanted to do next? My real personality and how it aligned with what I was being asked to do? And aside from my manager and team, what about the people who actually made decisions on compensation and promotion? Did the right people know me and have my best interests at heart?
The answer to these questions early on was ‘no’. And for a few years, I felt like I was at sea in my career, and almost left the industry altogether in frustration and feeling like an outsider.
So what changed?
Firstly, I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m a social and friendly person, but naturally more of an introvert who tends to be fairly private. You can absolutely succeed as a quiet, introvert at work, but that can’t be your persona 100% of the time. You have to pick your head up and make sure you’re building relationships and credibility with key people at work. If this doesn’t come natural to you, set an intention you think you can manage.
Some Practical Tips:
- Decide on a handful of people to network and keep up with
- Settle on a regular schedule for reaching out (if the opportunity to touch base isn’t organic), provide updates on your accomplishments and achievements.
- Make sure you’re developing reciprocal relationships – you may have your own motives in reaching out, but as a ‘thank you’ to those who help you, consider what support, insights or connections you can share with them
- As you develop these relationships, keep in mind that people rarely want to talk about business 100% of the time, so try to find areas of commonality outside of your projects, decide on what you’re comfortable sharing about yourself, and be prepared to engage in small talk until it feels natural to you
- BONUS: Who are the people who should know you? Start by ensuring you are engaged with your immediate manager and team (don’t assume they know what you’re accomplishing!), but you may also want to build visibility with your manager’s manager, other colleagues with whom you work with on key projects and senior leaders who may have influence in the career advancement of people within your department.
Ok, so people may know who you are, but what are they saying? Again, don’t assume that because your work is strong, people are saying positive things!
As a human resources business partner and senior manager of my own teams, I’ve seen many instances where an individual has strong, fundamental skills necessary for the job, but has no idea how the perception of that individual behind closed doors was holding him or her back.
When you consider your personal brand, think about how you’d like to be perceived. What do you want people to say about you when you’re not there? Is that consistent with who you are today? Are you consistent with how you project your brand day-in, day-out?
Building Your Brand:
- If you’re unsure of the answers to these questions, by all means, ask someone. Ask your manager, your peers, your mentor and trusted colleagues how people see you, and what is the buzz (or lack thereof) about you at the office.
- If you don’t like what you’re hearing, it’s time to consider some changes. Either you work on changing the behavior, and hopefully, the perception of your brand, or maybe the organization isn’t the best fit for you and it’s time to look elsewhere.
- Be holistic in the creation and assessment of your brand. Consider how your present yourself (what you wear, how you speak, your attitude, etc) and your work product (the quality of your work, how you deliver against expectations, your grasp of the content at hand, etc). These are all important in the image you project, so don’t focus on any one area to the detriment of the others.
Want to learn more insights? Check out part 2 of my tips for your career advancement strategy, and if you’re interested in more one-on-one guidance, feel free to reach out and schedule a complimentary discussion about how career coaching can help you!