We’re often told that the key to get ahead in your career is to keep your head down and work hard. However, if you look around, everyone in your office is a well-qualified, skilled person who’s working relentlessly to get to the next level.
How do you stand apart and get noticed?
Today, it’s not only important to be good at what you do but also become visible to the right people in the right way. That doesn’t mean sucking up to your boss. The key is to position yourself as an expert, so that you’re roped in for all the important events and activities in your organization, and your opinion is sought after by the top people in your company.
It’s about being relevant, creating value for your company and proactively communicating to others in your organization.
Here are 6 things you should do regularly to get your dream promotion, and many more after that.
1. Pick your favorite skill and become an expert at it
Evaluate yourself thoroughly.
- What do you like doing at work? Do you like managing people? Or do you like working with tools and data?
- What roles have you excelled in? Are you good at building teams? Or are you good at the technical stuff like designing tools and processes?
- What kind of projects gets you excited? Are they about Marketing? Software development? Finance? Human resources?
Sometimes, you might realize that there are multiple answers to each of these 3 questions. For example, you may be great with people as well as tools. You may love designing marketing campaigns, as well as hiring people.
The key is to pick one area that you’re good at, that you’re interested in as well as that’s something of value to your company. This will be the skill that will help define you at your workplace.
Once you’ve defined the skill that you want to be known as an ‘expert’ in, you can use it to build your personal brand around it. For example, if you like marketing, then aim to be known as the ‘marketing guru’ in your organization.
However, it’s important to understand the difference between proficiency and expertise. Unfortunately, most people become proficient but are unable to become experts. Being proficient means being really good at a particular subject area. It’s about self-improvement. Being an expert means sharing your knowledge with others in the organization and helping people solve problems. It’s about helping others.
2. Build relationships with the right people
There are plenty of leaders in every organization. The key is to connect with those who are relevant to your field of interest and can help you grow professionally. For example, if you want to become a marketing thought leader, there’s not much use of networking with the CTO or IT head of your company. You need to reach out to the VP of marketing, or the CMO.
Ask them if you can get 15-30 minutes on their calendar to meet them to know more about them. In these meetings, also briefly talk about your background, achievements and ambitions. Also, offer to help them with any of their projects.
Don’t feel shy or awkward. The senior leaders are always looking for ambitious people that can take initiative. Just ensure to loop in your boss about these conversations, so he/she doesn’t feel blindsided.
Once, I volunteered to help out a VP, who was short staffed, to do some number crunching and create presentations, as I felt it will be a good learning experience. To my surprise, he was kind enough to recommend me to other project managers as well as write me a favorable review that helped me get promoted.
3. Look out for projects where you can add value
Always keep an eye out for projects that will help improve your skills as well as give you good visibility. These are projects that help bring about a big change to your company through process improvement, cost saving, increased revenue, or better technology.
You can also come up with an idea and pitch it as a new project or initiative. For example, if you find that your company is lagging in online marketing, then research how other companies are building social media awareness, and present your ideas about how you can do it better.
The more ways you can add value to your organization, the more well-known you will become throughout the organization, and soon you’ll find yourself become the go-to person for that topic.
For example, when my organization was evaluating BI solutions to upgrade their technology, I chipped in, as I was a data analyst using their existing solution and had a few ideas to improve it. The project lasted for a year and I got looped in every email and meeting about the initiative. Eventually, I came to be known as a ‘Technology Architect’ at work, and got appointed as an advisor on many future projects. It propelled me from being a number cruncher to a consultant within a year.
Just ensure that you’re focusing on only one area. This way it won’t disrupt your current work. For example, if you’re a marketing manager, pick projects that are related to marketing – something you’re good at. If you take on, say, finance-related projects, you’ll not only find it difficult to add value but also manage different kinds of work at one time.
4. Set Growth objectives and broadcast it
Whether you’re leading a team or working for a senior leader, set clear, achievable goal for your share of the work. For example, if you’re working on a marketing campaign, set a goal for growing your customers by 14% in 2 months.
The key is to set a number that you can aim for, and measure your progress against.
Once you have set this number, broadcast it to everyone – your team, peers as well as managers. Use it in your business communications such as project documents, proposals, presentations, emails as well as face-to-face conversations and phone calls.
Why is this important?
When your team completes the project, you’ll be known by this number – the person who increased revenue by 15%, or who increased customers by 14%, or reduced cost by $X million.
As a bonus, numbers also help your team stay focused and be more effective.
5. Loop ‘em in
You don’t have to go it alone. Ensure that you regularly communicate to your stakeholders what you’re up to, how much progress you’ve made and what challenges you’re facing. Let them know via email, phone or even collaboration tools like Slack.
Whenever you complete a milestone, let everyone know about it. If you hit a roadblock, reach out to them for advice.
This has a few significant advantages, in addition to improving your personal brand. If you’re going the wrong way, they can give you a heads up. Also, they can share their experience with you, tell you about the best practices and provide useful tips.
6. Take credit graciously
People often feel shy about taking credit, seeing it as bragging. However, to be a successful leader, it’s essential to graciously take credit for your work.
For example, one of my colleagues, when he completed a project, used to prepare a summary deck that reviews the key accomplishments, learnings and areas of improvement about the project. He also used to provide a checklist to help others quickly execute similar projects in future. Eventually, those decks became the founding documents used to design business processes all over our organization and he was promoted to lead an entire business unit.
The path to your promotion is in your control. The key is to become an expert in any one area of your business, and proactively communicate your expertise to others. Don’t be shy. Reach out to people in your field of interest, look for ways to add value to their work and speak about it.