Successful women know that being proactive is key when it comes to advancing in your company or industry. It's always important to stay on the top of your game, whether or not you’re preparing to apply for a promotion. What's more, you have to keep up the momentum and adopt a few job-related habits, otherwise, you may fall into a mid-career rut.
As it turns out, the path to success is paved by the things you do every day, and not only when an opportunity arises. (In other words, coasting along is not an option.) Supervisors and colleagues take notice of ambition, plus a good attitude is essential, no matter what role you're in. And for those ladies who have their own businesses, it's just as important (if not more) to keep up the pace when it comes to progression. After all, there's no one to hold you accountable but you.
Needless to say, adding "take initiative" to your job description is essential for building a successful career. Ahead, a professional career coach and two self-made CEOs give their advice for staying on the track to success. From continuing your education, to anticipating problems (and finding solutions), to building mentorships and extending your network, you can demonstrate your motivation by implementing these practical tips — and you can start right now.
Always Give Your All
It's easy to set your pace to "auto-pilot" after you've been in your position for awhile. But if you're looking to advance in your career, especially within a company, you have to go beyond just meeting expectations.
Rebecca Fraser-Thill, a career coach and psychology instructor at Bates College, share this example: "Georgetown professor Cal Newport believes in the importance of becoming 'so good they can't ignore you," she begins. To do this, she says, you must actively build your skillset, make efficient use of your time, and seek opportunities to go above and beyond your job description. "In other words, to get noticeably strong at your work, you need to be highly intentional about how you schedule your workday and choose your tasks," she concludes.
Cheryl Kaplan, co-founder and president of M.Gemi, a luxury shoe company, agrees. "Whatever you are doing, be all in. Give 110 percent at all times, focus, and make the most of every single minute. Don’t wait around or expect that others will seek you out — own your own destiny."
Continue Building Your Skillset
Fraser-Thill says that it's imperative to continue building your skillset and stay in-the-know with industry news. "Stay on top of industry trends and the latest innovative ideas/approaches to your work. Ways to do this include reading industry publications, listening to podcasts while commuting, attending conferences and workshops, taking online or in-person college classes, whether for credit or just for interest, and regularly asking co-workers about the changes they're noticing, and how they've learned about new ideas about your industry."
Have your eye on a specific position that you'd like to nab down the road? The career coach adds that you must make yourself a qualified candidate. "Make sure your credentials are optimal for promotion," she advises. "While degrees, certificates, and other professional credentials aren't always needed to progress, they certainly won't be counted against you. For instance, if most of the individuals who hold the roles you aspire to hold MBAs, there's not doubt that you should give that training some serious thought."
One of the best ways to prevent yourself from losing momentum is to continuously search for ways to improve. When pinpointing an employee with potential, the M.Gemi president says, "I look for someone who is hungry to learn and grow ... someone that can see things through from start to finish, and can do whatever it takes to get the job done."
Polly Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of Unbound, a sexual wellness company, recalls volunteering to assist upper-level colleagues at the consulting company where she formerly worked. "Do your homework and suggest a specific way you can help," she says. "Emailing someone with 'How can I help?' is actually just giving them more work; they have to figure out what you mean by that. Tactically, this often meant staying late and working weekends to get everything done in addition to my everyday responsibilities, but the senior managers and partners took notice and helped me get on the projects I found most interesting in return."
To that, Rodriguez suggests finding mentors at your company. Not only can they give you advice and an example to aspire to, once you build a rapport, they can be your point of contact for landing new projects. "In the past, I've worked hard to identify mentors I respected and then offered them support on whatever they were working on at the time," the Unbound founder recalls. "This often meant reaching out to someone who was 10+ years my senior and offering to help write a white paper or put together a presentation for new business they were trying to win."
Fraser-Thill also comments on the importance of getting guidance from an experienced colleague. "Work with a coach or mentor who can help you set concrete goals for professional development and hold you accountable to meeting them. Enlisting the help of another person turns your own focus to the endeavor. If you're paying for the support like with a coach, you'll feel more indebted to yourself to make something of the investment, inevitably resulting in a flurry of focused, intentional activity that gets you noticed at work."
Anticipate Problems & Implement Solutions
Now a CEO herself, Rodriguez loves it when an employee has the foresight to start implementing solutions to current or potential problems. "I deeply appreciate those with a willingness to anticipate," she explains. "Anyone can identify a problem, but it's those who come to me [and say], 'I identified this problem, and here are the three things I think we should do to alleviate it. I've already started on step one, but let me know if you think I should pause ...'"
She continues, "Some of the best advice I ever received was that 'it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.' I think in the context of problem solving, it's pretty great advice."
No, networking isn't just for making connections when you're ready to jump ship; in fact, forging relationships with colleagues can help you improve your work performance and grow within your company. "While 'networking' can feel like a dirty word, keeping relationships alive is fundamental to success," notes Fraser-Thill. "[This is] not just in the transactional sense of being poised for job offers and promotions, but more importantly, having strong interpersonal connections is vital to feeling fulfilled and engaged in work and life."
And the best way to keep in touch? "[Check in] every few weeks or months, depending on the relationship, at least via email, and more ideally over lunch or coffee," she recommends. "Connect about more than just work, and you'll be building lasting connections that will benefit your well-being and your work life. "
Value Your Leaders
"Managing people has totally changed my perspective on professional working relationships," admits Rodriguez. "When I was an analyst, I assumed that my superiors had it all figured out, and I couldn't understand why they were so stressed all the time. Now that I manage a team of people, I've realized that as you move up and become responsible for more people, the stress increases infinitely. You not only have to perform, but you're responsible for the performance and wellbeing of so many other people. There were so many problems and issues I wasn't privy to and I think operating with the baseline assumption that you never have the full picture is a helpful mindset."
With that in mind, Fraser-Thill adds that you'll make an impression by not only respecting your superiors, but also appreciating them. "Leaders value people who value them," she points out. "Employees who make the time to ask for work-related advice, use that advice, and then circle back to share success stories based on using that advice get noticed. Organic, robust mentor relationships build in this way, and having a mentor on your side is invaluable in getting opportunities sent your way."