Getting Ahead In Today’s Workplace
Job posting: Must have college degree, plus 8 years of experience; entry level position. Huh??? Sometimes trying to move up in the workplace feels like you’re battling to find the right mix of education, experience, timing, and grasp of office politics. You work hard – but it can still be a struggle to get to the level where you’d like to be. So, in today’s evolving workplace filled with multiple generations, difficult work-life balance issues, and complex agendas how is a girl supposed to get ahead?!
You can just be patient; but in my experience that isn’t enough. You’ll find seven tips below to help you get ahead in today’s workplace, followed by our list of five behaviors that may be hindering you from reaching your goals.
SEVEN TIPS – Here’s our list of seven things you can do to get ahead:
Network, network, network! As a self-proclaimed extrovert who’d much rather spend time alone, this advice was tough for me to swallow. Yet, almost every job I’ve ever had has been because of my networking skills. How are you at networking? If you haven’t already, consider joining an organization specific to your industry. There are usually tons of both national and local industry-specific organizations to consider. There are also organizations and societies such as Rotary International that have different focuses (such as philanthropy) but offer great ways to connect to other people and opportunities. But don’t assume networking necessarily requires joining an organization – network among your friends, peers and social circles too! Is there someone at church that knows someone at a place you’re applying to? Or perhaps one of your friends knows the CEO of your company and goes to happy hour with her on Tuesdays. Employers will often place a candidate referred by a known source at the top of their list of potential new hires – even if the source is four connections removed. It pays to network and know somebody who knows somebody.
- Commit to Education and Lifelong Learning
You should never stop learning. You may have years of experience or formal education that qualifies you for a position, but often experience and education alone are not enough to get you ahead. Are you attending conferences that could help further develop your skills? Are there relevant certifications you could get? Are you keeping up with journals and current literature? When I’m interviewing someone, I always try to gauge how current they are in the field. I probe to see if they know what’s on the forefront and consider currency and self-development in my hiring decisions. So, stay current to stay ahead.
- Find a Mentor
Even Luke Skywalker didn’t get to the top without having several mentors along the way. A mentor can be someone who has been in your shoes and is now more seasoned. A mentor can be someone who’s in the position you desire, so they can help guide you. A mentor can even be someone in a completely unrelated field. For example, you may be in the finance industry in operations, but those skills might directly translate to healthcare operations: same processes, different vernacular. A good mentor can act as a sounding board, guide you and help you grow professionally.
- Voice Your Ambitions
“You can’t know what you don’t know.” And your supervisor and others can’t help you if they don’t know your career goals. Have you voiced your ambitions to your supervisor? Do you have a realistic, attainable goal in mind? Are your ambitions concrete or abstract? I have had employees who had great ambitions, but I knew nothing about them. I found myself wishing I had known sooner so I could have provided assignments or projects to help them develop the skills needed for advancement. My own boss didn’t know my ambitions until I sat down and told him. He thought I was content with the position he hired me for, when from the beginning, I saw it as a stepping stone. Make sure you write down your own concrete, attainable goals and target timelines. Make your goals known to friends and ask them to help hold you accountable for taking actions to achieve them. Make sure your boss knows your aspirations and that you’re doing everything you can to be prepared for a future new role.
- Do More
Are you the kind of person who always gets their work done? What else could you be doing? Is there a struggling coworker you could help with a project? Is there some project you’ve been wanting to do? Do it! If you show initiative and are willing to do more, it is almost always noticed by someone. The benefits may not be immediate, but the personal satisfaction and career impact can be huge. When I started at one job, they were still doing everything by paper. Some employees were spending hours doing tasks like recreating lists and spreadsheets, because no one had bothered to make an electronic database. I took the initiative to scan everything in and make easily accessible folders. I can’t tell you how much time this saved everyone! Rather than digging through unorganized folders in file cabinets, we could quickly access the information. So, what else can you do to contribute? Find something, even if it seems minimal to you, and do it.
- Give Credit Where Credit is Due
EVERYONE likes to be thanked. Whether they’re the doorman or the CEO, everyone likes some acknowledgment of the work they are doing. Make sure you always give credit where credit is due and show gratitude. I’m not suggesting that you give everyone an outstanding performance appraisal, or that you offer everyone insincere flattery. But even when a person is just doing their job, simply thanking them for the work they do can make an enormous difference to them. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to do this, but a person who sees “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” demonstrates real leadership perspective. Also, showing appreciation and noticing the work others do makes them like you. Multiple sources have linked a person’s likeability to their overall success. Lovas and Holloway demonstrate this in their book, “Axis of Influence: How Credibility and Likeability Intersect to Drive Success.” Take a few minutes of your time to be courteous and you’ll earn likeability, cooperation, and respect.
