The world of work has evolved and changed significantly in the last 20 years. No longer is a job for life and you need to be in the driving seat when it comes to career progression. When did you last make time to reassess what you want from your career? Maybe today is that day! I thought I’d put this A to Z together to give some tips on where you might focus, what planning you might want to carry out and what action you can take to work on your career.
A – Ambition
I guess you wouldn’t be reading this post at all if you weren’t ambitious and didn’t want to learn more about how to develop yourself, your standard of living or find your next role.
Donald Trump extols the importance of ambition with the following quote:
“Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a take-off. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here.”
Unfortunately, ambition by itself will not get you where you want to go. Ambition must be paired with action and execution to be truly meaningful.
B – Brand You
What is it that you want from life? What’s your vision for your own future? What personal values do you live by? What’s important for you in your life? Where would you like to be in 10 years? How do you want to be perceived by others?
I’ve found a couple of simple ways to get to the bottom of some of these often tough questions.
- Imagine that you were told you had 10 years to live, starting today, and you would be completely healthy during that time. How would you spend that time?
- Imagine that you’re 100 years old, you’ve lived your life to the full and you know that you only have a minute or so before you leave this world. Your great-granddaughter is sitting by your side and she asks you – ‘From everything you’ve learned from your life, what advice could you give me as to how I get the most from mine?’
Doing these two exercises could have a powerful impact on you. They did with me. Your answers will help you understand your personal brand and brand values and ultimately your OMG – your One Magnificent Goal!
For more information on your personal brand please see a downloadable series of posts – Brand New, Brand You
C – Career Planning
So, you’re ambitious, you understand your personal Vision, Values and what you want from life. That’s more than most people, so you’re off to a good start!
If you’re a regular Think Oak! reader you’ll know what comes next – Goals! Setting Goals for your career path, will help you monitor your progress and give you a plan, that you should revisit at least quarterly, but I would suggest monthly.
Your career plan should have some short, medium and long-term goals. Work back from your One Magnificent Goal, your OMG (if you have one!) and fill in the milestones along the way and more detailed, inch-pebbles in the nearer term.
It’s a good idea to review this with at least one other person on a regular basis to keep you honest and on track.
Download a free Think Oak! Career and Development Template here
D – Discipline
Progressing in your career and working through your personal development plan requires commitment and discipline. One of the main reasons why people fail is that there is no discipline in their action. They give themselves excuses why they cannot consistently follow-up on their plans. You will need to sacrifice some personal time to complete your goals in your career plan and that sacrifice takes discipline. Discipline also ensures that you can be persistent, especially when faced with challenges after challenges in your journey to success.
Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said:
‘We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment’
E – Elevator Pitch
You’re in an elevator, a corridor or at a party and the CEO of the firm you’ve always wanted to work for, is standing next to you. What do you say?
Elevator pitches are developed to relay just enough information to cause the person you’re speaking to, to ask, “Tell me more.” If you’re lucky, the CEO will say, “If you have a few minutes, I want to hear more.” If you’re even luckier, your prospective boss will ask you to set up an appointment the next day to meet up. All of that from the development, memorising, and tweaking of a few simple yet incredibly powerful words.
Putting your pitch together
1. Who are you? Introduce yourself and your credentials up front. There’s no point in saying anything if the listener has no idea who you are or if you have any credibility.
2. What’s your objective? Get to the point quickly about what you are looking for or how that person can help. Being direct not only grabs attention but helps the listener to put your pitch into context.
3. What can you do for the listener? This is where you explain how recruiting you will meet their need. Your goals and dreams are all well and good but remember in the end what you are offering must benefit them. This is your chance to communicate what makes you someone who your audience should consider helping. People typically like to help those that they feel will be successful in the process. There are a few things you should think about when highlighting your qualifications:- industry relevance, leadership, expertise, pedigree, and impact.
4. The close – this is tricky to deliver effectively, but ideally you need an outcome to the conversation. This could be a follow-up meeting with the person you’re pitching to, a name of someone who you need to contact to follow-up, or some advice as to how to reach your goal.
Once you have your personal elevator pitch, practice it in front of the mirror. If possible, try to video or audio tape yourself, and watch it in fast forward. You’ll be amazed at your nervous habits!
F – Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway
In Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway’, she gives some great insight and practical tools to help you improve your self-belief and your ability to face even the things that you fear the most.
It’s almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some kind of failure. People who do so probably live so cautiously that they go nowhere. Put simply, they’re not really living at all.
