Career advancement: Steps you can take to help your career

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Career advancement can mean different things to each of us. You may be interested in more responsibility or broader scope of duties as an individual contributor or you may be interested in becoming or expanding your managerial responsibilities.


One truism I've realized for in-place promotions in most organizations is that a person is usually doing the job before they are recognized and promoted to the level that is deserved by the contribution. If you are of the mindset that you expect the company to promote you before you perform at that higher level or support that expanded responsibility, you may be waiting a long time for that promotion.

On the other hand, your success in your job could very likely be creating the increased demand for your talents, expanding your responsibilities or growing the company. Once your success has solidified into real numbers, you are in a good position to request a career discussion with your boss.

In the meantime, you can be doing a few things (in addition to great work) that will help you get what you want:

1. Let your voice be heard at least one time in every meeting.

How many meetings are you in every month? I’ll bet it’s too many to count. And in how many of those meetings can you honestly say you added value? If you are silent, you may as well not even be there. Or worse, if you speak up after the meeting—in the hallway, or among your friends—you are actually undermining the purpose for the meeting.

You may not think you have anything to contribute, or you may be intimidated by other people in the room. But the only way to get past those self-effacing fears is to start talking. Knowing you are going to say at least one thing in each meeting is going to make you listen harder, because you are going to offer an opinion, or ask a question.

When you contribute in meaningful ways to daily events and decisions, your credibility grows. You become someone others turn to—and listen to.

2. Get visibility and build credibility by leading three initiatives.

If you are a manager, step up and propose something new. Perhaps there is an archaic process that needs to be overhauled; or a sticky personnel issue that needs a better policy; or a quality improvement measure that needs to be created.

If you are an independent contributor (a specialist with no direct reports), assert yourself and get involved in a project that will improve a product or service or reduces an administrative process. Reach out to colleagues in other areas and collaborate on ways to work better across departments.

Leadership actually isn't assigned to any job or job title. Regardless of your job title, offer to lead an effort to make an improvement—whether it’s on your own job or something beyond your job description.

3. Speak in front of a group at least two times per quarter.

It doesn’t have to be a large group, but standing up and speaking in front of any group is one of the best career builders there is. Perhaps you can be invited to speak to your own team or to a cross-functional team, to share what you learned at a recent conference you attended or to share your specialty knowledge about the impact of a change. Or, maybe you can speak at a department meeting to give a project update. You may be able to speak at an outside professional meeting—introducing the speaker, or announcing upcoming events. Any time you speak, you build more confidence.

If you are a manager or senior executive, presentations are a part of your job. If you are not happy with your performance, do something about it. Resolve to get some feedback and work with a colleague who does it well, to polish your slides and your delivery. You may even want to get some professional coaching to take your performance to a whole new level or join a Toastmasters group.

4. Name five people you would turn to for help if you lost your job.

Having trouble thinking of anyone? Look around…how many of your friends and relatives were caught by surprise when they lost their jobs? They didn’t think it would happen to them—but it did. Be smart and cultivate contacts long before you need them. Start by thinking like you’re unemployed. Who do you know in your field who has a good reputation and is well-connected? If you called a former boss, would he or she introduce you to others and give you a good reference? If you decided to start your own business, do you have any connections to people who could help you?

Reach out now and schedule a get-together for the next month. Find out what they are up to and be proactive about providing them information or introductions to people who may be able to help them. Good networkers know that you should give and you may not ever be able to measure the ROI of giving. Don’t wait until you need help—offer it first.

Successful careers aren’t built by getting the perfect job in the perfect company. They come from taking the small steps, day after day, year after year. When you look back, you’ll see how far you’ve come—even in one short year.

Carl Nielson is a U.S.-based executive coach, organizational development strategist and founder of Success Discoveries and The Nielson Group. He is known for his ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. The Nielson Group specializes in leadership development, organizational change, teambuilding, executive coaching, CEO coaching and team coaching, 360-degree feedback surveys, customized training, leadership teams, project teams, high-potential development, manager skills, team conflict resolution and retreat facilitation.

Contact The Nielson Group at (972) 346-2892, or