Category Archives: Career development

What limiting beliefs are, how they hurt your career, and how to overcome them

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Have you ever thought anything like this about your career?

“I need to switch companies to get a raise.”

“I can’t negotiate for more money because then my boss will think I’m not a team player.”

“I don’t have the right background to get my dream job.”

You may agree with some of these statements and you might think some of them are not true at all. Your reaction to them depends on your worldview and your limiting beliefs.

Limiting beliefs are mistaken assumptions that act as barriers to achieving what we want.

All of the statements above are examples of common limiting beliefs employee have about their careers. Limiting beliefs typically focus on how we aren’t good enough to achieve something we want. In the context of our careers, that usually means that we aren’t smart enough, aren’t hard working enough, can’t share success with our coworkers, don’t have the right background, or aren’t willing to sacrifice something to reach a goal we desire.

Some other common career limiting beliefs are:

“My boss doesn’t want to help me with my career development.”

“Asking for help is a sign that I’m not good at my job.”

“The only jobs that pay $100k+ require working 80 hours a week.”

“If my coworker succeeds and she gets a raise, then I can’t get a raise too.”

Limiting beliefs hurt your careers in many ways.

One big way is if you assume everyone else around you has the same beliefs. For example, if “my boss doesn’t want to help me with my career development” is one of your limiting beliefs and you assume that your boss has the same belief, you might never get as much guidance from your boss as she wants to give. Many managers and bosses believe that it’s part of their jobs to help their employees improve in their careers and they actually enjoy seeing their employees grow and become more successful. Sort of like a high school teacher who love to hear what her former students have accomplished at their 25 year reunion.

So while you assume that your boss doesn’t want to help you, your boss is actually feeling like you don’t care about your career because you try not to bother her about it.

Another way your limiting beliefs can hurt you is by not taking action when you should. Again, if you think your boss doesn’t want to help you, you won’t actually ask for help. That means that when you stagnate and would like to get your boss’s opinion about what to learn next, you won’t ask. As a result, you never improve as quickly as you can and your career plateaus.

Now that we know what limiting beliefs are and why they hurt our careers, how do we challenge our limiting beliefs and create healthier beliefs?

The first step is to understand what your limiting beliefs are. It’s best to sort them out one at a time as they come up in your career.

Focus on what you want to achieve and what doubts you have about why you can’t achieve that goal. For example, if you want to negotiate a raise but you get an uneasy feeling that it’s not a good idea, you might want dig deeper to see if you have limiting beliefs around negotiating. After reflecting, you realize that you feel uncomfortable asking for a raise because you think your boss won’t see you as working for the good of the company anymore and that you’re not a team player.

There is a limiting belief there: If you ask for money, then your boss will think you’re selfish.

Going through this process is easier if you have a high emotional intelligence. People with high emotional intelligence can identify their feelings better which helps them identify the emotions arising from limiting beliefs.

Previously, we talked about how to develop your emotional intelligence and why it’s an important leadership skill for climbing up the ladder. See the link here: The importance of emotional intelligence in your career and how to develop it.

As another tip for identifying your limiting beliefs, they are usually cause-effect statements: “If I do one thing, then something bad will result from it.” Try to identify that thinking to find your limiting beliefs.

Once you identify a limiting belief, there are two helpful exercises to overcome those harmful beliefs.

The first one is the what if I was perfect exercise.

Think about yourself as a perfect person. Going back to our example about negotiating a raise and then your boss thinking you’re not a team player. If you were a perfect person, how would you handle this situation?

First off, you’d do such great work that your boss would be happy to give you a raise. You’d also know how to perfectly explain to your boss why you deserve a raise, such as doing more work than you were before, senior leaders noticing your great work, and presenting salary data that shows your new responsibilities warrant higher compensation. Finally, you’ll tell your boss that you love being a part of the team and want to take on more responsibility in the future to help the team even more. You’d also imagine your boss reacting positively to that negotiation.

While that won’t remove your fears, you’ll start to believe that maybe your limiting belief isn’t 100% true.

Another method to overcome your limiting beliefs is to find counterexamples.

In today’s information age, it’s easy to find counter examples by googling for “people who negotiated a raise” and reading their stories. You’ll find a number of examples about people who negotiated a raise and their boss was glad to help.

You can do the same for whatever other limiting beliefs you have. Just look for counterexamples online. If you need other examples, you can also ask friends and mentors what happened when they tried to do what you are trying to achieve.

