Monday Mornings with Madison

Growing Your Career: 10 Hacks for Professional Growth

Word Count: 1,756
Estimated Read Time: 7 min.

Most everyone in the world of work wants to do well.  Grow.  Develop.  But professional growth does not just happen.  Some people’s careers seem to rise meteorically while others ascend at a glacial pace and still others are stuck or are even sliding downhill.  Career growth requires work… and not just doing good work at work.  It takes more than that to climb the ladder of success.  Here are 10 hacks to help fuel career growth.1. Speak less; Listen more

There is an art to intently listening. It means not just hearing but listening between the lines for a deeper understanding. It means not thinking about the next thing to say but what the speaker is trying to convey.

2. Find your voice

It’s not enough, though, to be a good listener.  Besides listening, it is also important to share ideas and insights.  Everyone has a voice. Some find and exercise it easier than others.  For those who haven’t found their voice, it takes a journey to find it and make it strong.  It takes courage and heart — and some deep introspection — to figure out who you are and who you aren’t.  For most, identifying and representing one’s true self – thoughts, perspective and ideas — isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes reflection and soul searching.  To grow professionally, it is important to do the work of finding that voice.

3. Build your network

Cultivating relationships is valuable at every stage of career, from entry-level to C-Suite exec.  Consider this.  Between 70-85% of all job openings are ultimately filled through networking, whether online or in person.  Moreover, 80% of all jobs are never listed online or made public.  So, networking is often the only way to learn about the vast majority of job openings.  And, yet, it is something many people ignore, avoid or take for granted.  Focusing on current clients and today’s work is good, but can be short-sighted.  It is important not to forget about career trajectory and future opportunities.

Moreover, the higher a person ascends on the career ladder, the more that networking matters.  A network is valuable not only for job openings, but it is critical for landing board positions, finding mentors, and identifying top consultants and vendors who can help solve complex problems.  All of this is predicated on maintaining relationships.  Those relationships are also key for staying in the know.

Due to Covid, most industry events such as lectures, trade shows, meetups, or other events specifically for industry professionals have been cancelled.  But face-to-face opportunities to network will surely be back soon.  Those are a great way to meet people who could help open doors and make introductions.  In the meantime, there are virtual meetups and training sessions that afford a small amount of connection.  And social media sites such as LinkedIn also provide ways to expand one’s network. But networking is not just about meeting new people.  It is also about keeping in touch with past colleagues, vendors, supervisors and coworkers.  Those are people who will know about potential opportunities within their organizations. Depending on your relationship, these connections could also put in a good word.

Whether the person is a new contact or an old colleague, it is important to be of value.  People are more likely to do you a favor if you first do a favor for them. If you want to be someone that others in your network promote and help, then you need to make sure you are putting in the work on your end to be a good contact. An act as simple as writing a recommendation or alerting someone to a job posting could help keep you top of mind and increases the chances of being helped in return should the opportunity present.

4. Know thy self-worth

Rejection is a poison that kills drive and undermines self-confidence.  When a person is rejected or criticized, he suddenly believes the critic is an expert at seeing his true potential.  That is simply not true.  A person’s worth is not defined through the eyes of others.  Each person has strengths and can be of value.  A critical factor for success is to know one’s own value and have the confidence to demonstrate it.

Of course, like all things, there is such a thing as overconfidence.  There is a small space between being unsure of oneself and being overconfident.  Knowing one’s self-worth does not mean boasting or bragging.  The goal is to find the middle ground of modest self-assurance.

5. Burn no bridges

You never know if / when you will need to circle back to a past coworker or employer or boss for a testimonial, recommendation or favor.  Or, given the reach of social networks and industry circles, it is not unreasonable to expect past colleagues and coworkers to connect with related current professional contacts. Something that happened in the distant past can resurface and affect how people view you now.  Leaving a job or even a state does not guarantee that the past won’t follow. For example, quitting a job without giving notice or stealing clients when going to work for a competitor are the kinds of unprofessional actions that might feel good now but may have long-term repercussions. So behave honorably at every job and treat every person with the same dignity and respect as a VIP.

