A guest post from Joel Garfinkle, author of Getting Ahead
“Keep your head down, work hard, and function within the corporate culture and you’ll move up. Most of you know by now that that’s not true. Skills, talent and knowledge can only get you so far. The really good opportunities are not going to go to the hardest workers or to the best employees, but to those employees who are the best at self-marketing. Those who are skilled and resourceful at building their own reputations across multiple departments will routinely zigzag past their colleagues–no matter how industrious they are.
You still need to have the basic building blocks of success: common sense, judgment, energy, interpersonal skills and technical know-how. But like a chemical compound, these building blocks can lie dormant for years, resulting in a frustrating and limited career path. To unlock your career potential, you need to add one additional catalyst – marketing of self.
1. Position Yourself as an Asset
The first thing you must do is position yourself as an asset to your company, not just an employee. Remember–managers still look at employees as overhead. Payroll is a liability, not an asset, on the company balance sheet.
The most important step is to seek assignments to divisions that are actually profitable. In the end, all of your opportunities are generated from revenues. Profitable operations will always get resourced; unprofitable departments will be constantly targeted with budget cuts. In the long run, your opportunities will be greater in profitable departments within profitable industries than they are with chronic money-losers.
You know you’ve become an asset to the company when you bring in more profits or increase productivity by more than the cost of your salary. If you reduce the company’s profits, you are a liability. If you increase them, you are an asset.
2. Increase Your Visibility
There’s an old saying among salespeople: There’s nothing so good it doesn’t have to be sold. Likewise, there’s no employee so good he couldn’t benefit from a little exposure. Seek opportunities to work on projects outside of your department. This will expose you to a wider variety of managers, teams, skills and opportunities. You will gain an appreciation for the contributions of other disciplines and how they interact with yours–and increase your own readiness and potential for management in the process. Don’t wait for your company to select you for management development training; take the initiative to increase your visibility and prepare yourself for your own career advancement.
Find out who the decision makers are around the company. Build yourself a “target” list and move to get to work on at least one committee or special project with every manager or mover and shaker on that list. The more decision makers who know you personally from projects you have worked on together, the greater your opportunities.
3. Become a Person of Influence
The third step is usually the last: Become a decision maker within your firm. It can take a long time to get there. In the meantime, spend your time preparing yourself to be that decision maker. To borrow a concept from Zen philosophy, if you want a six-figure salary, you must first become a six-figure worker. Only then will you be ready to join the six-figure club.
How can you become a person of influence? Here’s how:
- Identify a valuable skill set, and then become the company’s subject matter expert (SME) on that skill.
- Pass that knowledge on. Lots of SMEs get passed over for more energetic employees. Develop a reputation as a mentor and leader and someone who knows how to leverage their skills through the efforts of others.
- Seek responsibility. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Go out and aggressively seek opportunities to take ownership of a project that is within your ability but also forces you to stretch a little.
- Ask for help when needed. Once you’re in a position of responsibility, you don’t want to blow it because you were afraid to admit to a gap in your knowledge. Enlist your mentors, and ask their advice. They’re happy to give it, and they want to help you succeed. That will help you remain a person of influence. And as your mentors move on to better opportunities, they will want to bring known performers with them.
Remember, it doesn’t matter what your job description at work is. You are your own director of business development, and you are your own strategic consultant. Work at advancing your career just as diligently as you work your job description.
JOEL A. GARFINKLE is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., having worked with many of the world’s leading companies. He is the author of seven books, including Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. View his books and FREE articles at his Leadership Coaching website.