No one wants to stand still in a career. The benefits of getting promoted at work are considerable and well understood. Many of us strive to be recognized for the work we do, and for a number of reasons, including:
- Climbing the corporate ladder
- Increased income
- The prestige of a new office
- Improved capacity to achieve results and make the world better.
If you’re interested in getting ahead, then you need to master five timeless truths. These principles apply to every industry. The key here is being able to apply these practices successfully and consistently—especially throughout the obstacles that come your way.
1. Set a promotion goal.
Goal setting is a powerful exercise that helps you translate a general desire to be promoted into something that’s concrete and tangible. Here’s an example of setting a career development goal for someone who wants to move from business analyst to project manager.
Current role: Business Analyst
You’ve worked as an analyst for a few years and have done your job well. However, you’ve started to reach the top of the analyst pay scale, and feel that there’s little opportunity to learn additional skills.
Your promotion role: Project Manager
You decide to seek a new role as a project manager in your current organization. Based on your research, you found that you will need to earn the PMP certification, demonstrate an ability to manage risk, and work with executives.
In many cases, you’ll probably find that the new role requires additional skills and knowledge. Don’t let that fact prevent you from learning and working through the process.
2. Keep your manager happy.
Your manager is the most important relationship in your career. The minimum condition here is to work effectively together and be an effective follower. If your manager is upset or disappointed with you, it will be difficult to win her support for a promotion. Here are a couple of ways to create a strong relationship with your manager.
Receive feedback well. Many managers are reluctant to provide feedback, so make the most of each opportunity (one-on-one’s or job reviews) when you receive comments. For the best results, put the feedback into action and follow up with your manager to show how you’ve incorporated the feedback into your work. And keep asking for feedback. Articles on what makes people successful often point to the fact that respected managers and leaders have asked for a lot of feedback over the course of their careers.
Own your mistakes. Mistakes are impossible to avoid, especially when you’re pushing yourself to complete challenging projects. When a mistake happens, report it as soon as possible and describe how you learned from the experience. On the positive side, failing at something can be the best way to improve your skills.
3. Deliver the goods, daily.
There’s a dark side to setting a career development goal. For example, you don’t want to become so focused on winning a promotion and climbing the ladder that you don’t focus on the job at hand. Keep your eye and mind on doing great work for initiatives that matter right now. These stepping stone successes can add up to a promotion. Here are two simple habits to help you focus:
Get to the office early. In many organizations, arriving early at the office is one of the simplest ways to set yourself apart from other people. If you’ve lost focus, or feel behind on deadlines, review your working hours from the last week and consider arriving 15-30 minutes earlier to work if you need time to yourself prep for the day.
Follow up on tasks. This is a fundamental discipline that’s a crucial part of any successful project manager’s career (and any other role). For important emails and requests, set a reminder note or alert on your calendar to follow up on a request in two business days. Without strong follow up skills, your ideas will never be fully executed, and your visibility will be shrouded.
4. Hunt for problems to solve (and solve them!).
Problem solving is a vital skill for project managers. On any given day, a project manager will face a complicated change request, an upset customer, or a challenging technology problem. Successfully solving these problems is essential to earning and maintaining a strong professional reputation.
To truly set yourself apart from others, you have to find problems and solve them.
Fix a long-standing problem. I recently wrote about starting a summer project at work. Whether you read this article in the summer or not, the concept holds true. Use those down times at the office to your advantage, and solve a long-standing problem. Or, finish up a task or project that’s been hanging around at only 80 percent complete because no one could find time to push through the last challenging bit. If you’re not sure where to begin, start by improving a work process you own.
5. Ask five knowledgeable people for advice.
Asking for specific advice is one of the best ways to use your network to get ahead. In order to receive the most useful information for your role, take some time to prepare. Here are a couple of tips:
Do your homework first. Start by reviewing job descriptions for roles that relate to your goals. During that review, you might highlight a few terms or skills you want to know more about. This information will help you ask better questions.
For example: You read a job posting for a desirable program manager job at a major tech company. You discover that the needed skills include change management and being able to manage conflict. Now you know these are areas for you to develop, and you can ask specific question around these topics.
Ask one question per person. Many experts and professionals are willing to answer a short, focused question. If you’re seeking insight, the onus is on you to ask the question well, which you can do in an email.
I’m interested in preparing myself for a program manager job. In my research, I found that change management is an important skillset. What is the best way I can start to develop that skill?
The basic principles to getting promoted are simple: Do good work, improve your skills, nurture your relationships, ask for feedback, get advice and find a mentor. The trick is two-fold: staying focused on your immediate responsibilities and demands while looking down the road. Balance those just right and you’re on your way.
One of the most effective ways to get ahead in any job is to be an ace problem solver. And let’s face it–there are a lot of problems to solve, and challenge to face when you manage projects. To learn how to turn challenges into opportunities, download our eBook, How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.