Today’s job market is fiercely competitive. With the advent of new technologies and growing global competition, companies need to be nimble—and ready to fearlessly embrace change. Everyone from college grads entering the market for the first time to seasoned executives must have a laser-like focus on their careers. I’ve experienced my share of bumps, obstacles, twists, and turns on the path to what I consider a successful career. They may have occasionally slowed me down, but they never stopped me.
These seven bits of advice can spare you some of that. I can vouch for them because I learned them the hard way—through personal experience.
Focus on performance
The best way to move into a bigger job is to perform well in the one you are doing. Many young people are so accustomed to “instant gratification” that they are plotting a move to the next job before they’ve proven themselves in the one they’re in. In most companies, there are about seven levels from top to bottom—but don’t expect to move up a level every year. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wisely said that people need to see the corporate world as a jungle gym, not a ladder. Lateral moves can help you develop broader functional responsibility and or experience in different geographies. Climbing around is sometimes better than climbing up.
Act into your next job
Quietly augmenting your responsibilities in such a way that they naturally overlap with those of somebody higher than you on the org chart is a good way to prepare for your next move. For example, you may be tasked with solving a business challenge for your department or division—streamlining a process, for example, or developing a new one altogether—only to realize it might benefit other areas of the company. By working with your boss to implement it, you’ve essentially taken on a role outside your job description without making an obvious play for it. Your initiative—and new skill—will be taken into account when you’re being considered for a promotion.
Take calculated risks
I can’t overemphasize the need to take risks. If you find yourself with the opportunity to manage a project that could be transformative, do it, even if you’re worried you won’t succeed. The feeling of being “out over your skis” can be frightening, but everybody who succeeds in business has felt it as some point, and it’s worth embracing. Those who get past it keep moving up; those who don’t remain frozen in place.
Being knowledgeable is not the same as demonstrating knowledge. If your boss or your colleagues aren't aware that you have certain talents and abilities, you may find yourself sidelined as somebody else gets the opportunity to put them into play and shine. You don’t want to be abrasive about broadcasting your knowledge, but you shouldn't be a wallflower. Actively look for opportunities to showcase your knowledge and skills.
Be the solution, not the problem
Should a problem related to your job arise, don’t be defensive, and make sure you’re part of the solution. If something you are doing is not working, follow your instincts, acknowledge it, and act quickly to make it right. Waiting will only make it worse. Whether it’s an issue with an employee, a system, a product, whatever—take corrective action, don’t let it fester. It will ultimately backfire and damage your reputation.
Learn from smarter people
Don’t be afraid to hire people who know more than you do. And once you’ve done so, get out of their way and allow them to do great things. If you have a type A personality, don’t allow that to drive your team crazy. Resist the urge to meddle if it is only going to marginally improve a project, as you risk discouraging the very people you’ve hired for their problem-solving prowess. Let them own their projects, and give them a voice in meetings, even if they disagree with you.
Be an Influencer
Finally, become an influencer. This can and should be done quietly, accomplished by actions and not words. Building a reputation as an advisor and problem solver is better than trying to build an empire. With a strong brand, your colleagues will begin to seek your advice, and your influence will grow—along with your potential for promotion. Be generous with sharing your ideas and with giving credit to others for theirs. And make sure what you’re doing is for the good of the company, not just yourself. Believe me, your colleagues can tell the difference.
A successful career is a difficult and time-consuming journey. My hope is that these principles will help you avoid a few bumps along the way.