While the primary target for this post is younger professionals, I think the below tips can benefit anyone that is looking to move up in their career. I am ignoring the obvious starting career advice (like show up on time) and going a little further in depth for people who are serious about advancement.
-Don’t think you are to good for entry level jobs – right out of college you have little to no experience, and starting at the bottom is the logical place in they eyes of your employer. Having the “I am to good to answer phones in customer support” attitude will quickly piss off more experienced employees that put their time in and worked their way up. Your goal should be to quickly master the job and prove you are ready for the next step.
-Don’t point out problems if you aren’t going to propose a solution – This one will put you to the bottom of the list when the next job opens up, managers don’t want to hear about all the problems on their team, they want someone to fix them. If you are going to identify an issue – bring a possible solution to at least get the conversation started – be able to speak intelligently about how many resources (hours/money/etc) you will need.
-Don’t waste time – a lot of people will tell you to work extra hours to make yourself standout, it is an “ok” strategy, but if you are efficient with your time you can accomplish a lot more than your co-worker without spending 60 hours a week at the office. Walking through our floor you will see a lot of ESPN, Facebook or even people watching Netflix at their desk – I admit that I occasionally take a mental break – but keep it on a short leash and start pushing again.
-Take on problems other people don’t want or cant figure out – Sure it might take you longer to work out a solution, you might go through less volume, but being able to figure out the tough stuff or resolve an issue for a demanding customer will garner more respect.
-Understand the value your company adds to your customers – This can be one of the more difficult ones, especially if you are not in a customer facing role. Take the time to understand what problem you are solving – to often departments are siloed and every layer between you and the end customer distorts the company goals. Shadow people on the front lines and see first hand what they deal with. If you are in sales, understand what life is like after you close the deal and have a basic understanding of the products outside of the demo.
-Be honest with your boss – If you have the companies best interest in mind (if you are reading this post I am assuming you do) then they should have your best interest in mind (if they are a company worth working for). Who is better to tell them what you want than you? Whether is about your salary, working conditions, or a position you are interested in – tell your boss honestly what you want to accomplish and the path you want to take. Be prepared to support anything you ask for with actual examples that can be supported by facts – “I think I have earned a raise because of X,Y,Z, and it has saved the company X amount of time/money. Try to avoid using the word “want” and stick to “earned”.
-Growth potential over starting pay – When I graduated from college I had two job offers, one was for a very large corporation and the other was for a smaller company that recently went public and only had a few hundred employees. Their financials were showing consistent growth and even though a few hundred employees wasn’t the ground floor, I felt there would be more opportunities in a shorter time frame than working for a large corporation. This decision has paid off over the last 5 years – I am probably still lagging a little in the pay department, but the experience gained will pay off huge later. Be willing to take a little less up front for bigger dividends later.
-Be willing to do the job before you are formally promoted – If you are pushing for a promotion you may have to start taking on the responsibilities before that actual title and pay increase happens. This is especially true if you are creating a new position within a growing company. Not an ideal situation as you are essentially doing more work – or more difficult work – without formal recognition or increased salary. Tough it out and prove to your boss that you are the right person – the rewards will come.
I am coming up on 5 years in my professional career, started out answering phones on our customer support team right out of college and have had 4 different positions since then (with some other ‘senior’ titles mixed in along the way). All of the above tips have helped push me through different stages in my career and allowed me to double my salary in 4 years (as I have mentioned in previous posts, I didn’t start out making very good money). Everything above is important – but the most important one is “Don’t point out problems if you aren’t going to propose a solution” my boss has flat out told me it is the first thing she looks for in employees. At the end of the day – all of this is about making more money so you can increase your Savings Rate.
Action Items: Go through the above list and take notes on the ones you already do – but more importantly the ones you don’t. Start seeking out ways to implement these tips into your work day. Let me know what you think is most important – or anything you feel I overlooked.