Career Development Techniques

Some of us are interested in rising through the ranks of established organizations in order to gain additional authority and responsibility within them.

To that end, I’ve provided some solid career advancement advice here and here. Now I’d like to offer some more specific techniques.

No two career paths will be identical, of course, but there are some proven attributes and techniques that will help you rise in a wide range of environments.

Here are a few of them:

Ask for Feedback and Take it

In the I Ching, one of the ideas that has long resonated with me is: “There is something ponderous and one-sided about the self-educated person.” I always took this to mean that listening to and learning from others is a better way forward than studying alone.

That same idea applies not just to “book learning,” but to career development.

You’ll find out a lot more about what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and how to get better when you ask people you trust, who are in a position to know, to give you honest, specific feedback on your past performance and future prospects.

Of course, feedback is worthless if you ignore it. So “part two” of this process is to evaluate the validity of what you’re hearing from various people and take to heart the parts you believe will help you.

Build Solid Expertise

One of the pillars of career success is knowing the intricacies of some important specialty so you can solve problems and accomplish tasks others cannot. Once you establish your reputation as an “expert,” you’ll find people coming to you with specific issues, and respecting your opinions more than others’.

In addition, there’s a “halo” effect that causes people to think an “expert” is knowledgeable about much more than they really may be.

Your legitimate, established expertise – plus the “halo” effect – will steadily bring you into contact with a wide range of people needing and wanting your help. Afterwards, some of them will be interested in helping you with your career.

Here’s an example: during his career in basketball, Magic Johnson frequently asked for meetings with business leaders in all the towns he visited for scheduled ball games. Who was going to say “no” to a meeting with Magic? In later years, these contacts grew into lucrative business partnerships that had little or nothing to do with Magic’s basketball expertise.

Broaden Your Outlook

Although legitimate, established expertise is a pillar of career success, it’s necessarily narrow and therefore limits your options. That’s why it’s important you work to expand your range of interests, circle of friends, and understanding of the world.

A broader perspective goes well with in-depth expertise and makes you a viable candidate for many upwardly-mobile opportunities that would otherwise remain closed to single-subject experts.

When broadening your outlook, you may want to learn more about:

  • The full range of your organization’s activities,
  • The various disciplines and fields of knowledge surrounding your own, and/or
  • Important and useful human-relations skills like empathy, emotional intelligence, negotiation, team-building, and leadership.

Follow a Career Strategy

Pursuing all of the ideas I’ve suggested so far will, all by themselves, help you move upward within most organizations. But you can rise farther and faster if you consciously pursue a career development strategy.

This could be anything along the lines of:

  • Working with a career coach to hone your skills and take advantage of all the opportunities afforded you.
  • Analyzing the needs of your organization so you can intentionally cultivate the skills and abilities that will get you noticed and promoted.
  • Understanding and analyzing your chosen industry so you can position yourself in the areas most likely to expand and offer opportunities to more talented individuals.
  • Finding a mentor and working to become indispensable to him/her, so s/he will bring you along as his/her career accelerates.

There may be other career strategies that fit your needs and preferences better than any of these.

Stay Humble

Because working well with people is paramount in career growth, and because people tend not to like braggarts and narcissists, it’s important to stay humble about your skills, abilities, and knowledge.

You can acknowledge your qualifications, of course, but humbly, while sharing a large dollop of consideration and credit to others.

When your stance in either your work or your life suggests “I know more than anybody,” you tend to drive the best and the brightest away from you.

Strive for Steady Improvement

This is the guideline that makes all the others work better. You career development efforts should be long-term, patient, and steady. You’ll make maximum progress if you strive every day to get better, always building – no matter how little – on your steadily-growing skills, knowledge, and experience.

You may not get noticeably better every day, but over the long haul this kind of effort will always produce the best improvement in both your productivity and your success.

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