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10 Habits to Help Advance Your Career

businessman standing on ladder By Taunee Besson, CMF, CareerCast.com Senior Columnist

Q: It's easy to find articles full of advice for job seekers, but what about career advancement for those who are already employed? Since companies have cut back staff, many employees are stuck doing the work of three people these days. How can I possibly focus on my career advancement when I'm suffering from so much workplace stress?

A: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was a business best seller for an incredibly long time – especially considering its relatively simple advice. Even though most of the book's readers probably already knew the seven habits, putting them on paper helped to enhance their credibility.

The same is true when it comes to advice on how to advance your career. A lot of the tips I can offer are common sense, but unless you remember – and actually do – each of them, you'll never get on the path to career success. With this in mind, here are 10 Habits to Help Advance Your Career, which if followed will help you take your mind off everyday stress and focus on career advancement:

  1. Know your career mission and pursue it with vigor
  2. Like Shakespeare's prose, this habit may be interpreted on more than one level. As a philosophy, it challenges you to discover the unique role best suited to your talents, interests and values and serves as a driving force to propel you toward success.

    On a more pragmatic level, your career mission is represented by your job description. The happiest professionals are those who understand their work, and what it takes to do a good job. This comes from a combination of technical competence and knowing exactly what management or clients expect from them. As quality experts would say, they do the job right the first time.

  3. Competence alone will not get you what you want
  4. You must also make sure that management notices when you do good work, and understands that you expect to be rewarded for going above and beyond. Too often employees just assume that their bosses know what's best when it comes to helping with career advancement, and that doing a really good job will automatically be acknowledged. Unfortunately, the truth is that many workers only generate attention when they're a problem.

    If you really want to advance your career, you have to ask for what you want. Your manager isn't a mind reader, and waiting quietly to be recognized is a surefire way to get passed over for a promotion.

  5. Become an "intrepreneur" – view your job as a long term consulting assignment, not a permanent gig
  6. Years ago, Fast Company magazine had a cover story called "Me, Inc.", which revolutionized its readers' thinking about their careers. The article said that because organizations no longer guarantee lifetime employment, it's important think of yourself as a contractor with a portfolio instead of a loyal employee. As a contractor, your focus should be doing excellent work, learning as much as possible from each position, and being ready to hop to a new job should the desire or need arise.

  7. Take some career development risks
  8. Seize the responsibility for your own career advancement. Don't waste valuable time hoping for the best, or waiting for your company to notice that you're doing high-quality work and shower you with riches and promotions. Chart a career path, and make your management your partners in working to advance your career.

  9. Trust your gut
  10. If a situation does or doesn't feel right, don't let logic override intuition. Have you ever taken a job your gut warned you against, only to find weeks later that your first instinct had been correct?

    Steve Jobs knows what the public wants and makes it available to them before they even know that they want it. If he had traveled the "path well taken," we may still be using CD players instead of iPods.

    Logic has its place in the decision making process, but whole-brained thinking will give you a balanced perspective on your career advancement that pure analysis cannot.

  11. Network, network, network – even when you don't want a new job
  12. A well-developed professional network can be a source of friendships, mentors, and referrals for everything from pediatricians to plumbers. Your network can also provide objective insights for evaluating opportunities and problems. Trade organizations, churches, alumni associations, friends of friends, and continuing education classes all offer excellent sources for cultivating relationships with colleagues who can help advance your career. Remember: job security comes and goes, but a solid network of valuable contacts is valuable no matter the circumstances.

  13. Negotiate for a win-win solution
  14. While it may appeal to our most primitive instincts to leave opponents bleeding in the dust, we will probably have to work with them again. Humiliation does not breed long-term relationships. It promotes a long lasting desire for revenge.

    The next time you are in a mood to take no prisoners, put yourself in your adversary's place. Suggest a solution that benefits both of you. You may not get the short-term victory, but you won't be stuck with a long-term enemy, either.

  15. Fake it until you make it
  16. I'm not suggesting you lie on your resume or present yourself as someone you're not. "Faking it" refers instead to those occasional lapses of self confidence we experience when faced with a challenging project. Self doubt can grow in you like a cancer: "Can I really pull this off?" "Am I good enough to do this job?"

    If you find yourself suffering from a crisis of confidence, remember that positive behavior can easily overtake negativity and pull you out of your rut. And your behavior is what others see, not what you're feeling on the inside. Have to give a presentation and scared that you don't know what you're doing? Use your nerves an extra source of energy so you seem even more engaging.

    Fear and stress can be your allies if you channel them effectively.

  17. Only pursue goals that you actually want to achieve
  18. How often have your heard people say "I plan to lose 25 pounds this year," but come December their weight hasn't changed? Goals prefaced by "I should" rather than "I want" are generally doomed to failure.

    When you begin to set goals to help advance your career, try testing their viability using the RUMBA method: Each goal should be Reasonable, Understandable, Measurable, Behavioral and Agreed upon. Meeting only the first four conditions isn't enough. You and everyone involved with your goal must genuinely agree it's a great idea, or a lack of enthusiasm will cause it to die sooner or later.

  19. Fill your life with a combination of work, education and fun
  20. According to Richard Bolles' book Three Boxes of Life, Americans tend to divide their lives into three discreet time periods, each having a singular purpose. From birth to about 21, we are in our learning box. Our mission is to absorb information and advice from our elders. From about 21 to 65, we are in our working box where we must concentrate on producing worthwhile products and services. Then at 65, we retire and move into our fun box.

    Unfortunately, people who buy into this pattern for living lead a pretty stale existence and often die early because they feel useless without their jobs. They've forgotten how to learn and enjoy themselves. For them life without work is meaningless. Many Baby Boomers are facing this dilemma as they struggle to decide if they want or can afford to quit working.

Those who have mastered the art of combining education, career, and leisure throughout their lives follow the sage advice of Robin Williams in The Dead Poets Society: Carpe Diem! They seize each day and make it their own.


taunee besson Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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