Even after going through these two exercises, it will likely take more time to remove your limiting belief from your worldview. You will need to find counterexamples and build confidence that the world might be different from what you think right now. That happens over time.

While it’s not easy to overcome a limiting belief, it’s an important part of climbing up the ladder. If you let your fears stop you, you may look back at your career when you retire and wish you had done more to reach your goals.

Whether it’s trying for a promotion, getting a raise, or reaching the C-Suite, identify your limiting beliefs and learn to overcome them.

If you want to get promoted up, you might need to get promoted across first

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Many people at the bottom of the org chart look up at the executives and VPs amazed at everything they know and their steady climb up the corporate ladder.

But if you ask, those people at the top of the organization will tell you that their climb up wasn’t steady at all, and they gained all of that knowledge slowly over time.

Research shows that CEOs often worked in 3 to 4 key functional areas before their promotions to the C-Suite. Those key areas often include finance, operations, marketing, engineering, or running a key business unit (i.e. a unit that generates a lot of revenue).

One of my mentors told me about how he couldn’t get promoted any further as a VP of Operations. Then he switched over to a marketing role, did excellent work in his new role, and got the promotion he wanted after a few more years. He ended up being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company later in his career.

As many executives will tell you, their careers were not straight promotions up the org chart. They often worked as an Analyst in Department A, then got promoted to Manager in Department A, then moved to be a Manager in Department B, then got promoted to be a Director overseeing Departments A and B, and so on.

How can this knowledge benefit your career?

Perhaps to get that next promotion, you need to move laterally at your company before you get promoted up.

As you go up the corporate ladder, your knowledge must get broader and more strategic.

The typical career path usually goes as follows: Someone enters the company as an entry level employee, say as an Analyst. She does her job well and get promoted to Senior Analyst. After two or three more years, she continues to do her job well and then get promoted to Manager who oversees the Analysts and Senior Analysts she used to work with.

This is where a lot of people will get stuck. Up until this point, the knowledge you gained within your own department was enough to help you do your job: You were either doing what you did as an Analyst or managing people doing that job.

But at some point, the next level up will require you to work with people who have done things that you never have. That next level has people working on separate functions of the business reporting to you, and the person who gets the promotion to that position will need a solid understanding of those functions.

This would be the case for you if you look at all of the people reporting to your boss and you don’t have the skills of all of those people reporting to your boss. Then you might need to move laterally into one of those other departments and gain some of that knowledge before you will get promoted up.

How do you move laterally to a new position and develop those skills? The best way is usually through your own company.

Remember all of the cross functional projects you worked on during your tenure at the company. Think about if any of the people who led those projects lead teams in another department. If so, you can reach out to them and ask about your interest in working on more projects in that department. These people are already familiar with your work, and if you did a good job, they would love to have you on their team.

Another great way to learn about internal positions is to talk to HR. Human resources focuses on helping employees stay in the company and grow professionally so it makes sense that they’d rather have a current employee move within the company instead of go to a competitor.

If you are interested in staying within the company but going to a different functional area, you should talk to an HR representative. When internal jobs open up, HR will often search to fill the job internally before going external, and if an HR representative knows about your work and which departments you want to go to, he can alert you to the internal positions.

As a final way to learn about jobs in other departments, go to company wide events such as corporate trainings. When you attend, talk to new people and learn about their work. If that interests you, keep in touch with that person and try to work on some projects with them. It doesn’t even have to be a project related to your job. It could be something like helping to plan the company holiday party with that person or joining a company sponsored activity like the company’s running club. Then show them that you do great work.

Go out to events, meet new people in the company, and demonstrate your strong work ethic. If you do so, people who lead teams in other departments would love to hire you when they have a job opening.

If you feel stuck at your current job, you might want to move to a different department in your current company so you can learn more about different functional areas. As you gain more knowledge of the company as a whole, you’ll be more likely to get that next promotion up the corporate ladder.

How to advance your career at any age

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We previously discussed who the best resources are to help with your career development: Your boss, your boss’s boss, your company’s HR department, and mentors in your industry. Take a look at that article to learn why they are helpful for your career and how to form a mentorship with them: The best resources for developing your career. In this follow up article, we will talk about how to get their help in your career development.

Advancing your career at age 25 is very different than at age 45, but it’s possible to reach the next level of your career using advice from the same people. At every step in your career, you should get feedback from your boss, boss’s boss, and other mentors.

They will give you different advice at each step along the way, but if you use their advice you will get promoted faster.

Let’s break down how to advance your career by learning how to get good advice from them and how to use that advice to get the best results for your career goals.

