Your Career Success Playbook

10 steps to effectively manage your working career.

Posted Dec 15, 2020

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. A wise colleague once told me, “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. In other words, don’t just sit back and wait for opportunities to come to you — get out there and make them happen.

2. Market Yourself. In order to find career opportunities, it is very important that you 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. Of course, it is critically important to not “oversell” yourself and to avoid being too pushy or coming off negatively. In all things: Be professional!

3. Interview Effectively. When you get a job interview, there are certain steps to follow. First, 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. For example, for the question, “What have you done in the past that demonstrates initiative and/or creativity?” You should talk about past projects or programs you worked on, provide details about what you did, and indicate the success of your efforts. 

d. Ask Good Questions About the Position and Company. This will both demonstrate that you did your homework, and show that you are seriously interested in the job. It also suggests to your potential employer that you will “hit the ground running.”

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 yourself and your skills.

5. Take Initiative. Rather than waiting to be told what to do, analyze the situation and anticipate what needs to be done. Get approval (if necessary), and then go do it. I often say that the very best employees — the ones who get ahead are “entrepreneurial.” That is, they develop projects or programs that didn’t exist before, but that help move the department or organization forward.

6. 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.

7. 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 the direction for the workgroup. Mentoring and coaching more junior team members. Taking on increasing amounts of responsibility.

8. Strive Toward Continuous Improvement. In the same way that you should build leadership skills, you should look toward continuous improvement in all facets of your work. If your company has an employee development budget, take workshops and courses (or seek out some of the free workshops to learn new skills — computer skills, management techniques, technical and people skills, etc.). Always work toward improving yourself.

9. Take Calculated Risks. Sometimes, the only path to success is to get off of the safe path and take a risk. That may mean leaving your current job to take on one that has more risk, but perhaps bigger long-term payoffs.

10. Be Fair, Balanced, and Ethical. Virtue is important. What that means is that you want to be the kind of employee who treats everyone fairly. Get a reputation for recognizing others’ contributions and giving them credit Employees who get ahead are also emotionally stable and have a good temperament — they never fly off the handle, lash out at others, or show strong negative emotions. Keep your emotions under control at all times, and express emotions appropriately. Finally, get a reputation for being a trustworthy, honest, and ethical person. Don’t take shortcuts if they lead to diminished quality. Make sure that you always do the right thing.

Follow these principles and your career will soar, and you will be a better person for it.

References

Riggio, R.E. (2020). Daily Leadership Development: 365 Steps to Becoming a Better Leader. Barnes & Noble Press.