You could look to rely on lady luck. Or you could try to actively manage your career development.
Not only can this thinking put you in a healthier position than those peers that simply drift along, it can also give you a stronger sense of job security.
Here’s an approach that covers four key areas you should always be looking to improve to support your advancement.
To remain relevant in your industry, you must stay up to date with the technical skills required to do your day job well.
In some roles it’s obvious. If you’re a software engineer that doesn’t keep up with the latest system upgrades it will become apparent quickly. The same could be said if you’re a risk management officer that hasn’t read up on regulatory changes.
But if you’re in marketing, are you up to speed with the everchanging social media landscape? If you’re a tutor, have you embraced new approaches to teaching?
The important thing here is to not just rely on training provided by your company, or things you’ve learned in the past. It’s for you to seek out ways in which to improve your skills. That could be in the form of earning an extra qualification, or simply signing up for an online course. It’s your responsibility to make sure you have the right skills for where you are and the right skills for where you want to be.
Regardless of the role, you must know how to communicate. This isn’t about doing TED talks to full auditoriums (unless that’s the line you’re in).
It’s simply about being able to transmit whatever message you have to whoever your target audience is.
This covers a lot: speaking up in a meeting, creating a marketing email, presenting to your team, writing copy for a sales document, knowing how to negotiate, writing an interesting tweet, teaching someone how to do something, putting together a report…The list goes on.
If you feel you are falling short, look for courses that can improve the skill and seek out ways to practice. Toastmasters is a great way to practice public speaking, for example.
Don’t forget that communication also includes language. So, if there is a prerequisite for fluency in English, Cantonese or Mandarin, whether in written or spoken form, make sure you keep your competency updated.
The better you are across communication areas, the more impact you will be able to have in your role.
You don’t need “Manager” or “Head of” in your title to show leadership. If you can find ways to run a project or to start up an office recycling initiative, for example, you are demonstrating the right qualities.
Why is this important?
If you are hoping to be promoted into a position of responsibility, it’s vital that you show your bosses you have what it takes. When opportunities arise to lead, take them. If the opportunities don’t exist, create them.
It’s a way of building trust with management, it shows your capabilities and it lets them know that you can take the initiative. It also shows an ability to plan and think strategically.
Remember, this is all about showing the value you can bring to an organisation. The more value you can show, the better positioned you are for promotion. You’re also less likely to be culled if the company is looking to cut staff numbers. And if you’ve had enough of the corporate world, any leadership skills you learn on the job can always be used to build your own enterprise.
Networking is possibly one of the most underappreciated career skills.
Don’t forget the fundamental rule of business: “People do business with people they know, like and trust.” So, to get ahead in your career, you must learn to connect with people on a human level.
This isn’t just about going to scary networking events, throwing business cards around like confetti. It’s about relationship building.
It may well be through external gatherings. It could also involve building rapport within your current company, particularly if it’s a large organisation. Getting to know people in other divisions could open doors for you in the future.
You’ve also got to make the most of online networking opportunities, building your brand and connecting on sites like LinkedIn. This is vitally important if you want to be visible to recruiters or to potential future employers.
But don’t just network with people in your industry. For example, if you’re in real estate, see whether there are ways to connect with mortgage providers or interior designers. You may be surprised by the value you can extract from building professional relationships with those in different, though complementary, fields.
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Remember when you were still in school and everyone’s giving you unsolicited career advice? How much of it end up actually being useful right now?