When you commence a career in business the chances are that you’re just excited to have got an interesting job and are focused on what you need to do in the immediate term to find your feet. You will want your career to be a success of course so it’s essential to start thinking about the long term as early as possible. What you do early on can make a big difference to your potential to make progress later. If you work hard and work smart, this step by step guide will help you go from an entry level position right through to upper management.
Start with a plan
You’ll make much more progress in your career if you approach it strategically, which begins with thinking about your goals right at the start. This begins with considering the possibilities offered by the company you’re in and, if that falls short of your ambitions, looking at what might be possible for you within other companies in your sector and determining what would be the best career stage at which to move. Identify the skills you’ll need to get to the top and the key allies who can help you to reach the next stage as you seek to move up the career ladder.
Get to know influential people
Everybody knows the saying ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ The trick to effective business networking is to recognize that the people you know already are a bridge to the people you need to know. Identify the individuals who are most important in your industry, whether that’s Lady Barbara Judge or the best friend of the owner of your company who is always whispering in the ear of powerful people. Find out who the most sociable people in their networks are and set out to get to know them, either by going through mutual contacts or by arranging to bump into them at networking events or conferences.
Make yourself useful
When you’re new in business there is a balance to be struck between winning favor by being useful to others and making sure you don’t get taken advantage of. The best way to manage this is to think carefully about how you are useful. Rather than making a habit of taking on extra work, be there to help in genuinely urgent situations. Volunteer ideas and creative solutions to problems rather than just time and effort. Keep up to date with industry journals, market news and other such information so that you’ll always have useful comment to offer and people will notice your value.
If you’re able to do it, finding a mentor early on in your career is a big advantage, not just because of the learning opportunities it provides but because this person will become your first ally and will help you to find others. Most people love teaching skills to others because it makes them feel important, so flattering people by asking them for help is a good way to make connections when you’re still a beginner. As you advance, you can also build useful alliances by mentoring people in your turn and generally being supportive of those who come after you.
Strengthen your skills
What are the skills you will need to get to the top? Bearing in mind your personal talents and existing areas of expertise, identify the best way to make progress – for instance, through operations management or finance – and take every opportunity to build up the relevant skill set. Join workplace training courses at every opportunity, take online courses and read all the relevant books you can get your hands on. Aim to find a niche or two within your chosen area where you can become an expert.
Keep good records
When you have a lot of different things going on, it’s easy to lose track, and there will be points in your later career when you need to be able to provide evidence of your achievements. With this in mind, it’s important to keep good records of all the important things you do and carefully file all relevant documents. You’ll also need to keep careful track of the details of your contacts, which may change over the years, so that you remain able to reach out to them when it’s useful to do so. Don’t neglect them in the meantime but remember to exchange occasional greetings and be there for them when they need you.
By following these steps you’ll find it much easier to make progress and to solidify that progress over the course of your career. You’ll still need to work hard, be diligent and be patient – success rarely comes in a rush – but you’ll have a much better chance of eventually fulfilling your ambitions.