Advancing in Your Career
Attaining a career in an industry that meets our passions and satisfies our desire to make a positive impact in the world, takes considerable careful planning and effort. But it is only the beginning of a very important journey in our lives. The next step is advancing in that career – creating the opportunities to build our ability to make our individual impact as part of the greater whole of humanity.
My first piece of advice on how to advance in a career, encompasses that very idea of “the greater whole,” where we think beyond our own individual needs. We need to consider the business that has given us the valuable opportunity to express our best selves, not just as an external opportunity, but rather as something that we own ourselves. If we take this view, then we automatically begin to think about the welfare of the business as a whole, rather than our own individual welfare. Questions such as, “What will benefit this business?”; “How can I spend my time effectively to ensure the success of this business?” or “How is the budget best managed?” will be at the forefront of our thinking.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach, I can share with you the experience of a close friend. After her initial employment in one company for eight years, destiny took her to a foreign country where she was fortunate to gain employment in the same industry that she loved. However, despite her previous experience she had to start at the bottom of the corporate ladder to prove her worth. This was in the early 1990s, at the time of a global recession and with few job options available. Being an industrious individual, she approached her work diligently, always working for the greater good of her department, her colleagues and the company.
When the Head of her department suddenly became ill, and with staff already cut to a minimum because of the recessionary environment, she was asked to take on tasks that were outside of her day to day duties to ensure that the department continued to work smoothly. She was the one asked to do this, rather than other workers who had been in the department for a longer time and, in some cases, were superior to her. Her expert handling of those additional tasks led to her receiving an “Excellent” rating in her annual review. Along with the performance-related pay that applied, an “Excellent” rating was awarded to just one percent of the company’s employees. And it was this coveted rating that played an important part in her attaining a subsequent, more senior position in another department within the company.
Her natural diligence and positive attitude in her career continued to help her to achieve further success. My friend tells me that in hindsight, she can see that it was that one performance rating that propelled her successful career during a time when promotions were scarce. She approached her daily tasks with the attitude of always wanting to do her best and it was this attitude that was recognized by her seniors. In a working environment where she stood out as a foreigner, she was recognized for her positive attitude and industrious nature. And while she was not conscious of what was happening at the time, she reaped the rewards of thinking beyond herself.
The pressing need of any employer is to get things done as efficiently as possible. It is logical that it is the employee who is conscious of the interests of the company, rather than just their own, who will be recognized for advancement. Obviously, the converse of that nature – a sycophant who only pretends to be driven by the overarching interests of the company – does no one any favors. Such behavior is usually very transparent to employers and is something they would not wish to have as part of their working environment.
The other piece of advice I can give concerns assertiveness. There can sometimes be a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive, and it is worth taking the time to understand and practice the appropriate behavior. Being assertive involves being able to stand up for ourselves, conveying our needs and views confidently and directly, while still being able to consider the views of others. Aggressive behavior, on the other hand, takes account of only the aggressor’s views and needs. Being assertive involves people sensitivity and a degree of emotional intelligence, reflected in the ability to manage not only our own emotions but those of others.
Emotional intelligence allows us the confidence to express how we feel, while at the same time being mindful of and appreciating the feelings of others. I can’t stress enough how important emotional intelligence is in the workplace. I strongly recommend that you complete an EIQ assessment to gain a better understanding of your own emotional intelligence, as this can help you to build the confidence to express your aspirations and to be more assertive – rather than aggressive – in achieving your career ambitions.
Someone may be very talented and have the best interests of the company at heart, but still not find themselves standing out from the crowd and being noticed by their employer. One possible solution could be to practice being more assertive in making our desire for advancement known. This could take the form of voicing that sentiment at the appropriate time and to the appropriate authority but can also be very effectively demonstrated by taking active steps to improve and enhance our skills. Academic qualifications not only reflect our intellectual capacity but also our desire for self-improvement. Hence, employers will notice individuals who continually seek to improve their learning in their chosen field. Of course, academic qualifications must be matched with hard work. Many companies provide internal training programs and demonstrating the desire for self-improvement will not go unnoticed. If there are no internal company programs, the completion of external or on-line training will effectively demonstrate our desire for promotion.
Taking responsibility for our advancement is imperative, as opposed to waiting for opportunities to be handed to us. Human Resources departments are there to assist workers and can only help if they are approached. Again, the desire for self-improvement and to be of best value to the company will not go unnoticed. There is the adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” which teaches us that we need to speak up and take action to be noticed. For example, we could be faced with the reality of no natural progression in the department where we currently work. Our immediate Supervisor or Manager may be young, effective in and satisfied with their role, with no plans of changing their career progression – but, unfortunately, providing a block to any natural advancement for those under their charge.
