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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Simple Secret to Getting More Opportunities at Work

In my company, getting a promotion isn’t exactly easy. There isn’t a lot of movement in the business as a whole (i.e., employees stay in their current positions for years), and moving between departments requires a long application and interview process—and you’re competing against external applicants, too.

And maybe you’re in the same boat: You’re doing an amazing job in your current role—meeting deadlines, exceeding goals, and completing all your duties—but that isn’t always enough to really stand out in your company and eventually get you from where you are now to where you want to be.

So, in a place that may seem stagnant or slow-moving, how can you position yourself to be offered an opportunity beyond what you’re doing now?

In my experience, it comes down to one skill: Helping others.

It sounds simple, but when it’s 5:30 PM and someone from another department calls you with an urgent request, it may not be as second nature as you think. To show you how effective this can be, compare these two extremes.

Situation #1: The All-Knowing (But Rarely Helpful) Employee

When I first started at my current company, everyone knew Jeff. He was great at what he did, and if you were on his team, he’d help you out in an instant. Knowledgeable, tech-savvy, and quick, Jeff knew how to get things done.

The problem was, if you came to Jeff from another department or with a request that was even slightly outside his scope of work, he’d immediately turn you down. “That’s not my job,” he’d say, without even a suggestion of who to go to instead. Even if it was something he technically knew how to do, he’d wave you away with a snide refusal.

And so, it’s not surprising that while Jeff was well known in the company, he didn’t earn a reputation of being a flexible, adaptable, and resourceful employee. He was good at his job—and that was about it.

As you can guess, when opportunities for promotions, special projects, or positions in other departments became available, Jeff was never the first one to come to anyone’s mind. He didn’t show that he wanted to be a bigger part of the company, so they assumed he wasn’t interested.

Situation #2: The Over-the-Top (But Effective) Employee

A few months after I started with the company, an employee named Jennifer started as a client relationship manager. We didn’t work in the same department—or even on the same floor in the building—but it wasn’t long before everyone knew her name.

She was a constant communicator, sending me (and everyone on my team) instant messages and emails, and calling and leaving voicemails if we didn’t answer quickly enough.

Honestly, it seemed a little over the top (read: flat-out annoying) at first, but everything changed when I had a request of my own. Whatever I asked of Jennifer, she got it done. And if it wasn’t technically her job, she got me in touch with someone who could accomplish my request more effectively. And her constant communication came in handy: If something didn’t get accomplished quickly, she’d immediately message, call, or email the person to check up on it. So, you can bet things got done in a timely manner.

Even as a new employee, Jennifer quickly gained the reputation of a person who not only got things done, but was willing to help out whoever and whenever—all for the sake of making the company’s clients happier.

A year later, she moved into the sales department. When her name came up in a conversation I had with one of the VPs of the company, he told me that when Jennifer had started looking to switch roles, every department had wanted Jennifer—so she had her pick of great opportunities.

Now that’s a pretty good position to be in, isn’t it?

As I’ve tried to take this approach in my company, it’s certainly not always easy or convenient. Sometimes, I get emails requests for things that really aren’t part of my job description—but I do them anyway. Sometimes, I have to take a few minutes out of my day to chat with a salesperson to answer his or her questions, or when an angry client is on the phone and no one else is willing to take it, I have to volunteer.

But the crazy thing is, I’ve already seen results. Once, after I’d jumped on a client call to help a salesperson explain our implementation process, he sent an email to my manager and his manager, thanking me for my assistance. And recently, when my company launched a special project, one of the executives approached me, telling me he’d heard good things about me from several staffers and wanted me to lead the team.

And that only happened because I’d built up a reputation that I’ll go the extra mile to help anyone in the company, whenever they need it—or, at the very least (or if it’s really not my job and I’d end up doing more harm than good), recommend someone else and put the two parties in contact with each other.

In the end, it’s all about your attitude—committing to do whatever you can to make the company more successful. Others will quickly take notice and want you as part of their team. All of a sudden, you’ll have more opportunities than you know what to do with—and that will put you in an ideal position when you try for a lateral move, raise, or promotion.

Photo of people working courtesy of Shutterstock.