Many employees want to get to the next step in their careers and are frustrated that it is taking so long. They might blame the company, their boss, or others for their career stagnation.
If you find yourself in this position, take a minute to reflect on yourself and your behaviors. Are there things that you are doing that are holding you back from achieving your career goals? Are there also things that you should be doing that would help you in achieving your goals faster? The answer is likely yes.
If you’re in a career rut, consider the following:
#1. You haven’t told anyone what you want
The first step in getting ahead in your career is identifying what you want to achieve and then sharing that goal with others. Many employees are disappointed that their bosses haven’t put them in the positions that they desire but bosses are not mind readers! Next time you want an opportunity, ask for it.
For example, let’s say that you want to be resourced on a project working with multiple business areas but you have never expressed that interest to your boss. You see your boss assigning your peers to those projects and resent her for not considering you.
In your next meeting, tell your boss that working on a cross line-of-business project is a development goal of yours. Ask what you can do to prepare for that opportunity. If you present it the right way, your boss is likely to help you achieve that goal.
I have had three employees in the past year come to me and ask for a specific assignment. For two out of three, I was able to grant their request the next time that opportunity appeared.
By being straightforward with me, they increased their chances of getting what they wanted. Additionally, they demonstrated confidence in their ability to succeed and ambition – two qualities that lend to career success.
The third employee was not ready to be on a project of the size he was requesting. He was struggling to deliver smaller projects. Instead of giving him what he wanted, I told him specifically what he needed to do in the future in order to be ready for the type of assignment he desired.
Although disappointing for him, he walked away with a clear understanding of what was holding him back. If he had not asked for the larger assignment, he might never have known.
#2. You don’t promote yourself
Ask yourself this question, “How does my boss know that I am doing a good job?” Many employees expect that their bosses hear from other people that they are doing a good job or feel that their results speak for themselves.
Truth is, if your boss does not physically see you do well, you are placing your performance evaluation on the belief that others will promote you to your boss or that your boss will notice your results on his or her own. Why chance it? Promote yourself.
Promoting yourself is a skill that many employees struggle to develop. It can feel super awkward to share your achievements with others but if done right, it is an easy strategy for you to get recognized and get ahead.
There are two self-promotion strategies that I have used with my boss and my team has used with me that I think are non-awkward and hugely valuable.
The first, create opportunities for your boss to see you at your best.
If you have a big meeting or presentation coming up, invite your boss to sit in. Let your boss see your negotiation, presentation, or conflict resolution skills first hand.
Many employees make the mistake of only inviting their bosses to meetings for escalation purposes. Those meetings tend to be tense and everyone comes armed with their managers. While these meetings can be a good time to get noticed, it’s not the opportune setting. Take your destiny in your own hands, and create the opportune setting.
Second, let your boss know the next time you achieved a big win for the team or solved a difficult problem.
They will like hearing your successes as an individual because those successes roll up to team or department successes that are ultimately credited to them.
While the best way to share your achievements with your boss is face-to-face, you can also take an indirect approach. Forward your boss any emails where partners have recognized you for your efforts.
I personally forward on great emails my team sends me to my boss, which gives them double recognition.
While the above strategies will help you get ahead, there are ways you can promote yourself that can backfire.
For example, I had one employee on my team who would promote herself at the expense of others on the team. Her self-promotion was always a comparison of what she knows versus what the team knows or what she has accomplished versus what the team has accomplished.
Promoting yourself through comparisons is never a good strategy.
It can make you look cocky when you were going for confident or self-focused instead of team player. Avoid trouble and keep self-promotion focused on your self only.
#3. You’re too quiet
Office visibility is so critical to getting ahead yet so many employees ignore, downplay, or even resent its importance.
When I suggest that an employee become more vocal, I have heard many times, “I don’t talk in meetings just to talk or ask a question just for the sake of asking a question.”
These employees also seem to resent their coworkers who do take advantage of those prime opportunities to speak up in front of the right people.
If you feel this way, you are not alone but you are missing the point. No one wants you to talk just to talk.
If you want to move up or be in a leadership position, you have to demonstrate that you have influence over a group.
You have to show that you can work with others to meet team goals.
If you are silent when given opportunities to demonstrate those competencies to the very people who have the power to move you to that next level, then you are holding yourself back.
