“Advice is like mushrooms – the wrong kind can prove fatal” – says Charles E. McKenzie. Over the years, I’ve been given plenty of advice, sometimes unsolicited and some in response to my own actions, but looking back I can see that some was great advice and some was, frankly, unhelpful.
So in no particular order of importance, I’ll outline some of the advice I’ve been given – I’ll leave you to decide what works for you!
1. Keep your head down and do not rock the boat
Why do people give this advice? Because I think changes and disruption are painful, and a lot of people like to just go with the flow. You’re earning a good pay check, so why complain? These people take an attitude that says “Hey – I’m just going to come in and do my work, – clock in and clock out.
But this low-key approach can hold you back. You’re not likely to get a raise or move on in your career by keeping your head down. I think in that scenario, it’s better to come to people with solutions rather than problems. Be proactive, have a plan to tackle a problem or improve things, and then aim high.
2. Avoid the customer base or revenue stream
A lot of people don’t like the scrutiny and the heat that comes with being responsible for things that impact the bottom line of the company. They don’t want to be accountable.
But accountability, and being aggressive about moving onwards and upwards, are critical to making good progress in your chosen field. You can’t make progress by simply avoiding tasks that are challenging or projects that demand you be accountable for your decisions.
Being proactive, searching out the heat, and seeking those opportunities, as opposed to steering away from them, carries pressure. But they will also get you noticed as a person who’s not afraid to step up and tackle a challenge. You need to look for growth opportunities, gain knowledge about how to develop new skills, and be ready to move yourself into areas of greater impact.
3. Do not ask for more money and / or responsibility – the company will take care of you
There’s a general misperception amongst people that the company has your best interests at heart – and it really doesn’t! It’s not that the company’s malicious, but its main purpose is to be successful, so any expectations you have must align with that. Frame your requests in those terms, and you can avoid being viewed as a troublemaker.
Making demands, harboring resentment, or being angry, are not helpful approaches. But there’s an inclusive way that’s respectful and data-driven, focusing on the problem-solving aspect rather than seeming self-serving. You need to self-advocate and then the company will adapt to you, so long as it’s in their best interests.
4. Do not stick your neck out
Did I stick my neck out? Yes – all the time! I think the people that told me ‘Don’t stick your neck out’ are quite frankly the ones that didn’t fit my personality type. And while I understood it, that’s not how I wanted to operate. For me, the theme was to be more aggressive and to search out new growth opportunities.
But some people just aren’t like that. Sometimes people are afraid. They think “If I advocate for myself or I ask for a raise, I might get fired. If I negotiate my job offer, they might rescind the offer. Or if I raise my hand for that new project, my boss might get mad”. But I believe that this kind of approach results in a job (and ultimately a career), that only preserves the status quo.
5. Just do good work and you will be noticed
There are many people that do their job and they are dependable, and those are admirable traits. But those traits are not going to make you extraordinary, or give you the chance to get noticed.
Even if you don’t feel comfortable, it’s still important to self-advocate. Double-check that you’re on the right career track, that you’re paid fairly, and that you’re representing yourself well within the company or within your team. Make sure you’re well prepared for your annual review.
Asking for the raise, the promotion, the growth opportunity, and making connections outside of your department – those are all things where you’re being noticed.
1. Get close to the value drivers of the business
Stay as close as you can to the core of the business. If the company is selling something, be right there where the sale is happening. Understand what and why the customers are buying and understand the feedback. Be there creating, designing and building the product.
If the business is consumer-based, understand why are customers choosing you and consider how to attract more consumers. Because that’s where all the investment is and where all the value is generated, so that’s where you can most prove your own value to the company. It’s where raises, promotions, and opportunities for advancement all happen.
And it’s also the most transferable thing. You can move on – any company’s always looking for people that can make an impact to their bottom line somehow, and are willing to step into that.
2. Take risks and extend yourself
People worry that if a new project it doesn’t work, they might get fired. It certainly can happen, but keeping a careful account of your actions will help convince your boss of your value. It’s also as much about how you hold yourself, how you operate, and how you approach these things, that dictates how successful you are and what the repercussions are if it doesn’t work.
And not everything works! My career’s littered with mistakes and things I tried that didn’t work. But navigating a career is not a straight line – it’s full of funny zigs and zags!
I lived and worked in New York for a decade. I had the big corner office with the assistant, wore a suit, had the expense account – I had all the trappings. Then I moved to California and took probably a 70 percent pay cut. I went from being in a managerial position to being an individual contributor.
For a while I was freaked out! It was scary! I was leaving terra firma and going into the unknown. But I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to be part of something that was bigger than the projects I was working on. I wanted to try new things I wanted to be part of the group that’s charting the frontier. The promise and the opportunity outweighed the fear.
3. Become a great communicator
This is a big one! I think that a lot of people don’t get this right – it’s one of those hidden Achilles heels. Yet people fail at this all the time. These are great people; super-smart and incredible at what they do. They have a great concept they’re trying to get across, and yet they can’t present it in a way that get you to buy off on it.
Nowadays, it’s a critical requirement for everybody to be able to communicate effectively. That could be in an email, other written form, or over the phone. It could be over lunch or addressing a roomful of people. It’s essential to be able to effectively connect with your audience, to communicate your ideas, and to listen and incorporate feedback.
4. Develop strong connections with high performing colleagues
I think the important thing is to get to know the best in your field – the top engineers that are closest to the flame, or the top product people. I’d want to know the top sales people, and what’s their life like? What are they encountering? What are the issues they’re dealing with?
I’d want to know how they spend their time. and how we can help each other. You can do this in person, maybe by buying a colleague breakfast, or online. Staying in touch is vital.
5. Focus on your strengths and the things you enjoy
To feel fulfilled in your career, you want to be doing more of the things you enjoy and less of what you don’t enjoy.
I think a lot of people don’t understand the tasks and responsibilities that they really like to do and what they don’t like to do. Even if they do work it out, they often don’t take action and ask “How can I eliminate these functions I dislike from my job and add more of other functions that I do appreciate?”
And my advice to someone starting out?
There’s two pieces of advice I’d give.
Firstly, take risks. The earlier you are in your career, the more risks you should take.
Secondly, work with the absolute best people you can find: the best company, the best brand, and the best teams. That’s where you want to be – don’t worry about the money!
Author: Chris Bolte