There are proven ways to succeed in any job or career, and it is important to understand and use them. Of course, luck and privilege play a big part in career success, but if you follow these basic principles you will be successful in the long run, and you will be a valuable and much-sought-after employee.
1. Competence Will Prevail. Developing skills and expertise is an obvious factor leading to success (so obvious, it’s a “duh” factor). So, it is critically important to get educated, gain and develop skills, get certified, etc., in order to move your career forward and rise in the ranks. But very often, highly-competent people are overlooked, or they are overshadowed by less competent colleagues who are better at self-promotion. In the end, however, competence will indeed prevail. If your competence is not appreciated by your supervisor or current employer, that’s a good sign that you need to look elsewhere – to a job, department, or organization that values competence. In addition, it’s important to engage in self-promotion, but that is #3 below.
2. View Your Job Broadly. Employees who view the scope of their job very narrowly, or who do the minimum, simply won’t get ahead. Try to realize the potential to grow in your job, and understand how your work affects others. The very best workers know their own job inside and out, but they also know how their efforts contribute to their team or department, and they make themselves increasingly valuable to the team and organization by expanding the scope of their job (commensurate with their improved competence -- #1).
3. Learn the Game, and Play It Well. Let’s face it, work organizations are made up of people who are trying to get things done, but who are also trying to get ahead. Self-serving and political behaviors are quite common. Organizations develop rules (often unspoken) about how things are done, and it is important that you understand the rules – the game – and play by those rules. This often involves engaging in appropriate self-promotion, making important connections, and developing and fostering good interpersonal relationships on the job. Sometimes you may have to question, push back on the rules, or suggest changing them, but this should always be done strategically. Psychologist Robert Hogan calls this developing “sociopolitical intelligence,” and it distinguishes those who know how to play the game in order to get ahead. It is very important, however, to play the game fairly and with honor.
4. Prove Your Reliability and Trustworthiness. Nothing is more valuable than an employee who can be counted on to get the job done, meet the deadline, or carry his/her own weight. To maintain your reputation of reliability, it is very important to not make promises you can’t keep or take on more than you are capable of doing. Moreover, always be straight with people when you fall short, and make amends.
5. Play Nice With Others; Build Relationships. Treating others fairly is always important because it is the foundation of a good relationship. Building strong relationships with bosses, colleagues, and those you supervise is essential for getting the work done, but good interpersonal relationships are also important because others can help you get ahead, point out opportunities, and make connections that will help your career move forward.
It is important to mention that there are exploitative people who will not follow these rules, and may get ahead in the short term. Others may simply be lucky or “well-connected” and succeed without competency or trustworthiness. However, for most workers, these are the keys to a successful, and satisfying, work career.
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