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Small steps, big career changes
While grand gestures like moving to an undesirable location for a important assignment or leading a long-term project that no one else will touch might help you get ahead, there are smaller measures you can take to impress those who are in a position to help you move up. Here are some little things you can do that may add up to a big difference in your career.
You may have the greatest boss in the world, but that doesn’t mean he or she can read your mind. “Your boss has to know your intentions,” says Donald Asher, career consultant and author of Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why. This means being up-front about your career ambitions, professional development goals and general expectations of your employer.
“I think straightforward works great,” says Asher, who believes that managers appreciate this approach, too. When a position becomes available, “If you’re the boss, you go to the people who want to move up first,” he asserts.
You may be the smartest member of your team or the most experienced one working on a given project, but if your words are obscured by irritating speech habits (like, um, you know) or a thick accent, it won’t matter.
“That can really hurt [a] career,” says Marty Nemko, career coach and author of seven books, including How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. “The great manager inspires his or her employees,” he says. But if your team can’t understand what you’re saying, they may only be motivated to tune you out.
Nemko advises working with native speakers to help neutralize an accent. First, record them speaking words you especially struggle with. Then listen closely to how they pronounce those words and practice saying them yourself. The same can be said for other speech patterns. Listen to yourself, or have a friend listen to you, and take note of how many times you’re inclined to use “um,” “you know,” “like” and other filler words, then go back and try again. It’s a simple—and inexpensive—measure you can take that can make a big impact on how well you communicate with colleagues. “This is a pretty easy way to make an big difference in your career,” Nemko says. For more extensive help in this area, look into joining a Toastmasters group in your area.
“When you need to learn something, one way, of course, is to take a class,” says Asher, “but there are some other [ways that] people often overlook.”
Like what? Vendors can often offer educational resources for new technology, such as hardware, software, equipment or new ways of doing things that they may be selling to your company. “You can often get vendors to pay for your training,” he explains. “It’s the easiest, quickest, fastest way.”
If that doesn’t work, he suggests attending professional association lectures or workshops to get up to speed quickly on a hot topic that might be relevant at the moment in your field or industry. “You can go to a 45-minute class at a conference and get almost everything you need to know” about the subject as it relates to your job.
Not everyone is a natural-born networker. While some people can glide into a room full of strangers and charm them with their smile, handshake and pithy elevator pitch, others are so awkward at these gatherings that their discomfort is palpable to everyone around them.
Luckily, technology has blessed introverts with a painless way to schmooze. “The best thing you can do if you’re an introvert is to learn the art of online networking,” advises Nemko.
How? Nemko recommends searching online to find articles that will teach you how to use professional networking sites to your greatest advantage. It’s not only easy to do, but it’s quick and efficient, too. “An article is the distilled wisdom of an expert that you can read in five minutes,” he says.
Doing so can teach you, among other things, “how to make great posts on forums on professional association [websites] and the art of becoming a LinkedIn ninja,” adds Nemko. With a little effort and an Internet connection, it turns out you can make a great impression on the outside world without even putting on a suit or fumbling your way through small talk.
Keeping your nose to the grindstone and focusing on your work is great, but if that’s all you do at the office, you risk isolating yourself in your organization or industry. This can backfire if you ever find yourself in need of guidance or assistance. Asher’s advice? “You need to make friends before you need friends,” he says. “A lot of people have a career crisis before they reach out to their network.” If you haven’t taken the time to build one, that may leave you to go it alone when you really could use the support of colleagues to navigate any hurdles.
Reaching out doesn’t need to be complicated or intimidating. It can be as simple as eating your lunch in the break room one day a week instead of at your desk or walking down the hall to speak with a co-worker sometimes rather than sending them a quick email. Over time, these acquaintances may become useful allies at work, which benefits all parties.
Making connections at work may also help you get the plum promotion you’re after. “Every organization has key influencers,” says Nemko. This isn’t necessarily a C-suite executive. “Sometimes it could be the admin who gets all the inside information,” he says.
The important thing is to identify these influencers and find ways to make connections with them. Take the time to ask someone about their day, discuss an industry-related article you read or inquire about a project they’re working on.
“If [it’s an individual] four levels higher than you are, it’s still fine,” insists Nemko. “Make a point of running into them in the hall or the elevator.” Then introduce yourself, express interest in their work and offer your assistance should they ever need an extra pair of hands during an especially busy time. “Do what you can to build relationships with them,” Nemko urges.
With a little effort, a lot of resourcefulness and a dash of common sense, you can take everyday interactions and turn them into major career boosters.