How To Progress Your Career: 9 Tried and Tested Methods To Get Ahead At Work

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How To Progress Your Career – there are many things you can do.

Some people work longer hours, or take on more work but does it really get them anywhere?

The below are smart ways to progress your career:

  • Constantly work on your people skills
  • Figure out what is important to senior management
  • Get a sponsor
  • Learn how to simplify complex info
  • Don’t get stuck in the detail
  • Feedback
  • Use the 80/20 rule
  • Make lots of contacts
  • Get experience in many different types of roles

How To Progress Your Career – 1) Constantly Work On Your People Skills

Some people don’t have great interpersonal skills. Many people don’t put any work into improving their soft skills either!

These people will be left behind in more junior roles. Their peers who can communicate well, have high emotional intelligence, and are good at managing people meanwhile progress to Senior Management.

Don’t underestimate the value of personality/soft skills in advancing your career. As you get older into your 30’s, technical skills will become less important and the people with the best soft skills will rise to the top.

You’ll often find that the people at the top of organisations are very good at reading people, and influencing them to get what they want.

How To Progress Your Career – 2) Figure Out What Is Important To Senior Management

Try to put yourself in more senior people’s shoes.

What are they concerned with? What are they getting a hard time about from their bosses? What is keeping them up at night?

If you can ascertain what is important to senior management, and give them good insight into that topic/area then you will get noticed, and progress very quickly.

Some good ways to get notices by senior management:

  • Volunteer for projects that no one wants to do
  • Present at a town hall or big meeting
  • Challenge old ways of working and come up with better solutions
  • Build relationships with many people at every level of the organisation
  • Make your bosses’ boss life a little easier by doing a piece of work that helps them out
  • Put your hand up to sit on internal committees
  • Partner with other departments on fixing an issue or improving a process
  • Do the things that no one else wants to do
  • Get another job offer

Check out my book summary of the fantastic careers book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ by Cal Newport

How To Progress Your Career: business meeting, meeting, business

How To Progress Your Career – 3) Get a Sponsor

A sponsor is almost always a senior level executive or someone with big influence inside of your company.

When a special project or a great new role comes up, they will advocate for you behind closed doors.

They also put use their influence and reputation to move your career forward.

You can’t just walk up to someone and ask them to be a sponsor, sponsorship grows out of mutual respect and a strong relationship, so how can you get one? 

With sponsorship, it’s not a case of who you know but who knows you.

The below are ways of improving your chances of getting a sponsor:

  • Always go above and beyond in your role, do more than is expected of you
  • Know who good sponsors are, listen out for senior leaders who back younger employees
  • Look for special projects where you can interact with senior leaders
  • If you meet a potential sponsor and are making small talk, don’t be afraid to tell them about a recent achievement or some good value add work you are doing
  • Make sure senior leaders know your career goals; if they don’t know what you want to do how can they be expected to help you along the way?
How to progress your career: business, lady, woman

The higher up your sponsor’s position in the company the better. Speaking of high up, check out my post on 11 Huge Pieces Of Career Advice From Jeff Bezos

How To Progress Your Career – 4) Be Good At Simplifying Complex Info

If you can take a complex area/topic and make it easy for anyone to understand then you will go far.

Again, think about senior management, all they want is the general story of what is driving sales, and the costs of the business.

They don’t want complicated explanations of how a small part of the company is performing. So if you can be on top of your area, and tell them simply what is going on then you will look very good.

It’s all about simplifying data so that management can use this data to make key decisions about the companies’ future.

A good way to keep messaging simple to senior management is by using ‘the rule of 3’

*The rule of 3 is a public speaking tool to ensure the audience remembers the key points you are trying to get across.

Some examples of the rule of 3 in action:

If you make a mistake, defend your actions in three points.

When sharing facts and figures, just communicate the three most pertinant points.

If you are putting together a slide for a presentation, try to use three bullet points to get your point across.

When writing an executive summary for a presentation, ask yourself what are the three key messages you want senior management to takeaway from your material.

number, 3, three

How To Progress Your Career – 5) Don’t Get Stuck In The Detail

Some people are very detail orientated and have difficulty seeing the bigger picture (the complete opposite of Directors and Senior Management).

These people will struggle to progress to higher positions as they cannot disseminate simple messages from the detail and communicate them to senior management.

How To Progress Your Career – 6) Feedback

The most successful people thrive on feedback. The everyday person doesn’t want to hear it!

If one person tells you that you need to work on your initiative, then that could be just that persons’opinion or perspective.

However, if you get same message from several people then you know there is some truth in it.

Solicit as much feedback as you possibly can from different colleagues and levels of your company.

Don’t wait until a formal year end review, ask for informal feedback on a task you did.

