Moving Up – Without Moving On

You don’t have to leave your current employer to advance your career. Here’s how to stay putand step ahead.

Tamesa Rogers was ready for a change. After four years as director of human resources at Netgear, she was hungry for fresh challenges and eager to move her career forward.

Rather than making the leap to a different company, she decided to focus on how she could create new opportunities for herself right where she was.

“Netgear had been on a growth trajectory ever since the company started, and as we continued to grow, I knew that HR would need to operate differently,” she says. “So I started doing some research and meeting with our team, and I developed a plan to help us stay ahead of the curve. I presented it to the CEO, and after talking about it and tweaking some things, we agreed to start moving in that direction.” Within a year, Rogers was recognized for her initiative with a promotion to vice president.

“You don’t have to company hop to get ahead in your career,” says Mary V. Davids, a career and leadership development consultant in South Florida. “You can create opportunities for yourself right where you are.” She adds that frequent company changes can be a red flag for future employers. “It sends the message that you aren’t sure where you want to be. That makes employers nervous, because they don’t want to see their investment in someone walking out the door.”

Follow these steps to take your career to the next level—without leaving your current job.

1. Create a road map. The first step in advancing your career is defining your goals. “People can often come up with a long list of what they don’t want, but if they consider what they do want, they’re stumped,” says Kristine Perez-Foley, an executive coach and leadership development consultant at Korn Ferry International who focuses on working with women and diverse professionals. “It’s important to spend some time thinking about what success means to you, what gives you satisfaction, and then envisioning where you want to go.”

2. Identify the skills you need to achieve your goal.
Perez-Foley names three key job skill areas: technical, political, and relational. “Because women have a tendency toward perfectionism, they often focus on the technical aspects of the job,” she says. “So they might say, ‘I need to get an MBA so that I’m qualified to take the next step.’ But it might be that what they really need to do is become more politically savvy about how their company works.”

In Rogers’s case, knowing that Netgear values autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit enabled her to take the initiative on her HR project without fearing negative repercussions. “It didn’t mean that whatever I came up with was going to be rolled out, but it did mean that it was okay to move forward,” she says.

“Other companies are more data driven,” Perez-Foley adds. “If you work for a company like that, you want to make sure that whatever you are proposing has data behind it about how the company will benefit. And at companies where vision and innovation are valued, you want to bring a really good idea—and an understanding of how it’s going to help the company succeed.”

Social/relational skills are another important part of the equation. Ask yourself what you’re like to work with, not just for your peers but also for your managers. Do you believe that you belong at the table and that your ideas have value? Do you project that confidence with the language you use and your tone of voice?
“People say that leaders are born, but that’s just not true,” says Perez-Foley. “Just as you might work on getting an advanced degree, you can work on getting better at things like networking with people and using your communication skills and emotional intelligence to move things forward in a mutually beneficial way.”

3. Don’t do it alone.
Many women struggle with the idea of asking for help, feeling that if they work hard, their value will be recognized. But communicating your goals and asking for advice are essential steps in moving your career forward. “Start with your 
direct manager,” Perez-Foley advises. “He or she is the first line of influence and can provide insights about how to proceed based on both expertise and his or her knowledge of the political climate. Ask questions like, ‘How can I contribute in a way that will help me learn more about how the company works? Are there certain assignments that will help me build my skills in key areas?’”

4. Build relationships with influential people.
In every company, there are people who have the power to make things happen. They’re the ones whose names always come up, whose ideas are adopted, and who seem to have the ability to get things done. Use your eyes and ears to figure out who these key influencers are within your company, and then cultivate relationships with them. Volunteer for a task force they’re leading, or join a professional organization that they belong to. Invite them to lunch to ask for help on a project. “You might say something like, ‘I’m new here, and I’m trying to learn about how other departments work,’” says Davids. “‘I admire the way you work, and I’d love to take you to lunch to get your advice.’”

During her 21-year career at Hewlett-Packard, Jill Tanner made an effort to develop relationships with influencers across the organization. Several of these people became her advocates, and their support served her well during times of change.

“Early on in my career, there was a regional sales manager I aligned myself with, and as he moved up through the ranks, he continued to tap me for new positions,” she says. “But when there was a change of leadership, he and most of his team were let go. That was a point at which it really paid off to have continued networking, because I had a handful of people I could reach out to across the organization, and I was able to transition into a new role.”

5. Step outside your comfort zone. Seek out experiences that expose you to new challenges. These experiences help you develop new skills while giving leadership the chance to see you in a new light. For Tanner, that opportunity came when she was asked to lead a workforce redeployment effort after a round of layoffs. Although the assignment was voluntary, she chose to accept it.

“Up until that point, I had worked on the enterprise business side, but this was more of an HR role,” she says. “Over a three- or four-month period, I met with all of the people who had been redeployed and worked with them to find new opportunities, either inside or outside the company. I met a lot of new people and had a lot of visibility, and when the assignment was over, I was tapped to move into corporate marketing, where I spent the next 11 years of my career.”

6. Toot your horn. Remember that you alone are responsible for sharing your successes and promoting what you’ve achieved—no one else will do it for you. Striking the right tone in communication of this kind can be tricky.

We all know someone who never misses an opportunity to review his or her résumé—or to take credit for a department’s latest success. But there are subtle ways to talk about what you’ve achieved without being perceived as a show-off or credit grabber.

Davids advises, “Make it less about you and more about the team you worked with. Give accolades to all of the people who played a part. And always relate your own successes back to the success of the company. That’s where the focus should be.”

7. Make a bold move. A certain amount of chutzpah is a must as you strive to make your way up the corporate ladder. If a position that interests you becomes available at your company, take the initiative to apply, even if there are aspects of the job for which you lack experience. “A job description typically describes the future capabilities of the ideal candidate, not the current capabilities,” says Perez-Foley. “So take a chance and trust that you can learn anything you need to learn to give a high-quality performance.”

If you identify a problem that your company faces, try to develop a solution. Do some research on your own time, gather the information you need, and create a plan for putting your idea into action. If management responds positively to your idea, ask to be part of the team that implements your plan.

“Nothing beats a failure but a try,” says Rogers, now a senior vice president at Netgear. “So give it your best shot, and if it doesn’t work out, there will always be other opportunities.” DW

Karen Eisenberg is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.

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