It’s a brand new year, and you’ve decided that it’s time to kick your career into high gear. Whether you’re gunning for a promotion or simply want to improve your performance, these six steps can move closer to your goal.
CHECK YOUR DIRECTION
Before you commit to moving forward on your current career path, take a moment to review where you are. How do you feel about your work? Are you happy? It’s harder to be successful in an area for which you don’t feel passion or a sense of purpose, says New York City-based career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.
“No matter what advice we give ourselves, if we really don’t enjoy the work itself, these tips and tricks won’t necessarily work for the long term. They won’t have staying power,” he says.
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What Skill Sets do You have to be ‘Sharpened’ ?
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BUILD YOUR PLAN
A career plan includes your short-term (three- to six-month), medium-term (six months to several-year), and long-term (five- to 10-year) goals, as well as a list of tasks or actions you’ll need to complete to achieve them, says Cheryl E. Palmer, owner of Colesville, Maryland-based career coaching firm Call to Career. Looking at where you want to be 5 or 10 years from now can be overwhelming, she says. But when you think about what you can accomplish in the next three to six months, it becomes easier to visualize and accomplish, and builds the foundation and direction for more long-term achievements, she says.
“They all tie together but it helps to break them down like that, so that you actually know what it is you’re trying to accomplish and within which time frame,” Palmer says.
Angelina Darrisaw, founder of The C-Suite Coach, a New York career coaching firm, advocates planning quarter by quarter. When you build your plan that way, you can see the natural progression, but it also shines a light on what needs to happen for your plan to be fulfilled, she says.
“You start to make a list [and see] what am I missing, are there any gaps in relationships I might need to have, and stakeholders at work that I might need to be engaging and developing a relationship with. Maybe there are some credentials that I’m lacking, and I need to see if my company has some training that I can take advantage of or tuition reimbursement programs that I can leverage to fill in those gaps,” she says.
UNDERSTAND–AND ENGAGE–SPONSORS AND MENTORS
Finding someone who can give you advice and help you move your career forward can be invaluable–but those two roles are often misunderstood, says Kim Powell, principal with Chicago-based leadership and change management consulting firm ghSMART and co-author of The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors That Transform Ordinary People Into World Class Leaders. A mentor is someone who can give you advice and act as a sounding board with the added benefit of experience. A sponsor is someone who is in a position to take action on your behalf, she says.
In research findings detailed in her book, Powell says she looked at “sprinters”–people who got to the C-suite faster than average. Roughly half had sponsors. “They worked with these individuals thoughtfully. They shared aspirations, not problems. They linked to what was relevant to the sponsor. They made requests easy to fulfill, and most importantly, they followed through relentlessly. Meaning, they’re very reliable. So the sponsor made an introduction or did something for them. They didn’t let that ball drop,” she says.
Mentors, on the other hand, can give you guidance and add an objective, experienced voice to help you make decisions. When looking for a mentor, be sure to choose someone who can devote the time you need, Cohen advises. Even well-intentioned mentors who are too busy may not be effective.
LOOK FOR RESOURCES YOU ALREADY HAVE
Depending on the culture of your company and what you hope to achieve, Darrisaw says it may be a good idea to share your goals with your manager to help you advance your career. “For the most part, most managers do want to see their people succeed and do well and achieve what it is that makes them happy,” she says. “They’re able to look at where you are with a different perspective and can be very helpful in engaging with you in filling out those gaps that you might have. So, making sure that they’re aware of what it is that you want so they can help present opportunities to you.
Palmer adds that it might be time to become more of a “joiner.” If you’re part of a larger organization, look for committees, projects, or task forces you can get involved with. If you’re part of a smaller organization, look for ways to take on new responsibilities and make a difference. She shares one caveat, though: Be sure you’re working in areas that matter to the company and will move you toward your goals. It’s easy to find ways to be busy that either aren’t aligned with what the leadership values or that won’t develop skills or visibility you need. So, choose these added efforts wisely.
LEARN HOW TO SHOWCASE–WITHOUT SHOWBOATING
In order to be considered for promotions or other advancement, it’s important that leaders know your abilities and accomplishments. But, being braggadocios isn’t the way to win. “We call it the self-interest torpedo. If you come across as trying to self-promote, it can be a torpedo from a career perspective. So, the trick around building visibility is really around how you go about doing it,” she says.
Finding the right sponsors who will toot your horn for you helps, she says. In addition, if it’s possible to be thoughtful about the boss you have, choose someone who is generous about sharing credit. Building a reputation for being reliable and for following through was also common among the fast-track CEOs she and her team studied. With the right approach, you can let people know your contributions without overselling yourself.
RALLY SUPPORT AT HOME
One area that rising professionals often overlook is support at home, Cohen says. Putting in more time at the office or being more focused on your career may mean that a partner or family members need to make sacrifices. Discuss these potential changes and be sure that the people in your life understand or work out compromises for work/life balance. Resistance or conflict at home or within your support system can be distracting and drain energy that you could be devoting to your goals.