How did I do there? How could I have done that better of more efficiently?

The more info you can get from others on how you could have worked better, the better your work will become.

Senior executives in companies I have worked for pay external companies thousands of pounds to collate anonymous feedback on their working style and performance.

Armed with this feedback, they refine and improve how they work until they are very polished performers.

The top performers do this, if you want to progress your career you should too.

How To Progress Your Career

How To Progress Your Career – 7) Use The 80:20 rule

It’s all about managing your time.

You can be an analyst that works very well with some of your junior stakeholders and does a good job on answering emails and digging into detail, but Senior Managers will have no idea what you do.

One of my favourite quotes is:

‘If you do something well, doesn’t mean it’s important’!!!

Whereas if you can apply the 80:20 rule to your work by spending your time on things that will have the biggest impact to senior management, then your job will be easier and you will stand out from your peers.

How To Progress Your Career – 8) Make LOTS of contacts

Try to find someone in the business that is going places and latch onto them, and they will bring you up through the ranks with them.

Try to build your network as much as possible in your 20’s, ask people who are more senior to you in the business for coffees and advice, they will be more than willing to help.

How to Progress Your Career: Coffee

You might be like ‘Hmmm I don’t want to do this….’ but try as it will really save you lots of time and hard work. A few seemingly innocent coffees can lead to 1, 2, 3 promotions trust me!

Some ways to expand your network:

i) Maximise your own and other networks


Do your parents know anyone useful you could talk to? Do their friends? Who do your brother, sisters, teachers, sports coaches know?

Networking is also about making the most of your existing relationships. Who does your network know? If you want to become a Finance Director, do your parents have Finance Director friends that you could ask for advice?

For insight into how you can improve your soft skills, check out my blog post on The Importance of Soft Skills

ii) Anyone you know through sports clubs etc. 

Sports clubs are full of successful people that you reach out to and express your interest in a type of work or a career path. 

If you know people socially outside of work, and they like you, this gives you a huge advantage when looking for opportunities. 

They might give you a job, offer you advice, or put you in touch with other good contacts.

Lots of other people I knew growing up got good jobs through people in their local golf club!

iii) LinkedIn 

If you are wondering how to progress your career – LinkedIn is gold!

Type in a job title that interests you and look at 20 or so roles, then compare the similarities: 

  • Have they got the same qualification? 
  • Have they worked for a similar companies? 
  • What type of roles have they had?
  • What skills do they have? 
  • Have they got international experience?  

If I was a grad or in my 20’s, I would do this exercise repeatedly with roles I think I might like to be doing in 5 years time. Then if something peaks your interest, try and talk to some people in these roles.

How To Progress Your Career: linkedin, social, network

iv) Networking events  

You’d be surprised how many networking events that are happening that you don’t even know about. Google ‘Networking Events’ and your industry, Uni Alumni, etc. and there will be loads to pick from.

Recruitment companies that specialise in a particular industry will also host networking evenings that are good for meeting people and recruiters. 

You might think these events can be painful, but if you get good contacts or opportunities out of it, they can be well worthwhile.

Some Networking event tips: 

– Make sure you make a good first impression

– Try to be confident, up-front, positive and sociable. 

– A good trick to get people to remember you is when leaving go up to them, call them by their name, and say it was nice to meet them.

– Dress like the people you want to impress. People will turn up after work looking scruffy, or wearing casual clothes, make sure you look good.

– After talking to people ask them ‘Is there anyone you think I should talk to’, this is a great trick to open up the room for you.

– People will be trying to impress, do the opposite, be curious. Ask people about themselves, their job, their interests outside of work. This will really open up the conversation.

– Don’t be dismissive of anyone, you never know who you are talking to at these types of events. Treat people the way you would want to be treated regardless of their position/seniority.

v) Uni Alumni

Don’t be afraid to utilise your university network.

Email the alumni association saying you are interested in a particular career and see can they put you in touch with anyone useful.

These avenues are underused by graduates as they see universities as support while you are there. However, they can help even when you are out in the working world.

How To Progress Your Career – 9) Get Experience In Many Different Types of Roles

The more varied types of roles you do, the better.

People who do a variety of different roles are much more able to think outside the box when it new ways of working or finding solutions to issues.

Some people will get repeated promotions in their team or department and become specialists or experts in that specific area.

However, these people won’t have the length and breadth of knowledge of someone who has worked in different roles across the company.

Also, the more varied your roles are the bigger your network will become which can result in more opportunities for you.

It’s better to try and get this varied experience when you are in your 20’s as it gets harder to move roles when you get more experienced.

(Hiring managers might question why you are jumping in and out of roles in your 30’s, and you start to get older and have more committments i.e. mortgage, kids, etc)

Hope you found this post on how to progress your career helpful!

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