5 Smart Tips to Keep in Mind as You Climb the Career Ladder
While there are many pieces of advice out there regarding on career advancement, following are five concise and easy digestible thoughts (based on my years of experience in MBA Career Services, as well as in HR Consulting). It is by all means not an exhaustive list, but is comprised of some very basic, very necessary components for professional success in mainstream business, as well as resources to help you delve further into the topics.
1. Emotional Intelligence
Wikipedia states that “Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the capacity of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s, emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” This topic is thrown around quite a bit, and people have different ideas of what it means, how to implement it, and how to use it with coworkers and supervisors who might seem to lack it.
It seems to come down to this: those who are able to approach all situations with their EQ — as well as others’ EQ in mind — tend to be able to do many successful things, including gaining valuable buy-in in business situations, better work relationships, and trust from higher level executives. A great book that was recommended by a high-level bank executive is Working with Emotional Intelligence by former New York Times science writer (and award-winning multi-hyphenate) Dan Goleman, who has authored many other books for those seeking career success.
The first sentence of his book mentioned above really sums it up: “The rules for work are changing. We’re being judged by a new yardstick: not just how smart we are, or by our own training and expertise, but also by how well we handle ourselves and each other. This yardstick is increasingly applied in choosing who will be hired and who will not, who will be let go and who retained, and who passed over and who promoted.” Great read for your own EQ as well as working with others (particularly direct reports).
2. Embrace the Chaos of Career
Careers are constantly changing. Opportunities are constantly changing. Opportunities and their requirements are constantly changing. Over the last few decades, the employment and hiring motto has changed from “Hire good people and then train them” to “Seek people who already have all of the training that is required.”
This has created barriers for people to get the jobs they really want as well as a burden on employers who fail to acknowledge this practice as a flaw — and then wonder why it is so hard to hire the right people. A good read on this subject is “The Chaos Theory of Careers: A New Perspective on Working in the Twenty-First Century” by Robert Pryor and Jim Bright. Its message: embrace the chaos, and consider (among all of your options, but in a way that does not dismiss your value) going from point A to B instead of going directly for your prime career target – point B.
3. Embrace the New Workforce
The fact is that the percentage of generations in the workforce right now is shifting – as it always has, by the way! However, leaders who are able to research and understand the needs of each generation and support them in their needs are those who are able to produce the best work and most engaged employees. Most of us have heard employees say negative things about another generation in the workplace without first considering why the difference in workstyle might be different. In general, how people approach life and career has a lot to do with what was happening in the world during their formative years (teenage and early twenties). For each generation, that experience was very different, and has created very different priorities and expectations.
So, do yourself a favor and really dig into this topic to understand how to work successfully across generations in a positive way and provide them incentives that align with their life views and values to create better business results and engagement. There is lots of info out there, but looking at Universum research is a good place to start.
4. Always Have an Objective Mentor – Maybe Even a Few
Mentors can play a critical role in your career success and professional brand. More importantly, you need to have mentors who are objective and somewhat removed from your direct position; managers can be wonderful mentors, but having a broader perspective (as well as advice that a manager might not feel comfortable giving) is crucial.
Mentors can help you see what you cannot, and can deliver valuable critical feedback to help you consider your daily work, career trajectory, and how to handle difficult situations. I will admit that I am completely biased to DePaul University’s approach to this, as I worked there for five wonderful years (!), but their website provides some solid foundation on the topic.
In addition, many professional associations provide mentorship, and you might want to consider gaining advice from those outside of your job function and industry to open up new doors and ways of thinking. (Companies and industries have wide ranges of work cultures, and finding the right fit for you can take some research.)
In any case, make mentorship a regular part of your routine, and set reasonable goals for yourself: perhaps a coffee or 20-minute chat every other week with someone you consider a mentor.
5. Conduct as Many Informational Interviews as You Possibly Can
Informational interviews are basically just you going to another person and asking them questions – whether it be about what they do so you gain an understanding of their career field, or asking advice about specific career topics or advice on career trajectory (and how to get there – so very important! In fact, it is crucial for you to know the makeup of what you need to do in the short and long term to reach your career goals).
One of my absolute favorite tutorials on this subject can be found online; this website is a bit overwhelming, but on the link provided, simply scroll down until you can click on “start tutorial” and then follow the arrows.17