The wonderful thing about failure is that it’s entirely up to us to decide how to look at it.
We can choose to see failure as “the end of the world,” or as proof of just how inadequate we are. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. Every time we fail at something, we can choose to look for the lesson we’re meant to learn. These lessons are very important; they’re how we grow, and how we keep from making that same mistake again. Failures stop us only if we let them.
G – Glass Ceiling and How to Smash It
Despite knowing that you have much more potential, is there a limit for “people like you” in your organisation? If so, you’ve hit what’s known as the “glass ceiling.” This is the point at which you can clearly see the next level of promotion – yet, despite your best efforts, an invisible barrier seems to stop you from getting there.
Historically, the glass ceiling concept was applied to women and some minorities. It was very hard, if not impossible, for them to reach senior management positions. No matter how qualified or experienced, they simply were not given opportunities to further advance their careers. Thankfully today, there are many more women and minorities in powerful positions. However, the glass ceiling is still very real. And it’s not always limited to gender or race.
Below are 5 ways you can help to smash through the glass ceiling:
- Align your objectives and competencies with senior management
- Build your internal network and relationships
- Over-perform in everything you do
- Find a mentor within senior management
- Move sideways under a different manager who will support your growth
If all else fails you do have a choice to move from your organisation altogether for your next career move.
H – Hard Work
I don’t know many successful people who have got to where they have without a great deal of hard work. True hard work never goes unnoticed. You will gain a recognition and prominence not only in the organisation that you are working in, but also outside the company in your profession. This will surely work for you when you are creating your job reputation & professional profile.
I’m not saying you have to work 16 hour days every day, although that might be necessary sometimes. I’m saying that 9-5 no longer exists; a job for life no longer exists; and a ‘God-given’ right to promotion based upon your tenure in an organisation, no longer exists.
I – Intuition
Boosting your intuitive intelligence and using it to “coach” you on the job can be your career’s secret weapon. This was confirmed in a research study at New Jersey Institute of Technology, which tested hundreds of business managers for intuitive ability. Those who demonstrated superior intuitive ability also were better at effective decision-making skills. In a Harvard study, 80 percent of surveyed executives credited their success to intuition. And business luminaries from Conrad Hilton to Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey have declared it essential for success.
Donald Trump said, “I’ve built a multi-billion-dollar empire by using my intuition.”
So, how can we use this valuable skill on the job to become smarter, better employees? You can boost your intuitive intelligence by becoming aware of it, tuning in to what it’s trying to tell you, and heeding its advice. Like any skill, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.
J – Job Satisfaction
Generally, you can have three fundamental approaches to your work:
Is it your career, your job, or your passion?
Depending on which category of work you put yourself in, the things which offer you satisfaction will vary.
If you feel you are pursuing your career, then chances of promotion and career development opportunities will measure your levels of job satisfaction. Your overall level of satisfaction will be closely associated with your power, status, or position.
If you feel you are doing a job, then it is the salary which will measure your levels of job satisfaction.
If you feel you are pursuing your passion, then work itself will determine your level of satisfaction, no matter what money you are earning or what your position in the organisation is.
In order to attain job satisfaction, first realise what kind of person you are and what gives you happiness. If you are happy, you tend to feel satisfied.
K – Key Performance Indicators
What are your personal KPI’s? Do you have any? Every individual has different goals in different spheres of their lives, whether at work or at home. How do you know when you’re on track or off-track?
By keeping a regular view of what’s important to you in order to advance your career, your relationships, your health or your finances you can begin to understand which areas of your life you need to invest time to improve.
As with any performance indicators, they should have target dates / measures and your should track your progress against them. Where you are falling short, you will need to put remedial action against them. As with your career plan, it is often useful to discuss these with someone you trust to keep you on track.
L – Learn More, Earn More
If you are looking to advance your career, get promoted or even just stay relevant in today’s job market you must be developing new skills all of the time. Many of those skills you will need to develop will be outside of your comfort zone. You need to stretch, take risks and sometimes fail!
Continuous learning is a must for anyone wanting to progress their career. The next few letters within this A to Z will give you some pointers on how to keep your knowledge and learning current and more importantly useful to progressing your career.
M – Mentor
Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. More professionals these days are actively pursuing mentoring to advance their careers. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, these types of partnerships can benefit your career.