Since part of the job for your boss and boss’s boss are to mentor you, you can meet with them every six months to get their advice. After all, the better job you do, the better they look for their bosses. And they can schedule time into their work day to mentor you.

These meetings will be more formal meeting than weekly one-on-ones but less formal than your annual review. They focus less on what you are working on at the moment and more on long term development.

One of the best ways to schedule this meeting is to send a short email requesting their advice.

To: [Your boss]

Subject: Can I get your advice about my career development?

Hi [boss],

As you know, I’m working on Project ABC for our Acme Corp client. That fits well within the analytics work I usually do. [Say something you are working on. Your boss already knows this, but it helps lead into your ask in the next paragraph.]

But I was hoping to talk to you about my long term career development, particularly around other skills I should develop. I have a good grasp of analytics, but I wonder if there are other skills I need to succeed in the company and industry throughout my career. [It can be scary for your boss to talk about your career development. She may wonder if you are gunning for her job or might leave the company. Take a little pressure off by being clear about what you specifically want to learn: In this case, more skills.]

I have a few ideas, but your ideas would be helpful too. I would love to know about what skills I should learn, and also what events I can attend to learn more about the industry. I’d also love to hear about your career path up to this point. [Tell your boss that you have ideas so your boss knows you are being proactive in your own career development. Also give your boss some direction about what you’d like to learn: skills, industry events, and lesson from your boss’s career path.]

Can we set aside some time next week so I can get your feedback? [End with a yes or no question so it’s easy for your boss to reply with a yes response. By asking for next week, you give your boss enough time to clear her schedule.]

Thanks,

[Your name]

You can send this email to your boss or your boss’s boss (CC your boss if she needs to be involved in the conversation two levels up). It’s a convenient way to setup a meeting about your long term goals.

You can also send this type of email to meet with your HR mentor or industry mentor.

Ideally, you’ll meet with an HR mentor or industry mentor about once a year early in your career. Ask about general career development resources. As you get more senior in the company, you may want to meet more often since you will need to deal with more complex issues (such hiring, firing, approving performance reviews, industry trends, and other not-fun-stuff). But still try to meet to talk about your career development from time to time.

When you actually meetup with your boss or mentors, you should try to get the most out of the meeting as you can. One great way to do this is with the ARMOUR technique to feedback.

ARMOUR technique to feedback:

  1. A – Ask for advice
  2. R – Receive the feedback
  3. M – Make a plan
  4. O – Operate on the advice
  5. U – Update your adviser
  6. R – Repeat

Asking for advice is pretty simple. Schedule a meeting with your boss or mentor (using the email above), meet with her, and then have a conversation about your goals. Just remember to have a focused question that you want answered. Otherwise, the conversation will go off topic and you’ll come out of the meeting with nothing relevant to you.

Receiving the feedback is also pretty simple. Genuinely listen to your mentor’s advice and note it down. In the moment of the meeting, don’t think that some of the advice doesn’t apply to your situation. Just write it down so you can reflect on it later.

This step is where most people stop with their career development: They ask for help and listen. But if you want to make faster progress in your career, there are more steps to developing your career.

You will also need to take action. The first step for that is to make a plan. Prepare for how you will use the feedback your mentor gave you. Perhaps, your boss told you about an industry conference that happens every April. You should make a plan to attend next year and do what you can to get prepared now, such as buying a ticket. Or maybe your HR mentor told you about a manager in a different department that could help you learn about a new skill: Put a note on your to do list to get an introduction to that person from your HR mentor.

Then you will need to operate on your plan. Go to the industry conference, meet with the people your mentor thinks can help you, read any books your mentor suggested, and take any classes you hear about. This takes a lot of work and most people give up, but persistence is one of the most important skills for getting promoted throughout your career.

Once you’ve followed through on your mentor’s advice, you should update your adviser on your progress. Tell your mentor that you followed through on her advice and what the results are. Think about how refreshing that is for your mentor. Most people will ask for advice and then never do anything with that advice. You won’t make that mistake. Not only will you taking your mentor’s advice, you will also let her know about the results you got with it. You can send a simple email like this:

To: [Your boss]

Subject: Re: Can I get your advice about my career development?

Hi [boss],

Last December, you gave me some career advice to go to XYZ Conference in our industry. [Remind her about the advice she gave.]

I wanted to let you know that I went to the conference two weeks ago and it was very helpful! I learned about ABC, DEF, and GHI topics which I’m now applying at work. I’m already seeing better results on the Acme project! [Let her know how you used her feedback and why it’s helpful.]