6. Never badmouth a current leader or past employer

Well, perhaps it’s best to start by saying don’t badmouth anyone… even difficult coworkers and underperforming direct reports.  But it is especially true about current and past employers and bosses.  When you speak negatively about a past employer to a current or potential employer, they will wonder what you will say about them down the road.  The higher the position, the more discretion is needed.  Upward mobility is dependent on being known as someone who is respectful, kind and professional.  That means zipping lips, avoiding gossip and not venting to others when something is not going well.  You never who that person will tell, and you never know how people are interconnected.

7. Behave professionally

It may seem obvious, and yet for some, this is something that needs both saying and explaining.  This goes beyond the obvious advice of refraining from telling jokes that are in poor taste and colorful stories.  It includes keeping focused on work while at work and speaking in a way that would be okay to publish on the front page of the NY Times.  Slang and profanity have no place in the workplace.  And neither does mean sarcasm, snide remarks, negativity, griping and pointless criticism.  Words have power.  Keep it clean, kind and positive.  And keep constructive criticism aimed at the work, not the worker, and make sure it is actually constructive.  If there is something to be said could help someone improve or be more professional, suggest it in a respectful way or through a professionally-written email.

8. Dress for success

It’s been said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  Well, the reason they say that is because people judge books by their covers all the time.  Books publishers can attest that the design of the book’s cover plays a HUGE PART in how well it sells.  Like it or not, the cover matters.  That is why books, CDs, and movie posters all have professionally-designed cover art.  And it is why companies have professionally-designed logos and brand materials, and why product manufacturers have entire teams designing the packaging.

How something looks plays a huge role in how it is received and perceived.  In the case of books, it is not just the front cover that gets designed.  The art includes the spine and back cover… meaning the whole package.  So how a person dresses for work matters.  And even those who work from home should consider what they wear when they have video conferences.

The first step is to know the company’s dress code.  It varies from industry to industry, workplace to workplace, job to job, and even by gender.  So it is important to know, up front, what is and is not okay.  That dress code should be in writing and it probably should be shared with a new employee before day one to avoid an uncomfortable or embarrassing moment on day one.

It is not enough to wear proper clothes.  How well that clothes fit, how frayed it is, and how stylish and consistent with current trends also matters.  Shoes matter.  Briefcases or bags matter.  Even finger nails and grooming matters.  It’s not about spending a lot of money or wearing designer labels.  It is about cleanliness, self-care and wearing appropriate business attire.  Those who want to grow their careers should aim to dress the part of the next job they want, not the job they have.  When the leadership is deciding who to promote, it is important to not only have the skills for the job but also “look” like a fit for the position.

9. Respect time

Time is the only resource that cannot be bought, sold, recovered or recycled.  So respecting time is important for every employer and surely for anyone who wants to grow their career.  It is not just a matter of showing up for work on time and being back from lunch on time too.  It is making sure to work during work hours, rather than killing time until the work day is done.  Respecting time also means completing projects on time or communicating if there are problems causing a delay.  And it means respecting other people’s time by being responsive and respectful of their time.

10. Bring your A-game to the A-team

Most organizations have a small group of employees who are called on regularly to address key business opportunities and solve vexing problems.  They might be called the A-Team.  Being a part of the A-Team is instrumental as it ensures work is noticed regularly and affords opportunities to work on key business issues.  This is a smart way to accelerate career growth.

To become a part of the A-Team, ask employees who are always tapped for such projects how to get on the inside track.  Volunteer to be on cross-functional teams.  Find out who assigns those teams and get to know those people.  Build relationships with people on the A-Team so you are tapped when there is an opportunity.  Be enthusiastic once chosen and then bring you’re A-Game to the work.  Go above and beyond.

Following these tips is sure to help supercharge your career growth.

Quote of the Week

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.”


© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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