As the economy continues to pick up, everyone wants to figure out ways to make a move — whether that is a move up in the organization or a move to another firm. As you prepare to make that move, first accept the fact that there are no shortcuts. Then consider the following:
Make sure you've created your brand: Think about what you are offering. What differentiates you from others? Employers will always be thinking about what value-added skills you bring to their firm or to that next job.
Set career goals and share them: Have you set specific career goals for yourself? Have you told your current boss that you want to move up in the organization? Or talk to a mentor in your firm about your career ambitions. Don't assume managers know what your career goals are. They often don't.
Think about a variety of career options: Don't just think about moves up in the firm. Sometimes, the best way to move up is to first move horizontally. As organizations continue to reduce their hierarchical levels, there may be fewer vertical moves for you to make, yet you can still grow in the firm by accepting lateral moves. What's important is enhancing your skill set and taking on greater job challenges. This will make you more marketable no matter what your next move is.
Look for gaps in the job you want and your current skills: If you know what job you want, evaluate it in terms of the knowledge, skills and abilities that are required and see what you are missing. Maybe it's time to get more education or training in a particular area.
Leverage the power of networking and connections: Everyone knows that networking is important, yet do they really spend time building their networks? To move into a more desirable position, it is critical that you cultivate and leverage networks of people across a variety of jobs and organizations. Think about how much time you spend doing this and devote time each week to building relationships. You can use face-to-face networking, online resources (LinkedIn, Facebook) and other online methods (writing blogs).
Be willing to work hard and show initiative: The amount of time you work and the quality of your work will be used by your boss and other leaders to assess your contribution to the firm. You have to be willing to go that extra mile to stand out. Generally, your work ethic in one job says a lot about what your work style will be in the next job. Do you come in early, stay late, or if you work offsite, are you available? Is your performance top notch? Does your work make an impact? Do you continually look for ways to enhance your performance? What will your current peers and managers say when asked about your work ethic?
Showcase your ideas and performance: Share your ideas with others. Show that you are interested in learning new things and trying to help the firm. Keep a file of your accomplishments and make sure to share it with your mentor or manager.
Be collaborative: You need to work effectively with people in your own department and across departments. Leaders will appreciate your style so much more than a person with more expertise who has trouble collaborating. It will also enable you to build networks with others in the firm, which might prove useful for learning about other job openings. If this isn't your skill, take a course in negotiations, persuasion, influence or conflict management to enhance your ability in this critical area.
Look and act the part: Even in today's more relaxed corporate climate, leaders still want to promote and hire employees who look the part for that next job. This includes professional dress and appearance as well as language and professional style. They want to know that you will treat people with respect and professionalism. Get feedback from others at work to see what impression they have of you and make changes if you don't look or act the part for that next move.
Be enthusiastic and energetic: Bring positive energy into your work. People gravitate toward positive colleagues, and they want to be led by them.
Have integrity: The most highly rated attribute of leaders is integrity, and employers want to know that you have it. This means that you are honest, ethical and do what you say you will do.
Your actions on your current job will heavily influence your next career move: Take the time to make a critical evaluation of your current performance. Use the review to create an action plan for your career progress — noting what you want to do and the skills you will need to enhance. Then you'll be likely to reach your next career goal.
Joyce E.A. Russell is director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist with more than 25 years in coaching executives and consulting on leadership, negotiations and career management.