By Jennifer Mackin

I’m often asked by students, and those new to their profession, to share best practices for how to drive their career in the desired direction. I believe every person in the workplace can intentionally move toward their interests and goals.

Set yourself apart by asking about career tracks

There are two paths when working in any organization, a leadership track and a specialist track. Both tracks add tremendous organizational value through either developing other people or adding and leveraging expertise. If you understand expectations at every level within the leadership and specialist tracks, you can not only carefully choose the right path that fits your style and interests but you will also have a roadmap for how to achieve each level you desire. It is almost a paint by number job plan.

For example, each individual contributor working as an accountant, customer service representative or computer programmer can see what the first level of leadership and first level of specialist require.  The first leadership role requires knowing how to coach and develop others, assess performance and set objectives and establish priorities. The first specialist level above individual contributor requires delivering results through personal expertise, representing your domain and guiding peers. Commit to a path you want.  You cannot get anywhere without aiming in a particular direction.

Set yourself apart by finding the right mentors

Who in your network can support you in the next role you have your sights on? Who has a role you would like to learn more about?  Think about continuing to build that network and choose different mentors along the way. Whether you are interested in moving departments or moving to another country, find someone that has those same experiences in their current or past roles and learn from them.

Set yourself apart by getting on the toughest projects

Seek challenges.  Get in the middle of something big for the organization; something that will make a difference for the organization and help you make a mark for yourself. If you show curiosity through asking questions about the business or show interest in what individuals are doing outside of your department or area, you will be tapped on the shoulder to support key initiatives. Company leaders value employees that seek to understand the big picture of how the company is successful and how they can support the execution of the plan.

Set yourself apart by leveraging your relationship with your leader

Leading up is, in essence, having a conscious approach on how to work with your leader to achieve goals you both care about.  Helping your leader in turn, helps you. Forge strong ties with your leader by a few simple approaches:

  • Be sincere, honest and candid. Keep frequent communications and take the lead wherever possible.
  • Highlight your track record and share when appropriate. Think about your own brand.
  • Ask for suggestions for improvement and ask for more experience in areas you aren’t involved in. This could be incorporated in your personal and professional development plan. A plan will highlight skills, interests and abilities you want to add to your repertoire.
  • Put your leader’s interests first and think about what they need while treating them as equals.

Leaders are human and prefer to work with people that move the departmental needle forward and make them and the team look good. Be one of those employees.

Sometimes new employees receive little direction, don’t get enough time with their leader to learn or, maybe, have a boss that isn’t as interested in their direct report’s development as they are in their own upward movement. Regardless of the barriers – be proactive, ask for what you want and opportunities will surround you. Be resilient when you feel stuck because you will, at some point in your career. You are the driver of your success.

Please reach out if I can help you in any capacity or if you want to stay in touch and connect with me on LinkedIn here.

Jennifer Mackin is an owner of Oliver Group and Leadership Pipeline Institute US. In addition to leading these organizations, Jennifer is the author of Leaders Deserve Better, A Leadership Development Revolution. She and her team have worked with thousands of companies over the years in all industries. Jennifer loves to spend time with her family, travel, to learn about and practice wellness and read adventure novels.