All too often, people approach their work careers haphazardly, waiting for opportunities to present themselves, hoping to fall into that perfect job, and anticipating that it will be an easy ride to the top. The reality is that managing your career takes dedication, hard work, and planning. Decades of research on the psychology of work behavior tells us the factors that lead to better employment and advancement as one moves through his or her work career. Here are some of the elements:
1. Generate Opportunities. Be on constant lookout for chances to move up in your career. This includes keeping abreast of the job market in your area and exploring job openings, networking with professional colleagues, taking on extra tasks that will get you noticed by your current (and potential) employer. Don’t just sit back and wait for opportunities to come to you – get out there and make them happen.
2. Market Yourself. Engage in appropriate “marketing.” Set up a LinkedIn account or with some other professional social networking site. Go to professional meetings and conferences. Consider joining a professional organization, such as Rotary International. In other words, get out there and present yourself, but don’t “oversell.” Avoid being too pushy or coming off negatively. In all things: Be professional!
3. Interview Effectively. When you get a job interview, prepare. Anticipate the questions you might be asked, and practice your answers. Remember to take the initiative in answering questions by providing concrete information that demonstrates your knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the job. Here are some basic pointers for interviewing:
a. Demonstrate Interest and Energy. Come to the interview refreshed, ready, and upbeat. Do your homework beforehand so that you know about the position you are applying for and the organization. Be positive, and never complain about past employers or jobs.
b. Emphasize Your “Fit” for the Position. Having researched the job, be prepared to demonstrate how your knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics are a good fit for what the company is looking for.
c. Avoid Brief Answers. If you are asked about your ability to do some task, or about what you have done previously, answer completely, giving factual information.
4. Focus on Developing Competency. In the long run, being a competent worker is the key to success. People who can get things done are the people who get ahead in their careers. When you demonstrate competency you will create demand for you and your skills. In fact, recent research suggests that when evaluating employees, supervisors tend to look at two general dimensions: competency and warmth.
5. Be a Good Team Player. The most successful employees are those who can work well with others. Building good working relationships are critical, and it is important that you be willing to “pull your weight.” If your team members know that they can count on you, and trust you, they will speak highly of you, and that can lead to promotion. Moreover, if you end up becoming the supervisor of the team, the trust you have built will pay off in team member support for your leadership and in team members giving you increased effort.
6. Develop Leadership Skills. More and more, organizations are focused on good leadership, and companies look for leadership potential when seeking someone to promote. What are these leadership skills? Ability to make decisions under stress. Helping to set direction for the work group. Mentoring and coaching more junior team members. Taking on increasing amounts of responsibility. Good leaders are also fair, balanced and ethical. They treat everyone fairly. They are also emotionally stable and have a good temperament – they never fly off the handle, lash out at others, or show strong negative emotions. Finally, get a reputation of being a trustworthy, honest, and ethical person.
Follow these principles and your career will soar, and you will be a better person for it.
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