Navigating out of a career holding pattern

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With unemployment so high, trying to get ahead may seem like pushing your luck. But it’s not — people are always climbing the corporate ladder. If you’re ready to move on to the next stage of your career, it’s time to bring the A-game to the workplace and stop flying under the radar.

When it comes to moving up, the absolute worst thing workers can do is hunker down, says Emily Bennington, author of “Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job.”

“If you want to move up, you need to stand out. Call attention to the great things that you’re doing and clearly make an effort to do great things that get you noticed,” she says.

If you’re ready to bust out of your cube and move up in the world, start planning well before you make your big break.

Defining ‘up’

So you want to move up. But, what is up, exactly, besides the direction in which balloons, birds and restless workers all aspire to rise?

It may be the next title, or it can mean exploring the various ways to grow your career and manage it in the best way possible for you.

“Does it mean skill enrichment or reputation growth or positioning yourself so you are qualified to move in a direction you choose when you’re ready?” says Pam Lassiter, principal of Lassiter Consulting and author of “The New Job Security.”

It’s really a two-part question: What is up, and where do you want to grow? Moving to the next title may not be the best choice. Similarly, according to Lassiter, a common career misstep is taking an open position simply because it just happens to be open and pays more.

Unless you’re certain of your career trajectory, there may be other related areas you’d like to explore. For instance, “Is this the time that I’d like to test out this other division or this other department? Or maybe I’m having fun working on the budget of this project, so maybe I can think of building this into my work,” says Lassiter.

Before you commit to the next level of your career, make sure it’s where you want to be and you’re happy with where that job might lead.

“This is your chance. If you’re going to do a breakout, it might as well be one that you want to live with for a while,” Lassiter says.

Look at the big picture

Once you know where you’re headed, consider how to get there. Think about the job after your next one and the skills required for that position.

That should tell you “what competencies you should be building for the next job,” Lassiter says.

Use job boards, employment ads and company websites to get an idea of what the position broadly requires and work to fit within those requirements.

Keeping an eye on the industry as a whole will serve you well in other ways. Zoom out to get a bird’s-eye view of the company and where it fits in the industry.

“Many employees see their workplace through the filter of how it affects them directly,” says Bennington. “If you want to move up, you have to see how things are impacting the company as a whole,” she says.

No matter how likable you are, companies need problem solvers, not seat fillers. That’s why Lassiter recommends marketing for mutual benefit when it comes time to make your move.

“Look at problems to be solved rather than looking at job openings. Most of my clients create their own jobs, whether they’re going into new companies or they’re already inside and moving up,” she says.

Look for pressure points or problems and present solutions. It’s easier said than done, but take cues from your company’s competition — what problems do businesses like yours have?

Observing the competition and noting their successes and weaknesses will give you a new way to talk to the senior people in the company.

And knowing the vernacular will help your cause. Rather than appearing as a supplicant, the higher-ups will see you as wise and knowledgeable about your industry. Showing that you are an “ask not what your company can do for you” kind of worker is the quickest way to get positive attention.

“That helps reposition your reputation. Talk in other people’s language and position it as what is best for the company instead of making it all about me. People will hear it differently,” Lassiter says.

Toot, toot

While you’re scouring the company for problems to solve and growing your skills, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn a little. Ensure that your boss knows you do great work. If the only time the boss knows you exist is when something goes wrong, you may have a problem.

Bennington recommends sending a short note to your boss every Friday, outlining accomplishments and areas where you could use some input.

“Your boss is very busy, much busier than you would know, and probably not aware of everything that you’re doing,” she says.

These notes will come in handy when you walk in to the corner office to make your case for a promotion. You’ll have months of your accomplishments recorded and ready to reference.

Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t easy. Maybe you won’t get the promotion you want, but by increasing your skills and finding ways to solve problems, you’ll eventually get where you want to go.