Thanks so much for your advice last December! No need to reply. [Let her know she doesn’t have to reply because you just want to thank her.]

Thanks,

[Your name]

Now that you’ve updating your adviser about how you used her feedback, she will be more inclined to help you again later. No one wants to help someone who asks for advice but doesn’t follow through.

But everyone wants to help people who use the feedback! So the next time you need help, you can repeat the process.

Getting feedback about improving your career once is great, but this technique becomes so much more powerful over time. The advice you receive from a mentor at age 25 will be very different from the advice you get at age 45, but you can talk to them at any age about how to reach the next level of your career.

As you gain mentors over time, you can keep going back to them for advice year after year, improving your skills, and reaching the next rung of the corporate ladder over time.

The best resources for developing your career

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Career development is a tricky topic. What you do to get promoted in our 20s is unlikely to work when you are in your 30s (or even 60s).

Careers last a long time, often more than 40 years. The days when you joined a company out of school and slowly worked your way up the corporate ladder are gone. Now there are so many options to improve your career, like going back to school, switching companies, moving departments, and side hustles. It’s easy to get lost in all the options and know which one is best for you.

But there are time tested resources that can help you reach the next step of your career no matter what life stage you’re in. These resources are the people around you: Your boss, your boss’s boss, your company’s HR department, and mentors in your industry.

Let’s breakdown why you want their help to advance your career.

Talk to your boss

The reason talking to your boss is so helpful is because he is your closest evaluator. He sees your work most often which allows him to identify which skills you need to improve and where you excel.

In addition, his job is the one where you will most likely get promoted. He knows the skills to do that job better than anyone else in the company and he can help you learn how to develop those skills.

As you improve the skills he suggests, you will be considered for other positions at your boss’s level or his job should he leave.

Talk to your boss’s boss

Your boss’s boss is a great resource for several reasons. First off, she’s the person who will select your boss’s replacement should he leave the company and she will know what skills she looks for when hiring for that position. If you know what skills she values and you demonstrate those skills, you put yourself in position to be the frontrunner when your boss’s job is vacant.

In addition, your boss’s boss has more access to company executives and knows what the company’s long-term strategy is. If the company is doing something like shifting to a digital customer experience, she may tell you to improve your digital marketing skills. By being one of the first employees to learn those skills, you set yourself up for possibly leading a new department in that strategic area.

Take a look at my previous article to learn how to work closer with your boss’s boss: The person you need to know to get promoted.

Talk to a human resources mentor

Using your company’s Human Resources department to develop your career might surprise you, but they are a great resource. HR isn’t just for tedious paperwork. They are also there to help develop your career.

HR knows about the best industry events and can get the company to cover the cost of you attending. As you go to these events, you’ll learn what skills are important in the industry and get a better sense of how your job helps your own company. You may even meet someone at another company who wants to hire you someday.

Attending your company’s HR events, such as corporate trainings or company wide events, is another great way to learn general business skills and about your company’s goals. But more importantly, it will help you meet the people who work in HR.

If you develop a mentorship with someone from HR, that person can help you work through challenges. As a manager, you might need to talk to HR from time to time to ask advice before delicate conversations with your direct reports or mediating overly dramatic situations. As a non-manager, an HR team member who knows about you and your skill set can keep you in mind for internal job openings so would be the first to know about them.

No matter what level you are in your career, knowing people in HR can help you advance your career quickly.

Talk to industry mentors

Getting advice from a mentor outside your company can be great for long term career advice. Someone from outside your company, whether it is a former boss, an old professor, or friend, can give you some added perspective on your situation.

If the person is in your industry, it can be particular helpful. That person will know about job openings at other company, industry trends, and may have been on your same career path but a level or two above you. You can get specific industry advice about how to climb up the ladder based on what that person did.

Read my previous article about finding mentors if you need help reaching out to people in your industry to form a mentorship: Networking: More Than LinkedIn.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to meet with these people enough that they remember you but not so much that you are a burden to their schedule: About once or twice a year.

How to schedule that meeting and get the most out of it for your career? That will be the topic of our article two weeks from now. Scroll up to the top of the page and sign up for the mailing list to get the article!

How to prepare for your annual performance review

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The time leading up to your annual performance review is filled with mixed emotions. You hope you did a good job so you can get a large bonus, a raise, and maybe even a promotion. You want to know that you did your job well.

But there is also a voice inside your head that wonders if you actually did a good job. Maybe you didn’t perform up to your boss’s standards?

