Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way from the excellent mentors in my life, and some I just picked up on my own. I now try to pay it forward. I discuss these points with my mentees and interns because I feel it’s important to share my experiences on how things work behind the scenes. Also so they’re not sitting back waiting for something to happen. Overall they need to play a very active role in their career yet it’s not always clear when just starting out.
Promotions don’t come from doing your work, turning a year older or hitting an anniversary
That’s why you get a paycheck. Your paycheck is the reward you get for doing your work each week. This also means being efficient, detail-oriented and meeting deadlines. You can work your way to a promotion by doing more than is expected of you in your role. Not for a day or a week. It’s hard to determine the necessary timeline but you should be working with your manager on a career plan and discuss the added work the associate would like to take on. This means taking on more responsibility, interacting with management and standing out from the crowd. Turning another year older and being at the company for 10 years does not correlate with a promotion either. They’re completely independent of one another. Working up to the next level is how they can move up the ladder.
Networking is key
Internally and externally. It’s really hard to understand how your organizations works, who’s who, and if there are openings in the organization if you only come to work, talk to your team, and go home. It’s important to get yourself out there, join an organized group if your company has them, take advantage of volunteer opportunities and social events. If your company does not offer these opportunities, it’s important to talk to your manager to get something started. Outside of your organization, there are plenty of networking events across fields. I am a part of ChicagoIMA.org and attended many of their events in Chicago. Many industries have events, especially around large conventions. Conventions (especially smaller ones) can be a good place to professionally network and industry emails/newsletters can also be a good way to hear about networking events and stay on top of what’s happening in your industry.
Frustrations can usually be resolved with a face-to-face meeting
It’s very easy to apply a “tone” to an email or IM based on your relationship, or lack thereof, with the person sending. It’s also easy to get trapped in an email vortex on a topic that could have been resolved in 30 minutes if you pulled the group together to discuss. At any point of an email or IM you feel like it’s going in circles…stop. Walk over to the person and ask if you can sit down to discuss or call a brief meeting to discuss. When the in-person meeting happens, it’s important to walk in with an open mind and a willingness to work with the other parties. If tensions are high, try to lighten the mood before starting so everyone can calm down before discussing. This will help with correspondence down the road as well.
Sometimes opportunity needs to be created
Wouldn’t it be great if someone walked into your office and said “hey, I have a great special project I want you to work on. It’s going to make you look like a super star! What do you think??” That’s not usually how it goes. Sometimes you need to create your own opportunity and there’s not one right way to do this, which makes it easier. If there’s something your team is struggling with, maybe you can take on a project of doing some research online, or networking with others in your industry, to see how they handle. Pull together your findings and present to your team and manager. Maybe outside departments are struggling to understand what your team does. In this case, maybe you can host a lunch-and-learn to present what your team does and to answer questions. The possibilities are endless!
Choose your business friends wisely
Did you ever hear of guilt by association? Well it happens in the workplace too. If you choose to be friends with people who do not have a good name in the company, it may reflect poorly on you. Here’s what I mean – if you hang out with people who are known jerks, even though they may be nice to you, you could have their reputation hanging over your head. It’s going to be real hard to move up in a company if you have a bad reputation…deserved or perceived. Also, while we’re talking about work friends, make sure you choose your actions wisely when with work friends outside of work. A pic on a phone or a story can make its way back in the office and can tarnish you. Not good. Make good decisions. The beauty is that it works the other way too. Make friends with movers and shakers in the company, collaborate on projects they’re working on, get to hear their plans and talk about yours because it can help spark new ideas and potentially fast track your career growth.
I’d love to hear what advice you’ve given your mentees and interns over the years. Do you disagree with anything I listed above?