What is wrong with this picture? You work hard, do everything you're asked to do — and more — and you still feel like you're in the slow lane. You ask for training but no one gives it to you. The biggies don't know who you are. How are you ever going to move ahead?
Before you can take even a baby step, realize that business is a game and you're supposed to be a player. Don't be glum, chum. Lighten up and start playing. Here are five strategies that are bound to get you to first base — and beyond.
1. Find out what's going on and become part of it. What are the major trends affecting your industry, your organization and your field? If you don't know, you may be working hard on the wrong things. Read your company's press releases, find out the direction the organization is now taking and take assignments that help you become part of it. Join associations having to do with your industry and field. Be on the program or membership committee to meet the key players in your field. Whether you know it or not, your company is changing and your job is changing. You've got to keep up.
2. Manage your internal public relations campaign. Volunteer for your organization's United Way or Blood Drive campaign. You'll be seen as a team player and will meet people in other divisions and departments. Make sure those above you in the organization know how good you are. For example, when your boss's boss asks how you're doing, the incorrect answer is "Just fine. How are you?" The right answer is: "Terrific. We've been working 70 hours a week on the Acme project and I know you'll be pleased with the results." He or she has to ask you more about your work.
3. Get the training you need. Don't complain that you don't get the kinds of assignments that will help you grow. Don't whine that they won't train you. You are in charge of your own career. Do volunteer work that gives you the experience you need, such as learning how to run a meeting. Take courses. Learn a new technical skill. Join Toastmasters. Find out what people in your function do outside of your present organization (or the function you are interested in long term).
4. Develop a career plan for yourself, and gradually move in the right direction. Knowing where you would like to wind up broadens the kinds of jobs you would be interested in today. For example, if you have been in accounting in the education industry for the past 10 years and would like to wind up in sales in an entertainment firm, you could make your move in two steps: First, sell accounting software or accounting services to entertainment companies. Then, move into the entertainment industry itself. I've seen it done! (For more on the exercises in making career decisions, click here.)
5. Meet with your manager to get more mainstream assignments. But don't just sit down and have a chat. Go in prepared. For example, make two columns on a piece of paper. In the left column, which would be short, lists your job responsibilities. The right-hand column could go on for a page or two, listing — in priority order — your accomplishments on the job. Point out that you have always been willing to take on extra work and help where it was needed. However, you would like to get some of the cutting edge assignments that are coming along, such as … Don't expect your boss to say "yes" right away. You have to overcome her inertia. If you're not satisfied about the outcome of the meeting, say that you'd like to meet again in a few weeks to discuss this same issue.
These are just some of the strategies you should consider to move your career along. What you choose to do depends on you, your personality, your organization, and your level of ambition. Remember what Calvin Coolidge said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence…Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." Learn to play the game and stick with it.
Kate Wendleton is the president of The Five O'Clock Club, a national career coaching and outplacement organization. • www.fiveoclockclub.com