I considered myself an ambitious person when I started my career, yet I listened to what everyone said about having to put in my time. Rack up some points. Earn my stripes.
Problem is, this method takes time. Years, possibly even decades. Even though this is what I was trained to expect, I never felt like I had time for that. I’ve always been a fast learner, and I wanted to test my limits—not bide my time and wait for someone else to decide if and when I was ready to move up the ladder.
So, when I changed the direction of my career, I decided not to wait on other people to move things along—but to take matters into my own hands. While I’m definitely not at the level I once was, I’m moving up a lot faster than I—or anyone else—expected. Here’s how I fast-tracked my career and got the results I wanted.
1. Say What You Want and What You Can Do
Negotiating’s always been a pain point for me, but when I transitioned from financial services to being a full-time writer, I no longer had a choice. I had to be specific about what I would do and what I wanted for it.
Being a freelancer taught me how much I value my time and what exactly it’s worth. You figure out pretty quickly that people will pay you what you ask for, nothing more. So you need to be brave and just ask for it.
Looking back, I realize this tactic would’ve worked in my old life too, if I’d had the guts to apply it. Unless you’re being unrealistic, there’s really no downside to asking for what you want, as well as being honest about what you can deliver. If you can do something, speak up and say what it means for you to achieve that—even if it’s technically beyond your scope of responsibilities. If you know you can figure something out, offer to take part in a project.
The moment I stopped being self-conscious about where I thought I was supposed to be and focused on what I knew I could do and what that was worth, I leapfrogged past a few rungs on the ladder.
2. Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
If you want to impress people, well, impress them already. “How?” you ask. Exceed their expectations. The single biggest factor in accelerating my career was my ability to impress my clients, colleagues, managers, and executives. (Just be warned: This is a tactic only to be used if you can back it up. Over-promising and under-delivering will set you back eons.)
If your goal is to always do more than what you signed up to do, two things will happen. First, everyone will start expecting great things from you. Second, someone’s going to notice your talents aren’t being properly utilized, and you’ll find your way into a new job title. If it’s not someone at your current job, it will be someone you network or interview with.
No one wants to hear networking is a part of the plan, but we all know it can’t be ignored. It’s like brushing your teeth. You might be tired and your bed is calling, but you know you’ll regret it if you don’t brush. Networking is pretty much like that.
If you’re not making waves where you’re at, branching out to your network is the best way to get a feel for what you should do next. The beauty of a good network is that these people are usually objective and often have your best interests at heart. If they think you can do better somewhere else, they’ll tell you.
This is great, not only for the ego boost if you’re under-valued, but the sanity check that you do deserve more than what you’re getting. Your network has been there, done that, and they’ll spill all their secrets if you’re lucky. Tap into this resource early and often, and you’ll have a perpetual career counselor at your fingertips.
When I announced I would be leaving the career that shaped me and funded the purchase of many vacations, a car, my first house, and I’m sure lots of other things, just about everyone was sure I’d fail in a spectacular fashion. What they didn’t realize is that all those years had taught me something. It doesn’t take decades of experience to get ahead. It just takes careful planning and determination. And maybe a few Red Bulls and espressos.
Photo of runner courtesy of Shutterstock.