I have found that building your career is not just something that happens. It's not something that people bestow upon you because they notice that you're doing a good job (most of the time). There are occasionally those great bosses that notice you're a true go-getter and invest time and mentoring in you. Those bosses are worth their weight in gold, and you should take the opportunities they offer you with both hands open, then be sure to keep in touch when you move to your next great role. It goes without saying you should pay it forward, too.
When you're not being supervised by a phenomenal boss, you have to take control of the situation, and quite often it can feel like a fight. You're involved in a delicate dance that can easily go poorly if you're not careful. You're trying to appear hungry, but grateful for your job. Ambitious, but not aggressive. And when you aren't getting the attention you feel you need, you have to be willing to push without seeming pushy (we all know how being pushy works out, especially for women). How do you know for sure where to stand? I've got a few pieces of advice to share where I've seen this work out well for people:
1. Know your value very, very well. I don't mean this in a fluffy, abstract way, as in that you're a human and deserved to be treated well (although you are, and you do). I mean in a cold, business, dollar-value sense. Know a salary range for what you should be earning based on your educational credentials, experience and skills. Be sure you've reviewed all of your numbers of what it costs for you to do the job (commute, lunch, continuing education to maintain any certifications). Know these numbers like they were your locker combination in high school that you weirdly still remember, because they are the combination to unlocking a strong negotiating position. Just as you need to be armed with information to negotiate a good deal on a car, you must be similarly armed to negotiate yourself. To a business, as much as there are lots of great reasons why they keep you and like you, in the end, numbers are numbers, and you have to speak that same language to expect a balanced conversation.
2. Measure your accomplishments in numbers, and keep track. There are many ways that you contribute to the bottom line of your organization. If you're in sales, it's easy to see how - in fact, your very existence revolves around a set of numbers that tell you the story quite plainly. If you sit in a 'back-office' function, like accounting, for example, it can be harder to see how. If you're a true pro, you know the answers to these questions, so you need to be ready to not just show how you've done your job, but how you've delivered on a critical project, saved your company a bunch of money, or brought an innovative idea to the table. Come prepared to your performance reviews with this information and share it with your manager. Is your company one of those that are walking away from regular reviews? Then you pick a day on the calendar, tell your manager that you'd like to talk about your development, and do so. Bring your own agenda.
3. Declare what it is that you want plainly, and be reasonable. A good first step is being real about what you want out of your career. Don't beat around the bush or be vague. No one can help you accomplish your goals if you can't clearly define it yourself. Make it a S.M.A.R.T. goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. Don't walk in as a recent college graduate with a degree in marketing and ask for your next role to be the Director of Engineering. This makes no sense. Understand what the requirements of the roles you want are before you go in with your guns blazing. If there's no information available for you to read, offer to buy coffee for someone who has the career you'd like, and ask questions. Be willing to learn and listen, then form a plan.
4. Listen and be patient. Once you've laid out your plan, hear what your manager has to say. Be open to constructive criticism. Be ready to not hear an answer either way yet. If your manager is worth his or her salt at all, they're going to need to process what you said before giving a quality response to you. I've seen people be entirely too impatient, expecting they're going to get an unqualified yes and just run out the door, but it never works that way. Everything is a process - give in to it a bit. What you can expect is a follow up, and at least a few concrete details in response, such as developmental action steps, suggestions for further learning or options for a stretch assignment. If you're not getting vague no's, go with it. You may not see where it's going at first, but often you don't see the payoff until you get closer to the end.
5. Know when to walk away. I always recommend that people work together collaboratively with their management to build a good career, but sometimes you have to push back. If you don't get that follow up meeting, schedule it yourself. If you get wishy-washy answers, ask for some concrete action steps. It's not being pushy if you're asking for advice or opportunities to work toward a career goal. Pushy would be demanding money or you walk, demanding a promotion or you walk - pretty much demanding X or you walk. It does work for some people, very occasionally, and not for long. You burn some bridges that way, not to mention quickly developing a reputation. It's not something I advise. But you do have the right to ask for a good faith conversation and career path discussion at work, and if you're not getting it after you keep trying the polite approach, don't threaten to leave. Just leave.
As always, I want to hear from you! If you have thoughts or questions, leave them below.