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Career Growth: How-to

August 11, 2019

While we all expect different things from our working life, at some point most of us are looking for advancement. I speak with many professionals looking to grow. I want to share some insights into building your path for growth, some successful and unsuccessful strategies, and when it might be time to make a change.

The first step is to get yourself into a growing company. A firm where revenue is growing. Growing revenue means new roles will open down the road.

Then chart your path for growth:

  1. Grow within your company
  2. Move to a new brand
    • Lateral to a growing brand that will give you growth down the road
    • Advancement, to a lateral or smaller brand

First we will talk about internal growth, then external. Below are some steps and insights for laying the foundation for internal growth. 

Build your network

Most of your success in your working life will be determined by your relationships. Think of your professional relationships in 4 groups: direct superiors, colleagues, extended superiors, and industry, in that order.

1st, build a strong working relationship with your direct boss. Get a thorough understanding of their expectations of you, and consistently exceed those expectations. Check in regularly for feedback and action on it immediately. Regularly ask for how you can help them more. Get to know their role well so you can start to anticipate needs before they even ask. Don’t wait for them to initiate these conversations, take the initiative yourself.

2nd, build a reputation with your colleagues as an effective partner who can be relied upon, and who people like working with. When open roles come available, they are going to be asked about you, be sure everyone is saying good things. 

3rd, be sure other executives outside of your direct boss know you. Say hello in the hallways, invite them to coffee, share insights you may have that relate to their roles. Be sure the HR leaders know you too.

4th, build relationships outside your firm. Attend industry-networking events, leverage your personal relationships to meet others. Also, get networked with recruiters in your industry and go on interviews every-once-in-a-while just to explore the market. Also, consider exploring adjacent industries as well for the best overall insights. 

Exceed expectations

An obvious one, but do an outstanding job in your current role! Get an understanding of what a next role may be and start doing part of that job too. And importantly, don’t keep your successes a secret – speak up in meetings, send recap emails when you close a project, and copy some other senior colleagues when appropriate. 

Make your advancement goals known

Your boss should know you are looking for a promotion after a reasonable amount of time (1.5-2.5 years). So should your boss’s boss and HR. (Don’t assume the message is getting passed on.) Critically, you shouldn’t be pushy about this. Just be sure they know you are excited about and focused on continuing to learn and grow in your career. If you start threatening to leave, that’s generally not a recipe for success.

Don’t always jump ship with everyone else

One good way to grow is to take your boss or colleague’s role when they leave. I know it can be scary when lots of people start to leave a firm, but it’s not always a negative. These vacancies can present excellent opportunity for you if you stick around long enough (and the company remains solvent).

Know your value

I suggest staying loosely active in the job market always, even if it’s not the ideal time to depart.  This will give you ongoing insight into industry movement, new roles you had never thought of for yourself, and compensation ranges. All are invaluable insights for good career planning.

Have reasonable expectations

I met a candidate recently who said to me:

  • Candidate: “William, I have been with my company a while now, been working really hard. All my managers know I am ready for a next step but they aren’t giving me a chance, so I think I have to go somewhere else.”
  • Me: “How long have you been there?”
  • Candidate: “4 months.”

This is not an example of reasonable expectations. You should plan to be in your role at least a year, if not 2, before a next step makes sense to your employer.

Internal growth requirements

I often speak with candidates who have done all the right things but still aren’t getting that promotion. It’s usually because the company just doesn’t have a place for them yet. A firm can’t just create a function for you; it has to make sense for the company. It will come down to one of these 2 possibilities:

  1. A new opening arrives because of a departure or company growth (most frequent). The executives all know you, your reputation is excellent, your work is excellent, and they know you are looking for advancement.
  2. The company is well aware of your value and doesn’t want to risk losing you (relatively rare), and will create a new title, increase your pay a little, but your responsibilities will be largely similar to previous. This will generally only happen in smaller organizations.

If neither of these is possible in a reasonable about of time, then its time to explore other firms for your next step. 

External Growth Strategies

After you have exhausted your internal growth options, decide on one or multiple strategies for external growth. Here is a quick non-exhaustive summary of main options, from least challenging to most:

  1. Lateral move into a larger or faster-growing organization that will present more growth opportunity
  2. External promotion with a firm of similar or smaller size
  3. Join a start-up/young brand, where you may be able to make a big jump in responsibility, but with a high level of risk
  4. Move into a new faster growing industry, into a function where your skills are 90% transferable.

The key to external success is positioning yourself ahead of your competition. Smaller firms will be excited to have larger firm experience. But if you’re moving laterally, remember that you are shooting for long-term growth there and be careful about aiming too high with compensation. Sometimes and increase is achievable, sometimes not. It’s a short-term strategic move for long-term advancement.

Career function change

I often speak with candidates looking to change their career path: from retail into corporate, or big change in the corporate function. It’s important to know that 95% of these successful moves will be made internally. Think about it like this: if a firm has 2 candidates, one external with no direct experience in the role, and one internal with no direct experience in the role; they will almost always chose the internal candidate. They already have relationships, they know the brand identity, there is a lower hiring cost, and they can say they promoted from within. So, if you are looking to jump into a new job function, look within your own company. If that doesn’t work, move laterally to another growing company and start again with relationship building.

Keep pushing, you can do it!

About the contributor
William Brobston
About the contributor


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