No matter what you’re thinking, your performance review is an important moment in your year. It will set your compensation for the year, what types of projects you work on for the year, and your chances of getting a raise and promotion at your next performance review.

Fortunately, there is a way to handle your performance review so you can climb up the ladder.

Performance reviews, from your boss’s perspective, are focused on how you did last year.

From your perspective, your performance review should be focused on what you will do next year to make sure you add more value to the company than in past years. Why is that important?

Because if you add more value to the company in the next 12 months than you did last year, then it stands to reason that you deserve a raise since you generate more profit. And as you take on more responsibility, you will eventually get a higher job title to match your new responsibilities.

There are a few things you can do to set yourself up for a performance review focused on the future.

Remember what projects you worked on

The first part of preparing for your performance review is largely introspective. You will reflect on the projects you worked on, what went well, what mistakes you made, and what improvements you made compared to past years.

Think back to all of the projects you worked on last year. If you need help, go through your email inbox and see what messages you sent and received.

Which projects met expectations, which projects did you do an outstanding job on, and which projects could have used improvement? Write each project down and a note about what the final result was for each. Then write down what you specifically worked on in each project. That should give you a sense of how much of the project’s success or failure was because of your work.

This is largely the area of your performance review that your boss will focus on. Making this list will help you understand what he’s going to say and prepare for it.

See what improvements you made through the year

Next, write down any improvements you made throughout the year. Did you get better at your job over the year and how did you get better? Did you take on any new responsibilities that weren’t anticipated in your last performance review? If so, what is the financial impact on your department and company? If you are making a larger financial impact, you might expect to get a raise or bonus for your work. Hopefully your boss noticed your new responsibilities and had the budget to compensate you. If he doesn’t, you can explain your improvement and ask for your boss to keep it in mind the next time there is a new budget.

Every workplace is different. If your company is one where your boss asks you to write down what you worked on last year and send it to him a week before your review, it’s a good idea to highlight the new responsibilities in a different section than your usual projects. This will remind your boss that you are doing more work now than you were last year. If there’s more money in the compensation budget, he’ll know that you deserve a piece of it.

Collect feedback you received throughout the year

Another way to see if you made improvements through the year is to check on the feedback your colleagues gave you. You can look at your email and see who said positive things about you. This is especially valuable if the people complimenting you are senior employees at the company.

If you made improvements in the year and your colleagues said positive things about you, you can expect a raise or good bonus this year. Again, it’s a good idea to send some of this feedback to your boss if he asks you to review your projects before your review. Ideally, send them before next year’s budget is allocated so he knows about your new responsibilities beforehand.

Think about where you want to be one year from now

Another part of preparing for your review is to think about what you want a year from now. If you want a raise or promotion, you should ask for more responsibilities during your review. So think about what tasks you could take on and what skills you want to learn. It’s especially helpful if these new tasks help the company reach its strategic goals. Write them down.

Now that you assembled your past accomplishments and what you want to work on next year, practice your annual review. Practice by speaking out loud and recording yourself. Think about who will be in the room: your boss, maybe your boss’s boss and an HR representative.

The review will likely start out with your boss talking about your performance last year. After your boss talks about what he needs to (your performance, bonus, raises, etc.) you want to practice transitioning the conversation to new responsibilities for next year. Use the positive feedback your colleagues gave you as evidence that you can handle new responsibilities and higher value projects.

As a note, your annual review is not a good time to negotiate for a raise because the budget for the next year has already been set. There isn’t much your boss can do about a raise for next year if it wasn’t accounted for already.

But by setting yourself to work on higher value projects this year, you are putting yourself in a good position to ask for a raise before the next year’s budget is set.

Your focus on your annual review should be to get more important projects which demonstrates your increased value to your company. If you increased your value to the company, your boss will be able to secure you a raise and/or a promotion for your next annual performance review.

The importance of Emotional Intelligence in your career and how to develop it

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As your career starts out, the hard skills you learned in school will be very important. And if you excel as an individual contributor, you’ll get promoted to your first management position. From there on, your soft skills will become more important for future promotions than your hard skills. You’ll need to coach your direct reports, handle conflict within your team, and tactfully manage office politics. Building your interpersonal skills, and Emotional Intelligence, will help you excel as a manager up to Director, VP, and Executive.

