Updated: Oct 1, 2020
I've been getting a lot of questions on LinkedIn recently from people wanting to move up but not sure how to get there. Specifically people trying to take steps now to get noticed, to get promoted and progress to the next level in their careers. I give career advice on LinkedIn all the time but this week it seems everybody wants an answer to the same question. I'm sure there's some of you wondering the same thing, how to get ahead, you're ready for a promotion and all that. Don't wait for a new year (or who would’ve thought a pandemic) to start thinking about these things - make this an ongoing conversation. The first step is defining what "get there" means to you. Get where? Where are you trying to go within the organization? Is there a specific role or job title that you are targeting? Why do you want this role? How does it fit into your short and long-term career goals? This is one of those situations where I have to answer a question with a question - with many questions because it's important to be clear here so that you're not going down the wrong path. So let's unpack this question that I‘m asked every single week on LinkedIn. The example I'll use is a Staff Accountant. In this role you're usually a couple years out of school, there's a lot of transactional work - you haven't gotten to the high-level analysis roles, no direct reports, you're doing the "grunt work" with journal entries and balance sheet recs. You're still very green as far as experience goes, there's a lot for you to learn. The natural progression is to a senior accountant role - in this role you know the general ledger pretty well, you understand what it takes to get the month-end close done, you're the go-to for questions from the field and researching variances. Depending on the company you might also have some indirect reports, train your coworkers or review the staff accountant's work.
Note: don't miss out on opportunities that can arise from lateral or other movements. Upward mobility doesn't guarantee a specific outcome. You may also find that the place you're trying to get to requires a lateral move. Seize the opportunities in front of you whether it's upward, lateral, or upside down! What does it take for you to get from the staff to the senior? My expertise is in accounting, this applies to any role, industry, or level within an organization.
Get good at the job you have NOW. Really good, as in "nobody can do it better than you" good. Perform there because if you're not performing right now, as your manager there's no use in us talking about you getting to the next level until you can handle what you have now. Think about your daily responsibilities, projects you've worked on, things you've done for your boss. How did those things go? Not saying anything has to be perfect, but be aware of where your strengths and developmental areas are. Before you sit in front of your boss and say I want a promotion - come with some facts, some data, some things that you have improved, ways you have made getting things done easier. Don't just say it because you feel like you deserve it - show what you've done to earn it.
Be vocal. I find myself saying this sentence more than anything else when I have career discussions with people - HAVE ONGOING CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR MANAGER. It still surprises me to this day the number of people who tell me their boss doesn't know their career goals or they haven't talked to their boss about career goals since the annual performance reviews. Oftentimes when you share what your career goals are or a job that you're interested in the response will be "Oh, I didn't even know you had an interest in that. There's actually a big project going on right now to fix A, B and C” - then boom that's your opportunity. I'm giving high-level advice that applies to anybody in any industry but you will find unique things within your organization on what it takes to get to the next level. There might be a specific issue within the department that your boss wants to fix. Also, your boss can provide you with insight into your performance and things they notice that you don't about your work. If you are not having ongoing conversations with your boss, you should be. The first time might feel awkward, especially if it's you initiating the conversation. I put together some talking points to help you initiate this much-needed conversation to hear directly from your boss their opinion on what you need to do to get promoted. Some bosses pay attention and some don't - although they're your manager they also have a career of their own to manage and that's the motivation for some people. Keep in mind it's up to you to drive your career - you own that. Don't wait for somebody to tap you on the shoulder and offer you a promotion. It does happen but your career is yours to own - the good, the bad, all the twists and turns are your responsibility.
Spend time with the job you're after. If you're a staff accountant who wants to be a senior, spend some time with the senior - get exposure to what they do. You might have in your mind an idea of what the job entails then you sit with the senior like ”Oh no, I don't wanna do this, this isn't what I thought it was.“ This goes back to the first point - why do you want this job? Are you clear on what it really takes? Beyond money, beyond a title change, be clear on what you want.
On a personal note, I've always been pretty vocal with my managers about what I wanted to do with my career. Most of the conversations I've initiated but in some situations my manager had laid a path for me to move up in the organization. Your promotion could be in motion - It could be happening behind the scenes and you not know - you can be getting implicitly groomed for a promotion. These are those closed door conversations that happen when you have mentors/advisors/sponsors in your corner. Another point I want to make about mentors and sponsors and advisors.... The key to getting ahead and moving up anywhere is to have support. Doing your current job well, sharing what your career goals are and get exposure to the jobs you want. Jump on a project that helps you build your network within your company. Joining professional organizations to build your external network which is just as important. I remember a manager telling me that I network better than anyone she knows - we were walking to the elevator for a meeting downstairs so from the time we left our desks until we got on the meeting room, I had ran into 3 or 4 people that I knew - outside of our core accounting team. We stopped and had quick catch-up conversations: Hey how's it going? Love your shoes. Let's do lunch next week kinda things. And she's like wow, how do you know all these people? You network better than anybody I know. Most of those people I had known through professional organizations, internal affinity groups and working on projects. When you're doing great work, people will notice and people will want to root for you and advocate for you. So out of all this, if you take nothing else from this, focus on doing the work. That principle will never change and if the CEO or anybody else doesn't see your work that doesn't mean you didn't do it and do it well. Don't do things for accolades, do it because it makes you a better accountant or better marketing manager or better auditor, whatever your role is. ~N
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Nikki Winston is a mom, CPA, and career development expert who shares her corporate experience to help other professional millennials. Her career advice is featured in Forbes, the Ellevate Network, Reader’s Digest and many other publications.