We all face challenges in our career at some point. We don’t get the job we want. We don’t get that promotion. Sometimes we often feel like we’re ‘stuck’. But what if you are the one standing in the way of your own success? Here are three ways you might be putting the brakes on your career:
1) Being too modest
Being British and coming from a country where babies practically leave the birth canal to a Doctor holding a sign saying, “Speaking of one’s achievements = poor social etiquette”, I totally get the whole being modest thing. Many of us have grown up in a society where talking about accomplishments is sometimes perceived as bragging. As such, some people are really uncomfortable talking about their achievements, in case they sound like an arrogant jack-ass. Whether it’s on their CV, in an interview, talking to a potential employer at a networking event, negotiating a pay-rise or asking for a promotion – being asked to list their achievements can leave them like a deer in headlights.
The thing to remember is – whether you’re looking for a new job or going for a promotion – the company in question will be looking for one thing: the RESULTS you will produce for them. Whether it’s generating $1m in sales revenue, or creating a new filing system that increases efficiency – this is what they want to hear. It’s the proof they need to confirm whether or not you will be a good return on their investment. Without it, they simply cannot decide if you will be a valuable hire or deserve a promotion. And chances are they will choose someone else. Someone who can comfortably talk about what they have done and achieved. So while you might think that not talking about your achievements will help you get the job by stopping you looking like an arrogant jack-ass, it’s actually doing the opposite.
So how do you get over it? Easy. Keep your achievements purely factual. You simply want to describe what action you took and the result of that action.
Let’s say you increased sales by 30% by building strong relationships with your customers. That’s a fact, right? So state it like one. There is a difference between saying:
“I single-handedly grew sales by 50% because I am so amazing and I can wrap customers around my little finger.”
“Last year, through listening to my customers’ needs and focusing on building strong customer relationships, I successfully increased company sales by 50%”.
The first one sounds like bragging because there is no logical or well-considered reasoning. In the second one you are simply stating a fact. Both describe the same result but in a completely different way.
For you modest types, I often recommend using the STAR format when describing achievements:
S = Situation – think of a situation you have faced at work
T = Task – what was the task or responsibility you were given or gave yourself?
A = Action – what was the action you took?
R = Result – what was the result of the action you took?
So for example, in an interview you could say something like:
S = The Sales Director communicated the company goal of a 50% increase in sales for the year.
T = We were each given a target of a 50% increase in individual sales within 6 months.
A = I developed my relationships with existing customers by contacting them on a weekly basis instead of bi-weekly. I also identified new customers through in-depth market research, solidifying those relationships through attentive customer care and building trust. I took the time to really understand their needs and meet them in the best way possible.
R = Within the first four months I had already hit my initial target of 50%, and by the end of the 6 months I had increased sales by 65%. This achievement was recognised by the company directors and I was awarded ‘Sales Person of the Year’.
In the case of a CV where space is limited, I would simply describe the achievement using the ‘A’ and ‘R’. In this example the R is stated first, followed by the A:
- Exceeded sales target by 15%, achieving a 65% increase in sales within a 6-month period (R) through strategically building and developing strong relationships with both existing and new customers (A).
Really struggling to think of your achievements? No problem. For some, it’s very easy to quantify their results: grew sales by 30%, streamlined a process that increased efficiency by 20% etc. But for others, it’s not so simple. The key thing to remember is that any time you built, created, redesigned, organised, re-organised, developed, initiated, changed, improved or COMPLETED something – you achieved something. Write down all the tasks you were given that you successfully completed – as well as any you instigated yourself – and quantify them as much as possible (e.g. saved or made the company $x, saved the company y amount of time or increased efficiency by z%).
Another way to think of it is this: if there was nobody there to do your job – how would that negatively impact your team / your boss / your colleagues / your company? There are several posts on my blog that can help you even further with this.
2) Putting your career in someone else’s hands
A client of mine came to see me because he hadn’t been promoted in 5 years and was feeling pretty miffed about it. When I asked him if he had asked to be promoted, his response was, “I’ve been there 5 years. They should just naturally promote me after all this time.”
In life, you have two choices: 1) you wait for things to happen or 2) you make things happen. You want to get promoted? Tell your boss / employer you want to be considered for promotion, get a plan put in place, and do everything you can to demonstrate you’re worth it (building your list of achievements along the way!). You want to get a job? Don’t leave your career in the hands of a job portal. Get on that phone and connect with as many people as possible. Take charge of your career and you will be more likely to achieve what you want, when you want than if you wait for someone else to take action on your behalf.
The key thing about taking control of your career is having a clear vision of where you want to be. You need to know the direction in which you want to steer it. Without this, you will simply fall into the trap of someone else steering it for you. Get clarity on what you want and set yourself some career goals. Make them SMART* to help you keep track of them. And if half-way through the process, you realise it’s not something you want anymore, that’s OK. It’s your life! You’re allowed to change your goals! The main thing is having a goal that inspires you. Nobody, in the history of man, was ever motivated to move towards a goal that was as dull as dishwater.
*SMART Goals are Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Timely.
3) Behaving like an idiot
This one’s fairly self-explanatory. The issue is, some people are not even aware of their behaviour – and more specifically how it affects others. If you demonstrate any of the following behaviours, you could well be dubbed an ‘idiot’ and ruin your chances of career success:
a) Consistently getting into arguments with people – because you believe you are always right, and everybody else is, well, an idiot.
b) Believing and acting like you are superior to others. Nobody likes an arrogant a-hole. So please kindly come down from your self-made pedestal and join the rest of us on planet earth. You might actually find it less lonely down here.
c) Believing that you are ‘special’, demanding to be CEO with zero experience – and then spitting your dummy out when the company tells you no.
d) Not listening and responding to authority – because? That’s right. You’re ‘special’. And you’re going to have your boss’s job in 6 months anyway.
e) Shouting at people to demonstrate your authority – and because it’s fun.
f) Controlling to the point where if something doesn’t go the way you planned, you either turn into the Hulk or spend the rest of the day rocking back and forth on your chair, staring at the wall like a crazy person.
g) Not being able to manage your emotions – exploding like a volcano at the smallest things doesn’t make you look big or clever. It makes you look like an idiot.
h) Not listening to other people’s perspectives, ideas or suggestions – because they’re all idiots.
i) Generally being confrontational, aggressive, rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, insubordinate and a pain in the backside.
In all seriousness, being consciously aware of your emotions and behaviour, or having a degree of emotional intelligence (EI), is a must for a successful career. Companies worldwide are putting EI at the top of their list of criteria when it comes to recruitment and promotion. If you have a history of having difficult relationships with co-workers, then this could be a sign that your EI needs developing. Buy a book, get online or get yourself a coach to help you work on this.
In today’s day and age, hard graft no longer guarantees a long, successful career. Being able to persuade people you are worth the investment, and taking control of your career, are crucial to get ahead in this world. And if you really want to get ahead, not being a giant a-hole is a good start.
Have you ever stood in the way of your own success? Or seen someone else sabotage their own career? Feel free to share your experiences below and any advice you have on what to do about it.
For more advice on how to have a successful career, please visitwww.zetayarwood.com or email me at zetayarwood.com.
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