Numerous studies show that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a trait great leaders have in common. Research shows that people with high levels of emotional intelligence are better at managing their stress, negotiating, and leading people. Daniel Goleman, the man who made Emotional Intelligence famous, noted that the qualities traditionally associated with leadership, such as intelligence, determination, and strategic vision, are required for success but are insufficient. Great leaders also needed other qualities – the qualities that he found associated with emotional intelligence. And these EQ qualities became even more important as employees reached higher positions on the corporate ladder. As someone got closer to the C-Suite, they needed higher levels of EQ to make the company successful and to move higher in his/her career.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize one’s own and other’s emotions and to manage them accordingly to achieve a goal.

According to Goleman, Emotional Intelligence has five components:

  • Self-awareness: knowing one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals – and their impact on others
  • Self-regulation: controlling or redirecting disruptive emotions and impulses
  • Motivation: being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement itself
  • Empathy: considering others’ feelings, especially when making decisions
  • Social skill: managing relationships to move people in desired directions

As you can see, the first three components all deal with recognizing and managing your own emotions. You need to know the emotions you are feeling, how to control your emotions, and to understand why you want to achieve your goals. One important point is that EQ is not about being emotionless. Emotions are good and healthy. You should not allow your emotions to your control you, rather you should feel and manage your emotions productively. That is the core of Emotional Intelligence.

The last two EQ components are about how you relate to others. Do you understand others’ emotions and do you know how to help them be productive toward their goals and the company’s goals. You can see how these two components are so important for leadership at the office. Whether it is helping a direct report manage his emotions with your social skills or understanding your boss’s goals using empathy, you can improve your career by developing EQ.

So then we get to the question, how do you improve your Emotional Intelligence?

A great first step is to read Daniel Goleman’s book which made EQ popular. But that isn’t necessary. You can also get started at home with two techniques: The Mime Technique and the Shoe Store Technique.

The Mime Technique helps you develop self-awareness and empathy. It’s pretty simple but very powerful.

Turn on your TV (or Netflix for all of us Millenials) and mute the sound. Try to understand the context of the show or movie just from the characters’ body language. The first time you do this, it might be hard. But as you do this a few times, you’ll start to notice which facial expressions signal anger, sadness, happiness, and stress. This will help you develop empathy.

As you watch more shows without sounds or words, you’ll start to label the emotions more in your head. You’ll see the difference between someone who feels joy and someone who feels ecstatic, and all of the other varying degrees of happiness. You’ll see the difference between the levels of anger, sadness, stress, and every other emotion in between. This will help you develop self-awareness. As you notice the different emotions in other people (empathy) you’ll also recognize the emotion in yourself better (self-awareness). That will also help you develop self-regulation over time.

As you learn to see these emotions in other people, you’ll have a better sense of good times to talk about sensitive subjects with your coworkers or when to give coworkers some space. You’ll see when they are stressed about a deadline and when they are happy about an accomplishment. You’ll get much better at handling office politics when you see the body language and underlying emotions people project.

The Shoe Store Technique is also useful: you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, figuratively. When you talk to someone and recognize their emotions, whether it is happiness or something else, put yourself in that person’s shoes. Ask yourself: Why might they feel this way?

Try on a few pairs of shoes. There could be a number of reasons why someone is stressed: is his child sick, did her boss just reprimand her, did he get in a car accident last night? You won’t know the real reason why someone feels the way he does, but picturing yourself in several different scenarios that would cause that emotion can help you empathize with that person.

You’ll understand how he feels which helps you manage your own emotions while talking to him and you will feel his emotion so you can empathize and create a stronger social connection between the two of you.

This can help you build allies at work and to just be a nice considerate person.

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills for advancing your career. Even early in your career you can start developing it now and see its powerful benefits.

Give these two techniques a try at work this week and let me know what emotions you see around your office.

“I’m freakin’ awesome!”

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Several years ago, I met with a Senior Vice President at one of the nation’s largest banks to get his career advice.

Of all the great pieces of advice he gave me, one has stuck out through the years. He said that when someone asks you how you’re doing, respond: “I’m freakin’ awesome!”

It’s certainly over the top which he was aware of, but he’s right. People like to work with people who are positive and excited. Sure sometimes you won’t be doing too well and you might want to just say, “I’m doing okay. What about you?”

But people want to be around people who are positive.

And sharing a positive attitude will help you keep a positive attitude when you get to the office.

Showing up to work excited and happy will help you produce better work which is a prerequisite for getting raises and promotions.

The person you need to know to get promoted

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You go into work on time everyday and do everything that is expected of you. You complete your assignments on time. You get along with your coworkers. You understand how your job fits into the company’s goals. Your boss and your coworkers know that you are crushing it.

