There’s no single magic recipe to a spectacular career, as much as we all wish there was. Even the best aptitude tests and leadership assessments can’t spit out your perfect job title, just like no one can promise you a hiring manager who will automatically love you. (Wouldn’t that be great, though?)
What I can give you are four steps that will make a big difference. These are straight-forward things for you to do. But if you step back and look at them, they’re also a good way for you to look at your career. All four of these things, if you’re not already doing them, can help you become the active manager of your own career, not just a passive participant.
SAY THANK YOU
To everyone, all the time. To the security in your office building, to the guy you hardly know who refilled the water cooler with that big giant 5-gallon bottle that’s really hard to lift, to your boss for giving your feedback or providing a new opportunity. Say thank you to the person you met at the networking event last night and to the department head who was able to answer your question last week. A quick thank you note to a hiring manager is potentially the difference between getting the job and…not.
This one might seem obvious because it’s the nice and right thing to do. But it serves another purpose: you stay top of mind. Every time you send someone a thank you note or take the time to acknowledge their effect on you—no matter how big or small—you are reminding them that you exist and that you are a pleasure to work with. It’s the way you want people to remember you. Win-win.
Regardless of industry, the way technology is changing the world at warp speed means you will inevitably be affected by the shifting landscape. And this isn’t the only way to keep learning, technology is just the most obvious way that work is changing. You should be ahead of the curve.
This doesn’t mean you have to go to every conference or even any conference, but remaining not just open-minded but active in learning new processes, systems, industry trends, and technology will go a long way. I know, I know, adding another thing to the to-do list sounds about as appealing as a root canal, but it’s worth it. Signing up for free industry-focused newsletters is a great way to stay abreast of what’s going on. They allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on when you’re too busy to go deep and dig in when it’s relevant.
Demonstrating curiosity about your place within your organization and the marketplace means that you’re less likely to be caught off guard when things really start to change.
Yes, networking and building connections for yourself is very important. This is a key theme for us, in helping people build healthy careers. But it’s not always about building your network for personal gain, it’s also a great habit to make connections for others. The more you can be the go-to person at the center of the mini-eco-system, the more likely you are to have opportunities dropped in your lap, referrals sent through you and to you, and people constantly wanting to check in on what your next project is. The more you can help others, the likelier you are to receive help in return when you need it (and opportunities even before you need them). As my Dad says, “No one ever has a great career by themselves.”
None of the above matters if you don’t follow the cardinal rule: be spectacular.
It doesn’t matter if you’re retyping a 50-page report or presenting the 2020 strategy to the executive team; if you’re not doing a great job at everything you do, it won’t matter how many people you know, what the latest market trends are, or how many “thank you’s” you send. Proving again and again that you can be trusted to deliver exceptional work (including getting your boss’s lunch order right) is one of the most important ways to build your brand. LinkedIn is important; LinkedIn is great, but LinkedIn can wait, this is what really matters.
I can’t guarantee things will be perfect if you follow these rules, but your career will go a lot smoother. More importantly, using these habits to be the active driver of your success will give you the feeling of being more in control of what happens to your career next. That seems like a pretty good place to be, if you ask me.
Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).