Want to grow your career? Don’t work harder, instead, be more strategic.
Are you an ambitious employee who wants to stand out and grow your career? Do you want to work on interesting assignments, produce great results, be recognised and gain more job satisfaction?
Then this is for you. This guide covers 7 strategies to grow your career, and it is not about putting longer hours or working harder. It’s all about having a strategic plan. When you follow the seven strategies outlined below, you will be on your way to an amazing career journey regardless of where you are currently in your career.
Strategy 1: Begin with an end in mind
Why do you want to grow your career? Of course, you do, but why? It helps to identify and to have clear goals at the start of your career growth journey. So start by thinking of your medium-term career goal, one that is within 2–4 years time frame. Where would you like to be in your career by then? What does your ideal role look like? There is no right or wrong answer here. Some might say they would love to work fewer hours, some might say they would like to make a lot more money, some might say they would love to be in a different role and/or a different industry and some might say they would love to be promoted. Be honest with yourself because there is no shame in saying what you want for your career.
Once you have identified your medium-term career goal, work your way backwards until you reach the first step or where you are now. Don’t just think it in your head. Write down your thoughts on a piece of paper so you can refer to it again.
Action: Write down your medium-term career goal on a piece of paper or in your worksheet* and work your way backwards, step by step.
Strategy 2: Become an intrapreneur
Regardless of what your medium-term career goal is, whether it is less working hours, more money, more fame or something else, there is a gap between where you are right now and where you want to be. Therefore, you need to simply increase your value and bridge that gap.
So, the question is, how are you going to increase your value? One proven way to do it is by gaining transferable skills. Transferable skills are the skills or abilities that you have acquired throughout your career and life journey and they are not specific to a particular role or an industry. In other words, they are portable. Top three transferable skills that every company looks for in their employees are:
- Time management
You may already have some of all of these transferable skills, but it is a good idea to further develop and hone those skills. There is no better strategy to obtain transferable skills than to become an intrapreneur in your company. I encourage you to think outside the box to come up with a few ideas that will benefit your company and help you gain transferable skills. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Action: On a piece of paper or in your worksheet*, write down the transferable skills that you would like to develop in the first column, and write down your ideas in the second column.
Strategy 3: Be at the service of others
Whether you are an individual contributor or a people manager, you can be at the service of others. Here are some of the ways:
- Mentor junior members of your team
- Collaborate with peers on a project
- Pick up important but sometimes mundane tasks
- Invest in your team members’ career development
- Improve something that is inefficient, eg: a process, a template, a script
- Be generous with your time and knowledge
Most importantly, always remember to share the spotlight and give credits to others when due. Don’t hog all the limelight to yourself.
Action: Make a list of things that you already do to be at the service of others on a piece of paper or in your worksheet*. Add a few more things to the list and start doing them as soon as possible.
Strategy 4: Find a few champions
A friend of mine, let’s call her K, once had the following conversation with me.
K: Do you know what’s the biggest regret I have in my career?
Me: Sounds serious. Do tell.
K: I thought my hard work would speak for itself. I didn’t reach out to people to support me early in my career.
K’s scenario is actually not very unique. A lot of us think that when we put our heads down, work hard and produce great results, we will be recognised. Sadly, it is far from the reality. Yes, we definitely need to produce great results, but we also need champions to advocate for us, help us raise our profile, and make us visible to those that matter.
Although this strategy is called “Find a few champions”, the truth is that you don’t just find them. You identify them and then build a strong connection and relationship with them. And yes, you need more than one.
Characteristics of possible champions are:
- They have worked with you before, or are currently working with you, and they are in a higher position than you are.
- They are pretty good at identifying your strengths and may have even helped you highlighted a few hidden talents of yours that you didn’t know you had before.
- They want to see you succeed and they understand that everyone needs champions in their careers.
- They are well-respected in their industry.
Action: Identify a few champions within or outside your company and schedule a 1:1 with them. This is the first step to building a relationship, so no agenda needed. You may use the table provided in your worksheet*.
Strategy 5: Back it up with data
Earlier, I talked about producing great results. But how do you know for sure that the results that you have produced are actually great? This is when data come in. Whenever you are taking on a new project or driving an initiative, always, always take into consideration how success is going to be measured. Is it through bottom line? Is it through employee engagement score? Is it through operation cost? Is it through customer metrics? Simply put, your success needs to be measurable and quantifiable.
Don’t know how to get this data? Speak to someone who does, and my next strategy, Be a social butterfly, will come in handy.
Action: Speak to your manager to see if you can get access to important metrics for your company. Is there a Value Driver Tree (VDT), a Net Promoter Score (NPS), or a Balanced Scorecard that you can take a look at?
Strategy 6: Be a social butterfly
This strategy is something I have discovered by accident and I am glad I did because it has proven to be very effective.
I am an introvert by nature but because of my role as a leader, I need to make people feel comfortable as I want to connect with them at an individual level and understand them. The way I do it is by learning to read social cues, mastering small talk (weather is a pretty good topic!) and being approachable and being sincere.
Why do you need to be a social butterfly to grow your career, I hear you ask? The answer is simple; you have to interact with people at any stage of your career and interpersonal skills make the difference between “good” and “great”.
Action: Go for coffee or lunch with someone that works in a different team within your company this week or as soon as possible. Repeat a few more times with different people until you feel like you are getting comfortable with people and understanding them better.
Strategy 7: Never stop learning
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” He said it because in order to grow and to feel alive every day, we need to be constantly learning. So keep your eyes and ears open for learning opportunities, put your hands up to volunteer for assignments even if they are not part of your role and be obsessed with learning. Because that is one surefire way to grow yourself and your career.
Action: Speak to your manager, your colleagues (from different teams) and your team members to see if there is anything you can help them with. For example, does your marketing team need someone to help out at the next trade marketing show? Does your product team need a facilitator for their next design sprint? Be honest and tell them that you are looking to expand your knowledge to grow your career.
*You may download the printable worksheet from my website.