10 Ways You Can Advance Your Career

The future is still very uncertain, but even in the best of times great careers don’t happen by accident – to advance your career, a successful career is a journey that requires work and consistent management.

By Julie Norwell

Workers can take heart from the economic outlook for 2021, which keeps improving the further into the new year we get.

The Covid pandemic forced businesses across the globe to re-evaluate their strategies, methods of operation, and values to stay relevant. Individual workers should do no less. That’s true whether you are actively looking for a job or carefully navigating a turbulent time.

Here are 10 ways you can set the table to advance your career now or at some point in the future.

1. Get Clarity

Many people find themselves in the throes of a career change as a reaction to some event in their lives. Your company merges and your position is eliminated, you’re passed over for a promotion, or maybe you have a family crisis. Others are victim to slow-growing dissatisfaction – perhaps due to new management that takes the company in a direction you disagree with or boredom.

Whatever the trigger, being on your heels is never an optimal way to start a job search. Periodically, it’s good to step back and reflect on your career and life before something makes you head for the door.

Take time to re-evaluate your accomplishments, values and goals. Understanding what you want from your career and your life offers invaluable clarity on your next steps. Only after you have taken stock of yourself and your dreams can you make informed decisions about how best to manage your career effectively and achieve your goals.

2. Make a plan

It’s shocking how many people fall into their careers by accident, not by design. Once established, even fewer think much about where their career paths are taking them. But identifying your goals and then creating a roadmap to realize your vision is a simple, yet excellent, way to advance your career.

3. Play to your strengths

Students of economics understand that companies that can make a product or service more cheaply, more quickly, or more appealingly than rival companies enjoy a competitive advantage in the market. In the same way, workers have a competitive advantage in the labor market when they play to their strengths.

If you know you’re driven and competitive, for example, you may thrive in a sales role where you can let your ambitions run loose. Naturally, you need to know what your strengths are and tailor them to your employment circumstances.

This all might sound obvious, but playing to your strengths is sometimes tricky. Take Matt Fretwell, who knew his strengths and interests: community outreach, public speaking, strategic organization, and leadership. He found fulfillment exercising these strengths in various jobs throughout his career – but he did the jobs simultaneously.

Before he turned 50 years old, Matt was burned out.

To resolve the situation, Matt found a role at one company where he does incredible work by channeling all his strengths. Today he is thriving – and so is his company.

4. Improve your weaknesses

The critical skills required to compete in today’s rapidly evolving business world are numerous, and new ones appear all the time. The importance of upskilling has been ramping up for years, and the pandemic put it on steroids. So, beefing up areas of weakness and learning new skills is not only an effective way to advance your career, it’s also a means of future-proofing your career.

What skills should you improve? That depends on you. They might range from hard skills, like video conferencing and collaboration software, to soft skills like adaptability or emotional intelligence. All of which became high demand skills during the pandemic.

5. Build, nurture and leverage your network

As many as 85% of all jobs are landed through personal contacts. That fact alone makes your personal network your single most indispensable tool during a job change. But a network is so much more valuable than a mere job-seeking resource. Your network represents a body of relationships that can also offer mentors, advisors, and bridges to any number of career-boosting opportunities.

No matter what industry you are in, developing a strong network is the most important way to advance your career because you never know where a new opportunity might arise. The more lines you have in the water, the greater your options.

Where many people falter, is maintaining their networks. Relationships develop over time and must be nurtured. Sometimes reviving old relationships turn out to be the golden ticket to a great new opportunity, as it was with Kwasi Asare.

Get in the habit of deliberately helping others when they need it. The day may come when you need help, and paying it forward to people before that day will prompt them to be there for you when it’s your time of need.

6. Become the go-to person for something

An excellent way to advance your career is to become a go-to person, especially for people senior to you. How? By knocking it out of the park on everything you are asked to do. By raising your hand when additional jobs come up, especially the dirty or hard ones.

People will come to think of you as the person that gets things done. And, eventually, your name will be the first one that pops to mind when someone you know is contacted by someone she knows who is looking for an excellent candidate for something – a role that could be a promotion or a great new job.

7. Develop your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a valuable asset in the workplace an increasingly critical skill by employers. The World Economic Forum even ranked it as one of the top 10 skills in 2020 in The Future of Jobs report – a skill that didn’t even make the top 10 list for 2015.

Emotional intelligence is the intersection of emotions and intelligence. It is the ability to recognize one’s own emotions and the emotions of others and to use the information in a way that is productive and beneficial to relationships and circumstances. A majority of employers value it over IQ in employees. Why? Because hiring managers know that people with high emotional intelligence make good decisions, handle change well, respond well to feedback, and are able to effectively solve problems. They stay calm under pressure, support their co-workers, and cultivate relationships that help to create productive work environments.

8. Take a risk

Taking risks is scary, but sometimes it is exactly what you need to do to advance your career. That’s true whether you’re employed or not. Reach assignments that put you out on a limb risk ending badly but, done well, they could also catapult you to higher ground.

Unemployment is sometimes an easier time to take a risk – to consider a transition that you might not have before. That’s exactly what happened to Tracy Katz, who went from her role as a senior operations manager at a regional bank to a fulfilling career as a trainer of bank operating systems. Or Chris Burger, who went from being a global director of sales at a large company to a small startup.

9. Record your successes

A simple, but often overlooked way to advance your career is to regularly record your achievements at work. It’s a small action, but more useful than you’d think. People are busy. It’s hard sometimes to recall what you had for lunch the day before, let alone what you did six to twelve months ago. So, logging your achievements serves to help you remember them when your performance review comes around. This alos helps to remind your supervisor of them. In addition to making a case for a positive review, you also demonstrate to your supervisor great organization skills.

10. Invest in yourself

Investing in yourself means recognizing and mastering new skills and strategies that can give you a competitive edge. It might also mean bringing in professional help, like a career coach. Yes, you’re smart, talented, highly educated, and you have years of professional experience behind you. But consider that even professional athletes use trainers and talented writers use editors to stay at the top of their games. So, why not you?

Strategic investments in yourself, as in business, yield increasing returns. These can be measured as a successful career.

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