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Communication: The Key to a Successful Career

businesswoman whispering in businessman's ear By Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Q: I’m about to start a new job that took a long time to find. I want to get off to a great start and develop a long-term career with this new employer. Based upon past experience, it seems that just doing a good job isn’t enough to succeed in today’s corporate world. What am I missing?

A: Most people assume that hard work and dedication equal success in the corporate world. However, unless you’re self employed, the truth is that communication skills are equally important if you want to advance your career. Here are some tips to help you stand out from the crowd and make a great impression at your new job:

  • When you begin a job or project, identify the key people who will have an impact on your career. Get to know them. Establish a relationship by discussing each other's philosophies, perceptions of company issues, role interactions, collaborative and potentially conflicting goals and expectations of each other.
  • When you have a new manager, find out their priorities in terms of what you should learn and do first, second, third, etc. Go over the company's performance review form and find out how your manager interprets each section. Try to get some specific examples of what they consider superior work. Ask about what it takes to get a promotion or raise. Then develop goals and action plans together to benchmark your current job performance.
  • To improve communication even more, put together a schedule for regular meetings with your manager and co-workers to review your progress, solicit feedback, learn new skills, set goals and solidify your relationship. People need to know what you're doing and thinking. They value the opportunity to offer input on projects, and will typically back you if given a chance to "own" your strategy. While taking on a project by yourself may seem like the fastest way to get things done, it can be a lonely, hostile journey to the finish line. On the other hand, keeping everyone informed takes more time, but it promises a friendlier trip.
  • Always know where you stand with the people who have the power to give you raises, promotions and feedback for your permanent record. Because most managers hate reviews, even positive ones, they rarely want to have conversations about your performance, and may even put off your formal review until the last possible moment. This avoidance behavior leaves you in limbo, and can lead to unpleasant surprises when you finally do get a performance review. To make sure that no performance review, either good or bad, is ever unexpected, take the initiative to plan regular discussions about your career with your manager.
  • Set aside at least one hour per quarter to ask for feedback on your individual performance, point out your strengths and accomplishments, evaluate your progress and develop goals together. Make sure your manager knows what you expect in return for exceptional work.
  • These days companies tell employees their careers are their own responsibility. While this has always been true, organizations have finally owned up to it. With rampant re-engineering, “rightsizing” (aka layoffs), and reorganization, professionals who know not to expect any help when climbing the corporate ladder will be most likely to advance their careers.
  • Don't confine your communication only to those with whom you work day-to-day. Making contacts throughout your organization can be most beneficial in:
  1. Establishing your worth to the company at large
  2. Giving you a broader perspective on your job and how it impacts the big picture
  3. Advising you of opportunities for interesting new projects or positions
  4. Offering information on the state of the organization
  5. Helping you to deal more effectively with political situations
  • Professional career coaches will tell you, "The best time to network is when you're employed." Networking inside and outside your organization are equally important.
  • Getting involved in a professional or community organization offers you the chance to develop new contacts and skills. Usually volunteer groups encourage their members to try a greater variety of positions and move up the ladder faster than a paid environment will. You can expose yourself to a rich array of experiences that look good on your resume and will be useful in your current job, if you seek camaraderie and experiences beyond your immediate family and colleagues.

As you hone your communication skills in a variety of venues, you'll increase your recognition as a key player within your company, industry and community. Eventually, people will think of you as an "executive with portfolio," the go-to person when an important job needs to be done.

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 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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