A mentoring partnership may be between two people within the same organisation, same industry, same networking organisation or anyone whose professional opinion you value and have a good relationship with. However the partners come together, the relationship should be based on mutual trust and respect, and it typically offers personal and professional advantages for both parties.
A trusted mentor can help you do the following:
• Gain valuable advice – Mentors can offer valuable insight into what it takes to get ahead. They can be your guide and “sounding board” for ideas, helping you decide on the best course of action in difficult situations. You may learn short-cuts that help you work more effectively and avoid “reinventing the wheel.”
• Develop your knowledge and skills – They can help you identify the skills and expertise you need to succeed. They may teach you what you need to know, or advise you on where to go for the information you need.
• Improve your communication skills – Just like your mentor, you may also learn to communicate more effectively, which can further help you at work.
• Learn new perspectives – Again, you can learn new ways of thinking from your mentor, just as your mentor can learn from you.
• Build your network – Your mentor can offer an opportunity to expand your existing network of personal and professional contacts.
• Advance your career – A mentor helps you stay focused and on track in your career through advice, skills development, networking, and so on.
N – Network
You would be amazed at the number of people who still don’t understand the importance of networking – Online AND Offline
Building relationships is crucial – there are many smart, talented people who don’t progress as much as they would hope in their career because they are not visible to the “right” people.
For more on how to build your business network and personal profile visit – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…
O – Opportunities
Opportunities are all around you, all of the time. So you need to be continually watching out for them. Get into the habit of looking for possible opportunities every day. Keep a notebook or digital recorder with you, or use a smartphone app like Evernote to note down opportunities when you think of them. Write down as many possible opportunities as you can – you can trim your list back to the most relevant opportunities later on.
You also need to make an effort to seek out “hidden” opportunities. These are opportunities like job openings that aren’t advertised, and projects that you can initiate because you have spotted an unfulfilled need within your organisation or industry.
Begin with your organisation. Keep an eye on current internal or upcoming vacancies, and on any plans for the organisation to expand or change direction. Also, think about how you could progress in the organisation from your current position – what paths are available to you?
It might be obvious which opportunity is best for you. If not, it can be useful to do a grid analysis to make a well-balanced decision. This technique works by getting you to list your options as rows on a table, and the factors that are important to you (such as fit with your strengths and interests) as columns.
You then score each option/factor combination, weight this score by the relative importance of the factor, and add these scores up to give an overall score for each option.
P – Politics without the Politics
Office politics is a fact of company life. Wherever there are two or more people working together, there will be politics and there will be opportunity for conflict. However, destructive office politics can demoralise people in an organisation, hamper productivity, and increase turnover of good staff.
The best way to deal with political environments is to engage them, to turn toward them. To turn away is to abdicate your responsibilities as a leader and manager. It is to let down yourself, your team, and even the organisation as a whole.
So how do you play politics without the politics? Read further about how to be P.O.L.I.T.I.C.A.L.L.Y S.A.V.V.Y. in – Playing Politics without the Politics
Q – Qualifications
Having the right qualifications for your chosen career will very often get you through the door for an interview. Depending on your particular field, and seniority in that field, you may require more or less vocational qualifications.
For any career, keeping your skills current and future-proofed should be an ongoing and important part of your development. In many cases, this may be ‘on the job’ learning and development, but many occupations also demand a level of qualification for you to even be considered to move to the next level. That being said, once you’re working in an organisation, it will very often be your attitude, work-rate, delivery and over-achievement that will count much more than qualifications for progression.
R – Read
According to a Harvard Business Review article last year, the leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.
Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others — traits that author Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organisational effectiveness, and to pay raises and promotions for the leaders who possessed these qualities. And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.
Using down-time during your day, you can increase your reading capacity enormously. There are a plethora of ways to access books on the move – Smartphones, tablet devices and audio books. I personally find that using my daily commute to listen to audio books means that I can get through 4 or 5 books per month.
S – Soft Skills
Aside from reading, attaining professional qualifications and ‘on-the-job’ training, it’s also worth investing time, effort and money in honing some of the softer skills, often untaught in schools and universities and expected in senior business positions. This sort of training falls into 2 broad categories, namely Self-Management and People Skills. I’ve listed below some of the skills within these broad headings that you may wish improve upon once you have a good understanding of your Strengths and Areas for Development under letter ‘U’ below.
