6 Tips for Advancing Your Career
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WomenWerk welcomes Kelechi Okere, Regional Sales Director at Elselvier, as our guest blogger for the week. Kelechi started his career twelve years ago at the lowest level in the North America sales department of the global science, technical, and medical information company Elsevier. He has spent the last seven years of the twelve as a regional sales director, where he has managed teams with as many as ten direct reports and another seven indirect reports. He states, "What led me to my current role is a combination of sheer luck and exhibiting the right behaviors to achieve results. Advancement has been a byproduct in my view. Along the way, I have noticed interrelated behaviors that when practiced well, have helped me and other people advance." Kelechi shares his advice for career advancement below. Enjoy!
When we let our interests and natural inclinations drive our job choices, it releases not only our creativity but also self-motivation to do well.
1. Pick positions based on interest, not just money or title
When I interview people, in addition to basic qualifications, I check for interest and motivation in applying for the position. Next I check for natural inclinations towards what the company does and of course what the role requires. This is because when we let our interests and natural inclinations drive our job choices, it releases not only our creativity but also self-motivation to do well. The work in itself can become a pleasurable experience. Work that only satisfies the need for a big paycheck and fancy title without offering meaning or a sense of purpose leads to low satisfaction and lack of drive to attain more responsibility. I disqualify candidates who cannot identify a connection to the work. Further, I assess whether the person has the potential to be promoted to at least one position above the one for which I am hiring him or her.
Be creative in how you apply your training. The well-defined traditional roles for your degree are not always the ideal avenues to apply your training. I applied for a job at Elsevier because even though my undergraduate degree is in psychology, with a minor in biology, I was interested in publishing. Elsevier met both my curiosity in science and publishing.
Lastly, be willing to evolve your job choices as your interests evolve or mature. A good friend was trained in public health at the BA and MA levels. While doing public health research for two major city health departments, she realized she had a love for data and marketing. She went back for a second MA in statistics while also developing the interest in marketing on the side. She now works in segment marketing at a major company, which is a very analytical side of marketing.
Delivering consistent high quality results is the unequivocal baseline for advancement.
Delivering consistent high quality results is the unequivocal baseline for advancement . The definition of solid performance varies from organization to organization. Find out what it means for your organization. I found out early that the important things to my organization were deeply understanding the total business beyond sales, customer satisfaction, mutually beneficial contract renewals, exceeding new business targets, developing people – whether peers or more junior colleagues, and showing that I am a good and organized planner.
Demonstrating self-leadership is also key to getting noticed as an employee with great advancement potential. When I interview candidates, I also assess whether the candidate has the potential to be promoted to at least one position above the one for which I am interviewing him or her. Good organizations ask managers to hire their potential successors. What helps me assess potential for advancement are choices the candidate has made up to that point in his or her career, the person’s creativity and ability to think for him or herself, track record in initiating and effectively executing projects whether at work or outside of it, and history of results.
2. Learn your role better than others
It follows that when we are interested in something, we want to learn everything about it. Learning your role better than others earns you the respect of your colleagues and others whom your work touches. You cannot cut corners or learn just the bare minimum to do the job, you have to push yourself If you have picked a job that satisfies your curiosity, this becomes easy, a personal challenge even .
One of the chapters of the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi talks about learning your job so well that you turn yourself into an information center for others. As such you become a known expert in your group; known experts get noticed and promoted to higher positions of responsibility and influence.
The easy way to get to this is to pick at least one thing new every six months or a year that you will challenge yourself to master. Take on extra projects through which you can acquire skills plus internal and/or external exposure. Be strategic in your choices and find opportunities to share your knowledge; e.g. speak up in meetings, embrace opportunities to present to colleagues or simply send information to colleagues, including managers, you think they would find useful.
Good organizations ask managers to hire their potential successors.
Depending on your relationship with your manager, ask his or her permission to talk to their manager about your future with the organization.
4. Identify your next role and work towards it
During our annual performance review meetings, I ask each person on my team to identify their next role. My manager also asks me to do the same. Identifying the next one or two roles is not easy for most people. In fact, I get deer-in-the-headlight stares from some people when I ask the question. Some people will tell me that they are only concerned with doing their current role really well and then see what happens. This is misguided thinking and I tell them as much; Each person’s current role more than a means to a paycheck but a purposeful step in the journey to advancement.
Having identified your next desired role, do an honest assessment of your skills gaps for both your current role and the next one. Talk with your manager about filling those gaps. This will show that you are self-aware and proactive about reaching higher levels of performance. It will also aid your manager in guiding the development of your skills.
Depending on your relationship with your manager, ask his or her permission to talk to their manager about your future with the organization. This takes a lot of courage but if you are a consistent solid performer, it is your rightful question to ask. The answer you get will let you know whether they have thought about your future and whether they will invest in your growth. Provided that you are consistent solid performer, if it is clear that they will not invest in your growth, you should ask why before deciding whether to leave or stay.
5. Be honest with yourself
Career advancement often means accepting higher levels of responsibility, including managing people. I also like to say that it means showing a higher tolerance for pain than the average worker. You have to be honest with yourself and intentional about wanting to advance to higher levels in your career. If advancement at your organization involves managing people, you have to be honest with yourself about whether you like being responsible for other people’s actions. More important, you have to be honest about whether you will enjoy it. If you are already a manager, you would then have to decide whether you will enjoy high stakes office politics if you aspire to move up.
Being honest with yourself about these things ensures that you own your decision on which way to go and how to prepare yourself for it.
6. Build internal and external networks
Advancement is truly about who you know and who your sponsors are. I said earlier that performance is the baseline, your network vis-à-vis your likability quotient is the spring board. Organizations are inherently political and you have to learn to play the politics. People skills matter a lot. Managers, whether at middle or senior levels will not promote people neither they nor anyone in their trusted circle knows. High stakes positions require people who can be trusted to perform and to align completely with the leader’s vision and strategy.
Ask your manager for extra assignments that helps the department and also exposes you to outside groups. Periodically look at your organization’s org chart to understand the structure and who does what. Ask leaders in the departments you would like to join or people in positions you would want to have lunch and tell you about their work. In general, get people in other departments to know you – not as a social butterfly but as someone with a curious mind.
A friend whom I will call Kenny was once told that in order to move up from his director level position, he needed to raise his profile with people who reported to the CEO – a level above his manager. He was told that people do not just raise their hands when positions become available and hope to get them. They get hiring managers/executives to know them, their interests and capabilities so that when they are thinking of creating new positions or filling open ones, the people who are well networked are thought of first and approached before the obligatory posting of the positions.
Because Kenny is a solid performer, he received valuable coaching on how to have career advancement conversations with senior managers. Advancement is now a matter of him choosing which available positions interest him versus blindly applying to open ones. See the difference?
Good luck climbing and see you at the top.
Share your thoughts below.
High stakes positions require people who can be trusted to perform and to align completely with the leader’s vision and strategy.
Career advancement often means showing a higher tolerance for pain than the average worker.