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Moving Up After Moving Out: Getting Promoted in the Real Business World

Moez Limayem

By Moez Limayem, Dean of the Muma College of Business

stand out in a crowd

TAMPA (June 12, 2017) -- As the dean of a thriving business college in a metropolitan area teeming with business-related job opportunities, the biggest part of my responsibility to students is assuring their success, both in the classroom and later on in their professional careers. That means having them ready to enter the job market upon graduation and equipping them with what they need to climb the corporate ladder. I have heard it all and seen much more when it comes to career advancement. So, I can't help but share some advice with recent graduates early in their careers on how they can best position themselves for that very important promotion – the first after being hired. Here's what I'm telling them:

  1. Your first promotion was getting hired. Finding yourself outside the classroom and inside an office at first can be intimidating, but remember this: Technically, you already have received your first promotion. You were hired after a successful job interview and vetting process and you should take some measure of comfort in knowing that your new employer has decided to invest in you. So, where do you go from here? You should have gleaned through that interview what success looks like to your supervisors and to the organization. Every business is different and you must realize that rising in the ranks requires skillsets that may vary from company to company. You need to understand what it takes to be outstanding in this new environment. Beyond what you learned in the interview about how the company generally gauges success, how do you find that out? Seek opinions on your performance from supervisors and colleagues. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback, but don't corner your supervisor every day either. Rather, ask for time after the completion of a project or presentation to sit and discuss what you did wrong and what you did right and what could be improved for the next time.
  2. Envision a path of where you will be in five years. Soon after you begin your new career, if you haven't already, you should envision a path to success that includes promotions. I am amazed at the number of fresh new employees who don't envision where they want to be in five years and don't clearly see how to move up that ladder. They just don't know what it takes and they never think to ask. If you start as an analyst and want to be a manager in five years, you and your supervisor must come together with a plan to reach that goal. Goals are important to achieve success and the goals set for you by your employer and the goals you set for yourself should be reviewed more than just once a year at evaluation time. Check your progress throughout the year, no less than once every quarter.
  3. A strong, positive attitude can lead to advancement. Supervisors always remember the person who steps forward with the attitude, "Yes, I can. Yes, I will." That difficult project – the one everyone ducks – may be the one you should take. This shows managers you are not afraid of taking risks and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, even if the chance of failure is great. Your behavior does not go unnoticed, believe me.
  4. Hone your soft skills. This perhaps is the most important task you will do during your first days, weeks and months of your new job. It's not simply one thing, but a web of interwoven skills that need to be sharpened. Without them, you will feel uneasy interacting with upper management and have difficulty in the performance of your everyday professional duties. This creates inner turmoil and may result in a struggle on your career path. Here's a roadmap showing you how to go about taking this critical step:
    • Start with a grounded and honest self-evaluation. If you react poorly in certain situations, figure out why and then determine the best course toward becoming more relaxed and how you might better react in the future.
    • Watch and take note of successful people in your company – and even in competing companies. You can learn a lot just by watching, but don't be shy about asking for advice either.
    • Read up on how businesses become successful, like Jim Collins' book, "Good to Great." Take the lessons presented there and put them into practice in your workplace. Take time to read industry publications, magazines and newspapers to soak up prevailing trends.
    • Learn how to network. This is one of the most important career skills in job advancement. While social media has made it easier, networking the old fashion way – face to face – is not out of style. So don't shy away from chamber functions, business seminars and conferences or alumni events.
    • Know how to negotiate effectively, whether it's with clients, colleagues or your supervisors over a pay raise. These skills also come into play when you're trying to convince your boss you are the right person for that next-level promotion. Managers recognize good negotiating skills and that's what they want in company leaders.
    • Be a good communicator. This also is a critical skill in building a successful business career. Learn how to speak with authority and most importantly, listen to others. Remember communication doesn't happen until the message is received and understood. Being able to communicate is essential in selling your ideas and your ideas are what get you noticed.
    • Be confident in your public speaking abilities. Whether it's in a social setting with just a handful of friends or colleagues or in front of a crowded boardroom, you must be able to deliver messages in a concise, articulate manner. Confidence in public speaking is one of the hallmarks of leadership.
    • Know the basics of teamwork; how to combine personal and professional skills to achieve a goal. Don't take on all the tasks yourself. Delegate responsibility and know that whatever task you are given, do it to the best of your ability because your part may be the key component that is the difference between a successful project and one that fails.
    • Learn and practice the ability to sell to or influence others. This isn't just about pushing products. Selling is something that is important whether it's in a job interview or pitching an idea to a supervisor. Successful selling takes effective, captivating communication.

  5. Seek out a mentor. Within months, weeks or even days, perhaps, you should be forming a good idea about where you want to go in the company. To get there, you must be aware of performance expectations for that position and any position that lies between you and your ultimate goal. To do this, you should find an informal mentor to go to for advice. It could be a colleague in another division, someone at another firm with the job similar to the one you want or an acquaintance you don't fully know. Make a point of inviting potential mentors and other business associates for coffee or lunch in exchange for brief "brain-picking" sessions to determine the proper steps to take along your career journey.
  6. Never miss a chance to sharpen your analytical skills. This advice is not just for business grads, as just about every job today requires fact-based decision-making. Without data and the ability to analyze it, executives are just people with uninformed opinions. In every field, data must be used to determine strategy and justify decisions. Intuition is necessary, but it's no longer the only ingredient in making decisions. Your supervisors now expect you to make decisions that are based on a compilation of all available data and analysis of that data, and they are much more inclined to listen to your ideas if you back them with the facts and analytics. New and old employees should never miss an opportunity to sharpen those analytical skills. This is not easy, as the field is ever changing, but it's not impossible. Workshops are a way to go and so is participation in certification programs if you are unsure about where to start.
  7. Always act with integrity. Every decision you make, every action you take must be ethically sound. Keep out of situations in which your integrity could be called into question and if a supervisor or coworker suggests you do something ethically suspect, let them know that you are uncomfortable with doing or saying anything that may mislead fellow coworkers, clients or managers. Never compromise your principles for a short-term gain. If you do, in the long run, you, yourself, will be compromised.

All this guidance, and it seems like a lot, is really just enough to get you started on your path to the top rung of that corporate ladder. The final bit of advice I always tell young people just starting out is this: The rest is up to you.