The Career-Advancing Secrets Of 3 People With Awesome Careers

Reid Hoffman, Sheryl Sandberg, and Molly Crabapple know from hustling for success. Let's all learn from them, shall we?

To paraphrase LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, launching a career is a little bit like leaping off a cliff, building an airplane on the way down, and taking flight before you reach the bottom.

But that construction is not without instructions. We've sorted through Quora and other bloggery to find the most unexpected ways to add "lift" to your "liftoff"—find them below.

1) Your boss is busy, so find the gaps she doesn't see

Your boss spends a quarter of her time wading through email, so how can you expect her to know what the best things for you to do are?

"Managers are largely stretched thin managing their reports so they can't always think of everything to be done that will benefit the firm," PaperG cofounder Victor Wong explains. "People who can think of what to do and deliver are the ones who ultimately are more likely to get promoted to the top levels."

2) No one will tell you what you need to do, Wong continues, noting that every company (and every industry) has a central asset that they're constantly trying to accumulate, like:

  • deal flow in financial firms,
  • new clients in law firms,
  • product and partnership ideas in multinational corporations

The key for the progressive careerist, then, is to find out what's most valuable to the organization as a whole and make sure to keep providing that. How do you find out? Asking your colleagues to lunch or coffee is a gracious way to share knowledge.

3) It's not who you know, it's what you know about who you know

As artist-entrepreneur Molly Crabapple will tell you, we need to have "consciousness of power" if we're going to navigate its halls.

Medical Science Liaison Institute founder Jane Chin has sage advice on how to build that awareness: We should first learn the organization by title, then by influence—this will help you see the plays for power behind the decisions that get made.

It's like Cosmo editor Joanna Coles told us: When you get into the office, become an anthropologist—study your colleagues.

4) Build your relationships out

"The network of people you know who leave your current company are oftentimes more valuable to you than those with your company," advises James Schek of Netflix.

This hunch has been corroborated by organizational psychology: The people that you used to work with but fell out of contact with—called latent ties—can be some of your most unexpected assets.

5) Satisfy the metrics—and go past them

You will have implicit or explicit goals to be met. Machine learning engineer Michael O. Church urges us to transcend them.

"Prioritize long-term growth over short-term objectives delivered by managers," he notes. "You have to keep bosses minimally happy in order to stay employed, but never lose sight of your real goals."

And being able to express your career goals demands having a rich career vocabulary.

6) Get those expectations explicit

As we've noted before, we humans have a terrible time taking actions unless they are granular and specific: When we say actionable, we really mean abundantly clear. Entrepreneur-turned-VC Mark Suster explains that that invaluable explicitness doesn't come automatically:

"Knowing the expectations of your senior employees (and peers) is invaluable to your success and asking people’s expectations is the clearest way to get them to think about it in the first place. The easiest way to beat expectations is for you and your boss to agree to them two-ways and check on progress periodically."

This will lead to less ambiguity, more unstoppability.

7) Find a rocket ship, get on it

Everyone goes through an uncertain job search—Sheryl Sandberg included. As the Facebook COO told Harvard Business School of an interview with Google, certainty presents itself as a rocket ship:

So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO ... and I said, this job meets none of my criteria ... he looked at me and said, Don’t be an idiot. Excellent career advice. And then he said, Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

So how do we find rocket ships? Paying attention helps.

Hat tip: Quora

[Sheryl Sandberg Image: Flickr user Financial Times | Drew Altizer]

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  • Adhy Hosen

    Great article. I have been riding my new rocket ship since July this year. A caveat, though, do you know if the rocket ship is taking you to the right destination?

  • Fancy_Lad

    Great advice, which I shall heed. The Rocket Ship analogy alone was worth the read, I hadn't thought of business trajectory in quite this way before, makes total sense.

  • Jasmine Sandler

    How much do I LOVE this article! Thank you Drake! As a CEO (and thus leader/manager), digital marketing consultant and speaker, I have negative time, really to continually break down the bits and bytes of tasks internally. I am always looking for people to be seriously, not just use the word, self-starters. In this world, if you can't take the ball and run with it, marry someone rich and call it a day! As a LinkedIn trainer, author and basically obsessed with LinkedIn, I was so happy to see Reid here. I am always boasting about his story as sticking to his guns from day 1 mission of a global b2b networking place for business professionals. This is what it takes. Whether you are an employee or employer it takes focus, focus , focus BUT as it states in this article (and I LOVE it) focus on a rocketship that is taking off not nose-diving, so to speak. Finding that rocketship is about knowing your passion, identifying how add value by understanding your top strengths and then committing to the trajectory 100%. - Jasmine Sandler