8 Ways to Get Ahead at WorkEven if you love your job, you'll likely find yourself stuck in a rut at some point in your career. You may have gotten so good at what you do that it has become automatic (and perhaps a bit boring), or maybe you'd like to ask for a raise but don't know how to broach the subject. Whatever your goal, we spoke to career experts to learn what techniques will help you gain momentum at work.
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1. Take on diverse assignments.
If it seems like the only thing that ever changes about your job is the day of the week, it's time to ask your boss for "stretch assignments" to enhance your growth, says Jodi Glickman, president of a communication training firm and author of Great on the Job. Offer to help with new projects, even ones that fall outside your department. Or, if you have a particular skill that isn't part of your job description, be on the lookout for opportunities to indulge your other areas of expertise. For instance, say you're a teacher who also has a flair for writing. "If your team is redesigning the curriculum or applying for a grant, offer to help write, edit or review the proposal," suggests Glickman. "By showcasing your natural talents, you'll give people a chance to see another side of you, and you may open doors to new opportunities you never even considered," she explains. If there are no projects on the horizon, let it be known that you're available when one does come along. "People will appreciate your initiative and will often find a way to make new assignments come your way over the long term," Glickman adds.
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2. Put out fires before they start.
Let your boss know as soon as you become aware of a problem or potential problem, and offer possible solutions. This approach "shows your boss that you've got good judgment and that you're trying to make his or her life easier by taking an active role in the problem-solving," notes Glickman. Making things run more smoothly for your boss is a surefire way to improve your chances of getting a raise or promotion, she adds.
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3. Ask questions.
While it may seem like you're doing your boss a favor by keeping questions to a minimum, you're actually setting yourself up for failure if you don't ask for resources that will help you do the best job possible. When you're given a new assignment, make sure you understand exactly what's required of you and how to do it. If anything isn't clear, ask for guidance. According to Glickman, "the smart way to ask for help is to ask your boss if she has a good recent example of a similar completed assignment that you can look at, or a recommendation of someone you could speak with for direction."
4. Find-and learn from-a mentor.
If you want to increase your visibility, says Hadley Earabino, a certified Martha Beck Life Coach who helps women with career choices, "start taking notes: Who gets noticed? What is she doing that you can emulate? You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Model yourself after someone whose techniques are already working." Once you find a coworker you especially admire, let her know that you'd like to help out if she ever needs assistance with a project, or let your manager know you're eager to team up with this particular person. Collaborating with well-respected employees can be a "great way for you to learn new skills, develop a new relationship and gain visibility with other senior leaders within your organization," Glickman says.
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5. Get to the point.
We often overcommunicate for fear that we'll leave out important details, but loading down listeners with too much information makes it hard for them to take it all in. The solution? "Lead with the punch line," advises Glickman. Whether you're delivering good or bad news, "think about what is new, different or important, and start with that. Don't make people guess at your meaning or listen to a four-minute voice mail when you could have delivered your key points in half the time." If there's time and attention to spare, then you can fill in more details.
6. Take control of your career path.
If you feel like you're ready for more responsibility at work, meet with your boss to tell her what you'd like to take on while also asking for advice on how you can prepare for this next step. "Be long-term focused and couch it in terms of your ability to contribute to the organization in a broader way," Glickman suggests. For instance, if you want more client interaction, she recommends saying: "I'd like to expand my skill set and increase my impact, and I think I'd do well interacting with clients. Is there any way to give me some additional exposure over the next three to six months?" Earabino suggests that "you might also try doing extra work before you're asked to. If you do a stellar job, you'll be handed a similar project before you can finish the first one." Of course, you don't want to step on any toes, but if you think a project would benefit from extra research, go ahead and do it without being asked, and report the findings to your boss.
7. Mind your attitude.
"A good attitude is arguably one of the most important things you bring with you to the job," says Glickman. "If you are open-minded and willing to pitch in, or just do what's asked of you with a smile on your face, people will want to work with and for you." But if there's a problem that you can't ignore, instead of griping, Glickman suggests being proactive. First, highlight the issue ("I'd like to talk to you about how we might be able to help the sales team better prepare for our meetings."). Then, ask for rationale ("What are your thoughts about why the sales team doesn't have their reports ready for our weekly meetings?"). Finally, propose a solution ("Would it help if we moved the meetings to later in the week?").
8. Tout your accomplishments.
While it's important to keep your boss informed of your successes, don't overdo it by sharing every detail. Instead, Glickman recommends scheduling quarterly discussions to update your manager about "what you've been working on and a few of the successes you've had." She explains, "Asking to sit down and catch up once a quarter is not too onerous, and any achievements are still relatively recent." Then, when you feel you deserve a raise or promotion, schedule a meeting with your boss in which you recap significant contributions throughout the past year and share what you plan to contribute going forward. "If your boss refuses your request after you've laid out your case, you need to ask, 'What do I specifically need to do to get a raise or promotion next time?'" says Glickman. "Find out so that you can meet those goals and make it happen."
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