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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How to Uncover the Career Opportunities Hiding in Plain Sight

Some people have all the career luck. You know the ones I’m talking about: They get to attend all the special conferences, give the important presentations, and land the high-profile assignments. And they never have to look for jobs—the best jobs seem to find them.

How the heck do they do it? And what steps can you take to get on the inside track to these hidden opportunities?

I once spoke with a woman who had taken a big step down in her career, walking away from a lot of responsibility to work for a company where she hoped there were more opportunities for long-term career growth. But less than one year into her new role, she was feeling bored and underutilized, and she couldn’t identify any new roles that would allow her to move up in the way she’d imagined. She seemed destined to stay stuck where she was.

She admitted that her leaders weren’t aware of her goals, so I challenged her to have honest conversations with her managers in the next couple weeks. Later that day, when a senior leader stopped by her desk, she made her move: “I believe I have mastered my current role, and I’m interested in moving into a role where I can supervise others,” she told him.

Fifteen minutes later he returned and said, “I think I may have just the opportunity for you.”

There’s a lot you can do to uncover opportunities like this one. Here are five steps you can take to take to reveal career opportunities that may be hiding in plain sight.

1. Go Where the Growth Is

If you want to capture new leadership opportunities, go where your work matters most.

For instance, if you’re working in a business or industry that is stagnating or shrinking, it doesn’t matter how good you are at your job—your career development will be limited. And alternative career path options will be, too.

So be honest with yourself: Does your current situation lend itself to career growth opportunities?

Like the woman in my story, you may need to hatch a plan to maneuver into a business division or company that’s in a growth phase—even if it means leaving your current position.

2. Enlist Mentors Who Have Inside Access to Opportunities

Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. It’s helpful to talk to people who have inside information about where the business is headed.

For example, get to know the “rainmakers”—those salespeople who close the really big deals—as they know what’s coming in the pipeline. Also get to know visionaries of the company, such as the vice president of corporate strategy or the rock-star principal engineer who’s leading development of your company’s next-generation product. And get to know the sponsors—those senior executives who have a track record of developing talent and throwing people into stretch assignments.

Show an interest in what these people are doing. Ask about what they’re working on, what they foresee as the areas of growth, and how you can get involved and contribute.

More specifically, ask questions like:

  • Where is our business headed?
  • What will the company be doing differently a year or two from today?
  • What can I do to prepare myself to add value?
  • What new skills must I develop in order to be ready?
  • Who else should I speak to?
  • Are there any task forces, conferences, or volunteer assignments that I can get involved in?

Asking these kinds of questions can help you pinpoint opportunities.

3. Become an Asset

Rainmakers, visionaries, and sponsors are busy people, but they’re also leaders who understand that their success depends on leveraging the strengths of others. You just have to get them to notice you.

“Find out who are some of the best people in your field, follow what they do, and find an opportunity for them to get to know you,” says Sandra Veszi Einhorn, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Broward County, Inc. “One of the best things you can do for yourself is to be an asset to someone you aspire to be like.”

Volunteering to help out a sponsor, rainmaker, or visionary is a great way to build “career equity” with them. Ask if there’s anything you can do to assist, and keep an eye out for ways to graciously and enthusiastically help them be successful.

For example, if your company’s top-performing sales rep is looking for leads in a new business sector, you might offer to connect him or her with a former boss of yours who works in that industry. Or if an executive who is known for being a generous sponsor is also a passionate supporter of the annual charitable event, volunteer for the organizing committee.

4. Set Large, Medium, and Small Goals

Based on the information you’ve been gathering, come up with some large, medium, and small goals that would be wins for your career, as well as for the company. For instance, a large goal might be to land a new job working in your company’s most dynamic division. A medium-sized goal could be getting funding to attend an industry conference.

Boldly go after the big opportunities, but in case they aren’t possible, have some smaller, more reasonable requests to fall back on—like getting your company to pay for your membership in a professional association or taking the lead role in delivering a presentation. Even if you are only able to meet your small goals, you’ll be making progress in the right direction.

5. Don’t Keep Your Goals a Secret

Don’t be shy! After you’ve gotten to know and built trust with these forward-thinking leaders, share your goals with them. Leaders are rated on their ability to be good talent scouts and asset developers, so in most cases, they want to help you.

If they need to staff a new team or project, pick attendees for a high-profile industry event, or make recommendations to a hiring manager, and you’ve shown enthusiasm in advancing your career, you’ll be top of mind—especially if you’ve shared clear goals that align with their interests.

It’ll be a win-win-win—for you, the leader, and the company.

In the end, it’s rarely luck that gets good leaders to top positions. Instead, these are folks who’ve mastered these five steps for revealing hidden career opportunities. Now it’s your turn!

Photo of woman with magnifying glass courtesy of Shutterstock.