#4. You don’t act on the feedback you’re given
A coachable employee is a manager’s dream. The best employees are able to accept constructive criticism, address it immediately, and show improvement to their manager.
You may not always agree with the feedback from your manager, but if you make a concerted effort to implement their suggestions, it will score you major points.
I know it gives me personal satisfaction to see my team improve and grow, especially in the areas that we have discussed.
One issue that I see among the employees I manage is that they don’t always act on the feedback they are given and worse, some don’t seem to capture that feedback at all.
I have made a concerted effort to give clear feedback not only in performance reviews but also in day-to-day interactions with the team. For annual reviews, I collect feedback from partners, other managers, and peers and share that feedback along with my own suggestions for the employee’s development.
For some reason, this feedback doesn’t always “sink in.”
For example, a few months ago, one of my direct reports shared that she wished she received feedback on her performance so that she knew where she stood. I kindly reminded her of the feedback we had discussed in her performance review just a few weeks earlier.
It was clear that she had only heard the ‘good’ from the review and blocked out the items she needed to work on.
Just yesterday, I was discussing the same topic with another employee. He also suggested that he wasn’t receiving feedback on what he needed to improve on.
As a manager who gives clear feedback both formally and informally, I find this trend puzzling.
A Google search on millennials in the workplace will reveal that millennials want constant feedback. As a manager of a mostly millennial team and a millennial myself, I agree with this generalization but I also wonder if the article is missing part of the story.
Perhaps millennials are getting feedback but they are only selectively receiving it.
If you feel that you are not receiving feedback, take a hard look at your interactions with your manager and peers and make sure that you are receiving all of the feedback they could be giving you. It’s possible that you are tuning out or not picking up on opportunities for your professional improvement.
Moral of the story – If you do receive feedback, document it and act on it to show you are coachable.
#5. You don’t look like you have your $H!T together
Presentation becomes more important as you move up the food chain. Managers will not put someone in a position to represent a team, a department, or a business unit if they do not think that person will present the group in a positive light.
Public speaking skills, the ability to write for executive consumption, organization, and a polished, professional look are non-negotiable for most corporate leadership positions.
If you stumble in front of large groups, lack a filter, write sloppy emails, don’t take notes, come in late, forget things, or dress like you’re still in college then you are probably putting yourself out of the running before you even apply for a promotion.
Luckily for you, if it’s just your presentation that is holding you back, it’s a fairly easy thing to improve.
Join a Toastmasters group or ask peers for feedback to improve your presentation skills.
Make it a habit to join all meetings a few minutes early.
Take extra care when crafting your emails and collect your thoughts before you speak to appear polished.
Spend time preparing for meetings, clear your desk, anticipate your boss’s needs, and keep an agenda to show that you’re organized and on top of things.
Lastly, dress for the job you want and not the job you have. Dress one step better than your peers to stand out.
#6. Your expectations are unrealistic
News flash – You likely won’t be promoted every year, get a $20,000 raise staying in the same position, or be given extravagant bonuses in your first year on the job.
Before getting upset about not getting what you want, make sure that what you want is realistic and achievable.
Look around the company and get a feel for the traditional career path of employees. How long do employees typically stay in the same position and more importantly, what skills do they develop to get to that next level?
Many employees falsely correlate length of time in a position with readiness for a promotion. Make sure that you have the skill set and knowledge required for the next level before expecting a promotion. If you don’t know what skills and knowledge are required to get to the next level, ask.
#7. You’re not in a position for growth
Even a rockstar will get stuck if there is no room for growth. Determine if upward mobility is a possibility before getting frustrated with your lack of advancement.
For example, if you want to someday manage a team but you’re working for a small company, then you may want to consider working for a large company that will have more people management opportunities.
If you want fast-growth and changing job responsibilities then you may want to work for a budding company or a start-up.
If you want to eventually bring home a high salary but you’re not working in an in-demand-field then you might want to switch to a different field with higher earning potential.
Employees should always think five years ahead when accepting a job offer to ensure that their expectations for growth match what their employer can provide.
Accepting a position with upward mobility can better ensure advancement and professional development opportunities in future.
The realization that you are in control of your own career path is empowering. Get rid of the excuses, eliminate the ways you may be holding yourself back, and put yourself out there.
You and only you are responsible for your success.
Do any of these items resonate with you? What ways have you held yourself back in your career?
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