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1. Know where you're headed
"Spend some time contemplating your career goals," says Crystal Campbell, president of c2 Coaching + Consulting, a firm with locations in Toronto and Ottawa. It's easy to get caught up in other people's definitions of success or what your peers think is best for you, says the professional certified coach. Carefully consider your family, lifestyle, strengths, passions and ideal work environment.
Interestingly for Jennifer Martuo, the business integration manager at Regina's Concentra Financial, a promotion came first. That offer prompted an examination of her career goals, including salary, a title and a more flexible work schedule. Ultimately, the 41-year-old decided the promotion didn't meet her needs: The hours were too long, which would mean less time with her family, and she felt that the day-to-day work would leave her professionally unsatisfied. "Also, I realized that I wasn't enjoying the work I was currently doing," Jennifer says, "so to move up the ladder would have pushed me further away from daily satisfaction."
She continued to work toward her career goals, which eventually led to an opportunity that played to her strengths and better fit her needs. Jennifer so impressed another manager with her ability to learn new skills, adapt to change and tackle challenges that she advanced to a new position developed specifically for her.
2. Have an excellent work ethic
Bosses and colleagues learn a lot about us by the way we handle the smallest tasks, say Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval in The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make All the Difference. "The secret to getting ahead in life sometimes involves changing our perspective from the grandiose and the difficult to the small and doable," they write. "Those are the actions that produce tangible results." Every work interaction has the potential to move your career forward. Kirstine Stewart, Twitter's vice-president of media for North America, and author of Our Turn, advises common sense. "Help others and be gracious and respectful," she says. "Being nice is important and having a sense that you're all in this together." When you're accessible, collaborative and pleasant, your colleagues will be more likely to engage with you.
Good professional conduct aside, one of the most important things you can do is have an opinion—and share it. "That brilliant idea you had in the shower is just as brilliant when you bring it out at the table," says Stewart. "If you keep it inside, no one's going to hear it and build on it or help make it great. You have to be brave and get over yourself."
3. Attitude is everything
"If you have an open and positive mindset, instead of griping or shooting down new ideas," says Campbell, "your aspirations are more likely to be supported." Contribute to the positive morale of your workplace by appreciating your colleagues' work, congratulating them on their successes and building relationships. Maintain a professional outlook, even amid the inevitable challenges of the day, whether it's striving to meet a tight deadline or preparing a critical presentation.
Keep that mindset when it comes to adapting to change. "Employees who resist change may limit or derail their careers," says Campbell, "while those who are more open are considered valuable assets." She adds that, by being willing to try new approaches, you're more apt to get noticed, recognized and rewarded.
While working in the sales and marketing department at Shaftesbury, a TV and
digital content creator, Toronto's Carrie Hayden realized that using social media to engage the public would boost the company's profile. In 2013, she started a personal venture—#52Project—where she created a series of music videos to sharpen her own skills. Her initiative didn't go unnoticed: Carrie was offered a position managing corporate social channels at the company's digital arm, Smokebomb Entertainment. She was then promoted to social media manager, developing the social strategy for all of Smokebomb's digital series.
4. Prove your value
"Make yourself memorable by making yourself valuable," advises Stewart. "What can you do that's even more valuable than what they're expecting from you? Find that thing you have that no one else can bring." In other words, set yourself apart. Push yourself a little bit harder and exceed expectations wherever possible. Get a report in a week early, bring in a new client or mentor a junior employee. And when volunteers are needed for an assignment, put yourself forward—you'll be able to show off your abilities and prove that you're an asset to the company by bringing in dollars, efficiencies or new business. All of this will help make you more attractive when a career opportunity arises.
5 Ask for what you want
It sounds simple, but you never know unless you ask. And it's not just about a promotion or a raise. You could ask your manager:
- If you can write up your ideal job description
- If you're on track for new projects
- About what you need to do to develop your current role
When it's time to discuss your request with your manager, be well prepared. "Think about it from your boss's perspective," says Campbell. "Would you invest in an employee who couldn't speak clearly and concisely about something he or she wanted at work?" Start by expressing gratitude for the opportunities you've received so far. Then, in a professional manner, ask for what you want, and most importantly, make a business case for it. If you're after a raise, for example, be ready with industry research and to outline the ways you've been a boon to the company.
"You have to understand what your worth is," says Stewart. "Don't overestimate, but understand your true value."
And if you don't immediately get what you're asking for? Sometimes, such requests are just not possible. A pre-existing salary cap may mean no pay increases this year, for instance, or your company's slumping finances may have halted any promotions. If economic constraints are a reality, consider reframing your request around the value of your time. Would job sharing, flex time or a compressed workweek add up to more dollars per working hour? Stewart adds that career advancement also depends on what it means to you, whether it's a new title or getting your kid to a recital on a Wednesday afternoon.
Be it a raise or a more flexible schedule, a work request is a negotiation, one that your boss may or may not support. Campbell says it's best not to come to the meeting with a sense of entitlement—it could harpoon your chances of success. And if your manager isn't keen, find out why. "If your boss thinks you don't have the chops to get to the next level, look for projects that will help shore up the skills that need developing," she says. Ask for feedback on how you can expand your skill set, continue to do your best work and revisit your request down the road.
By asking your boss to acknowledge the value you bring to the company, you've
demonstrated dedication, loyalty and a proactive attitude. Even if you don't get what you want right away, invest in some patience—it could pay dividends later. But if advancement never seems to materialize, it may be time to start looking for other opportunities; you'll likely have more negotiating power if there's another job offer on the table. Or perhaps a role at different company, one that truly values what you have to offer, is exactly the step up you've been looking for.
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This story was originally part of "How To Get What You Want At Work" in the February 2016 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living todayand never miss an issue!