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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

5 Rules You Must Follow to Get Ahead in Your Career

Many of the job seekers—and even employees—I talk to are stuck in their careers right now. Why? They’re playing an old set of rules. They are struggling to find jobs or to get ahead in their current ones because they haven't noticed that the economy and global workforce have changed, and they haven't adapted.

Corporations want to do more with fewer resources. They are looking for entrepreneurial-minded workers who can move business forward. They are looking for the best talent at the lowest price, which means job seekers and employees alike are competing with professionals from all over the world.

These days, just doing your job isn't enough—you have to constantly expand your role, learn new skills, and grow your network if you want to stay relevant. Regardless of your current occupation, the following five rules will help you survive and thrive in this new world of work.

1. Always Be Open to New Opportunities

A decade ago, you could graduate from college and have a secure job for life. But these days, you could get laid off on a moment's notice, your team could be outsourced, or your company merged or acquired.

That means, you always need to be looking for new opportunities (as well as building a strong online presence so that you’ll attract them, too). This is not to say that you should be job-hopping all the time—my rule of thumb is to stay in one role for at least a year, unless you're presented with an opportunity you can't refuse. But a new Careerbuilder study shows that 74% of workers are either actively searching for a new job or open to a new opportunity. If you want to get ahead in your career, don't close yourself off.

2. Have a Consulting Mindset

We’re living in what I call "ROI Nation" right now, where companies aren't willing to take risks hiring people. They want to be 100% confident they are hiring someone who can get the job done flawlessly and add value to the company.

So if you're a job-seeker, you need to prove your worth, and the best way to do this is to act like a consultant. Instead of just applying for a job, make a presentation on how you can add more value to the company. Come with a case study to show that you've improved sales of your last client or company by 50% or that you helped increase efficiencies that led to a decrease of costs by 70%. If your salary is $40,000, then deliver $70,000 worth of value to justify it. Don’t just tell a company that you’ll add value—show it.

3. Be Able to Change and Adapt

Be prepared for your job situation to change constantly. I know so many people who were finance or marketing majors in college and who now have a completely different career. Even if you’re certain of your career path, you could find yourself with a new manager and need to adapt to his or her leadership style on short notice. Or, if you own a company, you might find your business model changes over time based on demand and on how your customers are using your products and services.

You can best position yourself for these changes by understanding your core strengths and gaining skills that can be used across various business functions and roles. Being able to roll with the punches will be key to your long-term success.

4. Learn the Skills of Today and Tomorrow

This next rule is emphasized in a recent New York Times article: Workers are working nonstop to stay relevant in their careers. And you should be, too. Read the WSJ or other major newspapers, and get a sense of what the market is looking for. Then, "skill up" accordingly.

There are many ways to acquire new skills, whether you prefer online training modules, YouTube educational videos, open source courses (such as MIT's), books, or finding expert mentors online. It's also important to read up on industry news daily, so you’re aware of relevant events and can sound intelligent in meetings and in job interviews.

5. Surround Yourself with the Right People

You need to build a strong network for several reasons. First, if you're around the right people, you will become smarter and more confident about your career. Second, if you get laid off, you'll have a network to help guide you to new opportunities—finding a job by submitting a resume doesn't usually work because you’re just one resume in a stack of thousands. Your network can help you cut through the clutter and get noticed.

Finally, you appear to be more valuable when you're around other ambitious and intelligent people. Surround yourself with people who will build you and your career up, not bring you down.

Want more from Dan? Check out his book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, and look out for his second book, Promote Yourself: The New Art of Getting Ahead, in 2013.

Photo of businesswoman courtesy of Shutterstock.

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