But you can’t seem to get noticed for a raise or promotion. That can get frustrating for even the hardest working employee.

If you are doing your job well, the reason you aren’t getting noticed is likely because the right person hasn’t noticed what a great job you are doing. That person is your boss’s boss.

Your boss’s boss is the person who approves your performance reviews and raises. She’s also the person who picks your boss’s replace should he leave and hires others at your boss’s level across the company. If she doesn’t know who you are, you won’t get selected when those jobs open up.

She’s also one of the best mentors you can have. She has a better strategic vision of the company’s goals than your boss does and she has more access to the executives. Talking with her can get you thinking like a senior team member before you’re promoted into those positions, and if you’re already thinking like a senior team member then people will see your leadership potential early in your career.

Ideally your boss would make it clear to his boss that you’re doing a great job. And then your boss’s boss would realize what a great job you are doing, but that doesn’t always work out. Sometimes your boss isn’t a great communicator. Sometimes your boss’s boss doesn’t ask about the employees two levels below her. Sometimes your boss is threatened by your success and fears you might replace him.

Whatever the reason is, you can still get noticed by your boss’s boss.

Whether your boss’s boss knows you or not, a good way to talk to her is to ask for industry advice or ask about the company’s goals.

If your boss is a good communicator and supports your professional development, ask your boss to introduce you to his boss. If not, I’d suggest sending your boss’s boss an email requesting a short meeting to learn about her career path, the company’s goals, and general questions about how your industry operates. Checkout my article about how to ask for advice: How to ask your boss for help.

Once you meet with her, you can do some general check ins. You want to check in when you have something valuable to add to her life. Some good ways to keep in touch are:

  • Volunteering to work on a cross-departmental project. Your boss’s boss is likely involved in this type of project since it involves multiple teams that report to her.
  • Sending your boss’s boss a congratulatory email if she does something noteworthy, such a speaking at a conference or being recognized in a company wide memo.
  • Letting her know when your boss does a good job on a certain project. This both helps you keep in touch and keeps your boss happy.
  • Asking about the company’s strategic vision and how her department plays a role in reaching that vision.
  • If you see a news article that relates to her work, you can email the link to her saying, “Just in case you missed this, I thought you’d find this article helpful: [link]. No need to reply.”
  • If you happen to have a hobby in common or a similar life situation (like your kids playing in the same soccer league), you can talk about that when you see each other at the watercooler.
  • Asking to meet as a mentor once or twice a year, most likely with your boss also present. You can talk about what additional skills you should learn to help the company.

While you are doing this, keep in mind that you still report to someone else so you should ask the majority of your work related question to your boss. And you don’t want to undermine your boss by going straight to your boss’s boss when you have issues. Talk to your boss’s boss about interdepartmental questions, the company’s strategic goals, industry topics, and casual watercooler talk. These topics are appropriate for someone two levels above you without challenging the organizational hierarchy.

With all that being said, your boss’s boss can know you and like you, but if you aren’t doing good work, you still won’t get the promotion or raise. If you do good work but don’t know the right people, you won’t get promoted and will get frustrated that your work goes unnoticed. If your boss’s boss likes you as a person but you don’t do good work, then she won’t risk her career by promoting you. But if you do good work and your boss’s boss knows you do good work, then she will promote you when the time is right.

Master the basics by doing your job well, demonstrating leadership skills, and adding value to the company. Along the way, get to know the leaders two or three levels above you in the org chart. Then your boss’s boss will help you climb up the ladder.

Careers don’t go according to plan

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One thing I’ve learned from talking to successful executives and entrepreneurs is that things don’t go according to plan. You can plan your future, make smart decisions, and work hard, but life won’t turn out the way you expected.

One executive told me that when he started his career he was in the operations side of a large company. Over the years, he advanced up the ranks of that company to become a Vice President but eventually hit a ceiling. The company valued marketing more than operations and promoted employees from marketing to become executives.

Then he decided he’d go to a different company and joined their marketing division so he could get a shot at being an executive. Unfortunately, his new company valued operations more than marketing! Oops, that didn’t work out as planned…

After a few more years and using the opportunity to learn marketing, he moved companies again. Here he got his chance to become an executive and later became a Fortune 500 CEO.

Dealing with uncertainty is a key skill in managing your career. Things might not work out as planned, but you can still make progress in your career over time by learning from others, helping others, being patient, and taking calculated risks.