- Time Management
- Strategic Thinking
- Problem Analysis & Solving
- Working with others
- Building Teams
- Communication Skills
- Presentation Skills
- Interviewing techniques
- Selling & Negotiation
- People Management
- Stakeholder Management
- Mentoring & Coaching
Getting this sort of training maybe freely available through your organisation, or via training companies or through local colleges. Be sure to get feedback on the course content and quality before you invest your valuable time, effort and money.
T – Treat Everyone with Respect
Albert Einstein said it best, I think: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
Respect is not only about how you talk to people. Human beings crave the respect of others; it’s in our DNA. When we feel like nobody respects us, it’s difficult for us to be positive and productive. When we don’t respect ourselves, we act in ways that our counter to our interests in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.
Cultivating self-respect and earning the respect of others goes a long way toward leading a balanced, healthy, happy life as well as improving your chances of career progression.
The 10 commandments of Respect according to Think Oak! All of which could be encompassed by – ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’
- Act with integrity
- Display good manners
- Be punctual
- Actively listen when someone is talking to you
- Follow through on your promises
- Understand the impact that you might have on others – your ‘Shadow’
- Be compassionate
- Value the opinion of others
- Be appreciative
- Admit when you’re wrong
U – Understand your Strengths & Areas for Development
On the downloadable Think Oak! Career and Development Template, you will find two sections to complete around Strengths and Areas for Development.
Before you complete these sections, I’d like you to do two separate tasks:
- Write down all your Strengths and Areas for Development that you can think of. Refine these down to those you will really need to work on to achieve your OMG.
- Get some feedback. You may think you know who your are and what you need to do to achieve your goals, but you may find that trusted people in your network can help you tweak or even re-evaluate some of these.
Now, fill in your template.
V – Volunteer
Whether internally or externally, volunteer to do new things, especially if they’re not in your job description! Get involved in initiatives that your organisation is launching or volunteer in your local community. Getting involved in new initiatives or community activity has a number of benefits:
Many organisations give people opportunities to get involved in projects that are outside of your job description whether that be Customer Experience Champions, Employee Representatives on committees or sponsors for particular projects. Whilst you shouldn’t allow these opportunities to prevent you from completing your objectives at work, they are a great opportunity for you to build you profile with people from around the organisation, learn new skills and widen your sphere of influence – assuming you do a good job and don’t just use it as an excuse to get away from your day job!
If you’re considering a new or change of career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and help you meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and people skills. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.
Volunteering also offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organisation that does the kind of work you’re interested in. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could volunteer at a hospital or a nursing home. Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organisations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.
Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counsellor while volunteering at the Samaritans or gain NVQ’s towards teaching qualifications as a support teacher.
Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favourite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.
W – Work – Life Balance
This is a tough one for ambitious, driven and career-minded people. It’s actually very easy to get to a point when you’re consistently working 12, 13, 14 or more hour days. For most people, it is physically not sustainable to continue to produce continued quality results working at this level. Something will give – your health, your marriage and family life, your relationships outside of work, your personal time or a combination of any or all of these. It is much better to work on your personal time management skills, your delegation of tasks and understanding what’s critical to your success than to burn yourself out. Believe me, I know from personal experience!
Work smarter, not harder. Don’t get me wrong – You will need to put in an all-nighter occasionally, you will and should invest in entertaining customers or building your network outside of the 9-5, but you should equally invest time in yourself, your friends and family and for relaxation.
X with a horizontal line above it, is the Roman numeral for 10,000 and Malcolm Gladwell in his great book, Outliers, states that 10,000 hours of practice is required to truly master a field in life, citing The Beatles, Bill Gates and others as examples.
In order to be the best at anything, you do need innate talent, but you also need to practice your craft and practice a great deal!
Hard work alone is not enough, however. Talent, passion and spotting as well as taking opportunities also matter.
Y – You are in charge
Your career progression is no-one else’s responsibility other than your own. You set the pace, you decide when to leave a job that you don’t enjoy, and ultimately you decide how much effort you want to invest in your future. With the right attitude, behaviours, skills, experience and support, you can achieve your goals. Take the next step today!
Z – Zeroes and how to add them to your salary
By acting upon this A to Z, you are already positioning yourself for success in your career. It is essential that you continue to work on your career plan. Review it each month and update your 30, 60 and 90 day plans accordingly. Continually look for opportunities and take seriously any that come your way. Whilst it is often easier to stay in your comfort zone, that isn’t the way to progress your career. You will need to take some risks. Some will pay off, others won’t, but you will learn from them!
I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Career Progression. As always, would love to hear any feedback or thoughts you may have.