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Proven Tips to Rise to the Top at Work

Updated on September 5, 2015
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

A professional career coach, Marcy has helped hundreds refine their resumes, improve their interviewing skills, and advance their careers.

Does Your Company Have a Glass Ceiling? Or is the Sky the Limit?

The sky's the limit if you know how to get promoted and get advance your career.
The sky's the limit if you know how to get promoted and get advance your career. | Source

Want to get a promotion at work?

Are you starting a new job? In addition to learning your daily duties, you’ll need to learn some very basic skills to survive, thrive and get promoted in the career work. Whether you are a part-time clerk in a retail setting or an entry-level manager in a large corporation, these tips can help you succeed and get ahead.

One of the first things you’ll need is a good grasp of the culture where you now work (or where you will soon work). If you’re still in the interview stage, you can simply ask, “What’s the culture here?” during the time you’ll be given to ask questions.

The interviewers may not address exactly what you want to know, but this astute question can often yield important information you may not have thought about. You might hear answers about ‘Casual Fridays,’ or whether it’s acceptable to come in late now and then, or whether your coworkers love to go to Happy Hour together.

You can also ask this question during your first few days on the job (in case you didn't ask during your interviews). Managers and co-workers will respect you for wanting to know how to fit in, and they'll remember this when you apply for a promotion.

An interesting element to asking an open-ended question such as this is that the answers will reflect the priorities of the corporation. You’ll often hear side comments such as, “We have some people who come in a bit late (eyes rolling), but everyone’s usually here by 8:15.”

Translation: If you arrive much later than 8:15, it will get noticed. The company likes for people to be there early. Maybe you’re not an early bird, but if you want to get promoted later on, you’re better off adapting your biorhythms to the expectations of your employers than believing that you can get by on your personality and hard work, even if you’re tardy every day.

Office Politics: Tips and Advice From Experts

Make friends who can help you get promoted

Take note of who is in power, and who actually wields the power and has the most influence. This can be the same person, more than one person, or even a collection of varied personalities. Sometimes the person in the corner office with the most impressive title isn’t really the one who runs the show. And all too often, the most influential players aren't readily obvious to newcomers.

Each layer of management will have its own expectations about employees. The bad news is that seldom are these made clear to those who can most benefit from learning the rules (namely, the employees). Pay attention in meetings and try not to be overly participatory during your very first staff gatherings. This will allow you to observe how management (or team leaders) respond to ideas, suggestions, criticisms and other input.

By observing, you can learn who has the most influence in the workgroup, and you can avoid problems by making certain to develop a solid relationship with them. Otherwise, they can exert their underground power to create problems for you. But if you work well with those who have influence (even if they don’t have formal positions of ‘power,’), you can also get ahead by garnering their support. These influential staffers are often the ones the boss turns to for advice and input when making important decisions (such as who to promote).

The people in workplace you’re joining relate to each other through patterns developed over a long period of time (even decades). You are the new kid on the block, and the best way to fit in is to respect the players, their positions, and the ground rules for communication.

Not to worry; there will indeed be a place for you. But take the time to learn what your role will be in the group rather than inadvertently stepping on toes. Once you’ve assessed the landscape, you can comfortably be yourself in a way that understands and accepts the group as it currently functioning.

Network and Develop Your Contacts

How to Find Opportunities for a Job Promotion

As you’re learning about the organization, take note of which departments or programs can use your talents. Don’t assume you will always be in the same job from year to year, and don’t assume that your next position will be in the same department.

Your skills can often be used in several settings and positions. You can make a name for yourself in the entire organization if you recognize where your talents can fit, learn about those departments and meet people in those units. When new positions open up, those colleagues will remember you and be open to having you join their team.

Words Hurt!

Gossip is just plain harmful, even if it's true. Avoid listening to it, and avoid passing it along.
Gossip is just plain harmful, even if it's true. Avoid listening to it, and avoid passing it along. | Source

Video: Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Avoid Office Gossip!

The Office Gossip rarely gets the promotions, even if he or she is the best qualified. Managers don't want to risk the fallout of having this leaky faucet of corporate chatter in a position to know even more juicy details.

Every workplace has its bearer of tales who serves as Communication Central to spread the word about who’s having an affair, the latest news on who’s expecting a baby, whose job is on the line, who has marriage problems, who is having surgery and many other things you really don’t need to know. And, this type of gossip generally does not directly impact your job.

How do you avoid it? If someone strikes up a conversation that’s full of unfortunate (or even lurid) details about another coworker, don’t smile, don’t nod or even indicate you are listening (this can later be construed as agreeing with them or participating in the gossip). Politely disengage as soon as possible and walk away, start another task, or otherwise remove yourself from the situation.

As bad as gossip is, it’s probably not a good idea to report it. This can backfire and end up making management think you are a party to the gossip. You can be implicated through association, even if you were trying to help stop the problem. Management probably already knows who the gossip-spreaders are, so it’s best to let things take care of themselves. The gossipers may never be addressed, but that’s also none of your business. And it's also not a good move for your goals in being promoted.

What do you say when you want to extract yourself from the office gossip once he or she launches into a story? There are several strategies; you can simple say you’re busy, or you can say something like, “I’m sure that’s none of my business!” Either way, as mentioned above, distance yourself and do not engage the conversation.

What About You? Take This Poll!

Are you good at playing office politics?

See results

Develop a Career Exit Strategy

Yes, you haven’t even filled all your desk drawers yet. But it’s not too soon to begin looking for your next good position in a new firm. Begin a mental (if not written) list of organizations outside your current workplace that appear to be logical transitions (upward, of course) for employees with your talent.

If you hear that eight former engineers jumped ship and now work at the same company, make note of that and research that firm. You may find that the firm respects talent from the firm where you just started and, in a few years, could have openings that might suit your future career goals.

Which firms does your organization work with on various projects, for outsourcing, purchasing or other affiliations? Form relationships with these firms and use those contacts for networking and growing your career. Be sure to join professional associations in your field and meet new contacts at their monthly gatherings. This will help you create a sphere of contacts you can tap into when the time is right for you to move on to greener pastures.

Unlike decades ago, few people will retire from the same organization that hired them when they were new to the workplace. The career world is a dynamic place and you’ll get ahead by understanding the dynamics and meeting all the players on your own field, as well as what might be greener fields in the future.


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