How to succeed in a new job

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You know the jitters of starting a new job. You feel a combination of excitement, nervousness, and stress in your stomach. It’s a rush of unknown possibilities: a new boss, a new company, a new role. There are so many unknowns but also so many possibilities for success.

You might be leaving a job you liked for greener pastures. Or you might be leaving a job you hated for something that you’ll enjoy more. You could be starting your first job out of school and hoping to build an extraordinary career.

No matter what situation you fall into, there are a few keys to succeeding at a new job.

One of your first priorities after starting a new job should be to learn the way your new team communicates.

Presumably, your company’s orientation talked about some of how the company communicates, but there will be certain idiosyncrasies for your team. Do they talk face-to-face? Do they prefer to talk over email? Do they have meetings to make every decision or does the boss delegate each decision or does each team member have the autonomy to decide? Take some time to observe how your team makes decisions, talks about projects, asks for help from each other, and how much they talk about non-work topics with each other.

One way to learn how the team communicates is to read emails more closely than usual. Take a look if the emails are more informational or if they are open ended questions for discussion. Also take note of which people are working on which types of projects. Sally talks a lot about the Acme account. Maybe she’s the point person for that account? Take note of it.

Then at your next one-on-one meeting with your boss, you can ask about the breakdown of projects. You can say something like:

I’ve noticed that there are 2 major projects going on now: the Acme account and the XYZ report. How is the work split between the team?

By keying into how the team communicates and how the work is split up, you can hit the ground running faster.

Another goal is to learn who the key decision makers are.

You’ll also want to understand the decision making hierarchy in the company. It might seem like your boss is the decision maker over your decision and her boss is her decision maker and so on up to the CEO, but that’s not always the case.

Some managers are very hands on and want to be involved with every decision. Others are more hands off and let their direct reports do most of the decision making. You’ll want to learn how much autonomy your boss gives your team and which decisions need approval from above. You’ll also want to learn the same dynamic for your boss and her boss. When does a decision need to go two level up?

Likewise, you’ll want to learn who makes which decisions. Who decides who gets hired and fired? Is it your boss, or your boss’s boss? How are promotions and raises determined? It might be your boss’s boss or maybe HR needs to get involved. Who decides company strategy and who is the person you talk to regularly who meets with those decision makers?

Learning all of these answers takes time. You might only learn who decides promotions after two or three years of seeing people move in, out, and around the organization, but if you keep you’re eyes open, you’ll learn it over time.

I previously wrote about how to learn what’s important to your company. It’s also important to learn what’s important to the other decision makers in your company, most likely your boss and your boss’s boss.

Learning this information will help you prioritize your work. If you know that your department is focusing on a new strategic area, you should work on those projects before other tasks. You’ll know which projects will benefit your company the most and help your department reaches its goals.

Finally, focus on getting quick wins and building momentum with your projects.

One of the ways to get your confidence at a new job is to get quick wins. That is taking on small and simple projects to get some momentum. Even though these won’t be difficult projects, you will show yourself that you can get work done, you will show your coworkers that you can get work done, and you will show that you are a team player who is earning your paycheck.

As you go on, you will get involved with larger and more difficulty projects. Over time they might become more strategic in nature where you also get to talk to people in other departments and other companies, but for now try to get simple projects completed to prove that you are a good worker.

Do everything that is asked of you especially since this is the only time when you won’t be overloaded with work. After you’ve worked at a company for two years, you’ll easily have a full schedule everyday, but when you get started you have more time to explore different areas of work. Take on projects in different areas of your department. As you continue, you will find a niche you can specialize in and be the lead person in that area.

Also, start slow and build momentum when you propose new ideas. You’ll want to make sure you understand the full situation before giving suggestions on new projects or new ways of conducting business. You don’t want to bring up a bold suggestion in a large meeting only to have your boss’s boss shut it down quickly because it’s infeasible. Perhaps the business already tried what you wanted to propose with disastrous results a year ago. You don’t want to bring up bad memory by suggesting it again.

Bring up the suggestion to one person during a casual conversation and get her feedback before you speak to the higher ups. She’ll be able to give you a warning if it’s something that didn’t work out before, and if she thinks it’s a good idea then share the idea with your team. As you learn the company dynamics and history, you can speak up in larger groups without running your ideas by other people first. Understand the full situation before proposing new ideas.

Starting a new job is stressful enough as it is. Take some time to prioritize learning how your team works, finding out who the decision makers are, and getting some small projects done before moving on to bigger tasks. After you learn this information and get your work done, you’ll be on your way to a successful career in your new role.

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