- Be Positive and Receptive
Let’s take a step back to Psychology 101 for a minute and think about the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever had a day that started out with a flat tire? Perhaps you complained and grumbled about your bad day, only to find as the day wore on that your flat tire turned out to be just the beginning of your woes. As kindergarten as it sounds, having a positive attitude has a huge effect on how professional you are perceived to be. Not only does your attitude affect you, it will affect those around you. I’m a friendly person and like to have a “go get it” attitude. I get constant feedback from superiors and others about how my ability to always smile and be receptive to change is helpful to the whole organization. For example, once we were given a time-consuming project as part of a new initiative. Several people complained they didn’t have time, it wasn’t the way they were used to doing things, etc. But I knew we had to do the project and pushback wasn’t going to make it go away. Instead, I saw the project as an opportunity and a great challenge for my team to conquer. We were receptive to this change and became the first to adopt it. Now my team is often selected for pilot projects. By learning to become an early adapter, you show employers that you aren’t afraid of change and send the message that you’re innovative and forward thinking. How are you perceived? Are you positive and receptive?
FIVE THINGS TO AVOID – Our list of the five top actions or behaviors to avoid follow:
- Job Hopping
Millennials are infamous for job hopping. Before you switch companies or careers, make sure it makes sense for you long term. Don’t create a permanent solution for a temporary problem. Is $1 an hour at another company really worth the change? Employees often leave companies when they are not happy, without thinking through the possible ramifications. When I see a resume that contains sporadic employment or changing companies more often than every few years, it raises a red flag. Of course, there are exceptions such as while people are in school (when they often have short-term odd jobs) or a during tough economic times (when many companies are going through layoffs). But the rule of thumb is that you need to stick with a position at least two years. If an employer sees that you change jobs too often, it implies that you may have a problem assimilating to different company’s’ cultures.
- Social Media Faux Pas
I like to caution against people posting about work on social media. Don’t EVER post anything negative about a coworker, company or about work in general. Someone somewhere who knows your cousin’s father-in-law’s neighbor who has a connection with your company will see it. At best your professionalism will be called into question; and in the worst case, you could lose your job. If you really have something to say to someone, text or call them directly. Do you really need to let everyone know in 39 characters or less? On the other hand, I often share positive things like vacant positions within our company on our LinkedIn page or articles from our Facebook page. This way people know I am proud to work for my company and want to encourage others to work here as well. Just remember: always think before you post!
- Gossiping and Complaining
In any business with more than one employee, there will be some sort of gossip. Try to stay away from it. The same goes for complaining. If I have two competent employees up for a promotion, but one is constantly complaining about the way things are done, I’ll pick the other employee every time. Everyone has woes at work, but an employer wants to see someone who will try to come up with a solution, rather than complain. Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” This small piece of advice goes a long way in the business world. Often our stress is self-created when our perceptions are tainted. But the only thing complaining will get you in the long run is a bad reputation.
- Calling In
Take this piece of advice with a grain of salt. If you’re sick, please don’t come to work. If you need a mental health day, please take one. However, don’t become an employee who habitually takes off. This makes you unreliable. I once had an employee who I noticed was taking off every Thursday afternoon. She incorrectly assumed I wouldn’t spot this pattern. Upon further investigation, I found she was working Thursday afternoons at another company and had not been released from her non-compete obligation to do so! I have another employee who always seems to fall ill when a big project deadline is approaching. On the flip side, I once incorrectly assumed an employee was supposed to be working when I ran into her wearing a t shirt and flip flops on the other side of town during lunch time. I’ve found honestly is the best policy when dealing with you time. If you’re going to be even a few minutes late or a need to leave a little early, make sure you voice your intentions and you have an open line of communication.
- Being Overly Sensitive
To err is human and work is business. Make sure to keep your emotions in check when at work. Being receptive to feedback, both positive and negative, is crucial for any professional. Do you take it personally when someone points out a mistake? It’s just business. Even good employees can cause issues around the office when they take things too personally. The climate in the office should be that you’re all working towards the goals of the company, and don’t let personal feelings get in the way of accomplishing that.
We can’t guarantee that adopting our tips and avoiding our list of career-killing actions and behaviors will get you in the corner office by next year. But when put into practice, these tips can definitely set you up to be more successful professionally. Let’s chat about your experiences with the excelling as a Millennial in the workplace! You can find us on our free Facebook group, She Leads – Women’s Leadership Development. We can’t wait to meet you there!