Creating opportunity where others see only hindrance, is often called “luck”. If we’ve been following the steps outlined previously – that of having our key traits and values assessed through Psychometric Assessments and continuously investigating careers for which those traits and values are suited – then we will have a small list of suitable careers. For example, we may not only be suited for a role in Risk Management; a Human Resources role may also satisfy our talent for discernment. We can approach our employer expressing our willingness for advancement, highlighting the lack of natural progression in our current role and expressing a desire to bring our talents to another department where there is scope for advancement. Again, the desire for self-improvement will not go unnoticed and if our solidly excellent work performance is valued by the company, it may very well lead to some opportunity being opened up – either in our current role or in another department.
It may be that there are no openings available in other departments that appeal to us and we become truly stuck on the corporate ladder, despite our excellent work ethic. We then need to begin thinking of opportunities that may exist at competitor companies. I saw this during my time in Canada, where Bank employees took advantage of opportunities available at other Banks. In fact, coming from a competitor served as an advantage in the employment process where the applicant was seen as bringing a fresh perspective, compared to existing employees. And, with any number of Banks to choose from, opportunities were available to those who sought them out.
In December 2016, Forbes Magazine listed ten reasons to change the company we work for every three to five years, not because we have to, but because we want to. These included building a wider network in our industry, becoming more market savvy in branding ourselves and the ability to pick up on new protocols, procedures and strategies. The concept of one career option for life no longer serves current employment paradigms, and it’s in our best interests to not box ourselves into that thinking.
Employment agencies can do the groundwork for us, matching our skills to prospective opportunities while we focus on our current roles. It costs very little to register with employment agencies and it keeps us ever mindful of sharpening our skills to remain attractive in the marketplace. Obtaining an offer from another company can have the effect of highlighting our marketability to our current employer, who may then make a counteroffer in order to retain our skills. Keeping on top of our game is always a win-win scenario.
I can share my own experience of having utilized the services of an employment agency in Toronto. When I had the lucky break of being employed as an IT programmer, as grateful as I was for the opportunity, I knew that I really wanted to be of one-on-one service to the community. I registered with an employment agency which got to work sourcing opportunities that matched my IT skills, but which also involved direct interaction with the public. This involved no effort on my part, and I was able to focus on my existing daily tasks. The agency located employment for me as a network engineer, which involved being in the business community meeting clients. The ability to mix my IT skills with my love of interacting with and helping people led to me founding my own IT company, which in turn allowed me to fund the creation of YourLifePurpose Ltd. I remain very mindful and grateful for the help I received from that employment agency, so much so that I still remember the name of the gentleman who assisted me – a Mr. Daryl Hobbs. Wherever you are, Mr. Hobbs, I convey my thanks to you.
I must also mention the value of networking and making ourselves known amongst the right circles in our industry. Again, emotional intelligence becomes an asset in helping us to confidently speak about our experience and abilities, without appearing boastful or overbearing.
It may seem incongruent to close this article covering advancing in our careers with this question: “Is advancement suitable for everyone?” In reality, not everyone desires or is suited to rising to the pinnacles of their career. Some of us place greater value on seeing our children before bedtime as opposed to working late at the office, which often comes with senior positions. Some of us may not ever wish to deal with the challenges that accompany managing a team. Being true to ourselves is what is important if we are to be truly satisfied in our careers.
Holland, an American psychologist and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, created what are known as “The Holland Codes,” which he categorized as the six personality types of most people. These categories are: i) Realistic, ii) Investigative iii), Artistic, iv) Social, v) Enterprising, and vi) Conventional. The categories can be summarized as being good with tools or machines (Realistic), being precise, scientific and intellectual (Investigative), being creative and expressive (Artistic), being interested in solving social problems (Social), being excellent at leading people and selling things or ideas (Enterprising) and being orderly and excellent at following a set plan (Conventional). These descriptions do not provide an in-depth understanding of Holland’s categorization of our personality types, but they do help us to understand where most people’s interests and limitations lie. For example, an “enterprising” individual will almost certainly be more interested in climbing the corporate ladder than, say, someone who fits the “conventional” category.
The Psychometric Assessments available at YourLifePurpose Ltd incorporate not only The Holland Codes, but additionally, they take account of the nine intelligence types identified by Howard Gardner of Harvard University (Visual-Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Naturalistic and Existential).¹ The Assessments help us to better understand our personality type, providing information that we may already be aware of, but which we never previously paid full attention to. That information becomes a useful tool in charting our career ambitions, however far we may wish those ambitions to take us. As a Leadership, Career and Life Coach, I take pride in not only being able to assist individuals in understanding the careers for which they are best suited, but also being able to coach them on creating that all important balance in their lives – balance between their career aspirations and the value they place on time spent with family, and time for leisure, exercise, prayer and inner reflection. After all, advancement in our careers achieved at the expense of these important aspects in our lives diminishes, rather than enhances, our human existence and the contribution we make to this world.