Advancing in your career means putting in more hours, taking on more assignments, and becoming “married to your job,” right? No, say career coaches. Overachievers who live at the office tend to burn out fast and often neglect doing the very things they need to do in order to advance. In doing too much, they do too little. Being 100% committed to your work doesn’t guarantee you a promotion. So how can you get ahead without making work your life?
Simply putting in hours at the office won’t get you noticed. “If you’re engaged in the work that you do and the company for which you work, it will show in your output, your attitude, your relationships, and your potential,” says career coach Susan Cucuzza.
Showing that you care about what the company is doing and where it’s going, and having a genuine desire to help the company get there, is what will stand out to decision makers, much more so than the number of hours you sit at your desk.
“The days where it was expected that you clocked in at 6:30 a.m. and turned the lights off at night or you’d be frowned upon will soon be gone,” says Cucuzza. Demonstrating that you have the ability to deliver high-quality work in a normal workday is now valued more than the number of hours you work.
“That means being efficient and planning your time well,” says Cucuzza. “It also means being a great delegator and distributor of work that can be shared so that you are not taking on all of the work unnecessarily.”
No, your career advancement is not only about you. Lori Sherwin, certified professional coach and founder of New York City-based firm Strategize That, says relationships are the single most important factor for success as you advance in your career. “Growing in your career takes more than aptitude; attitude and relationships matter,” she says.
Get to know your colleagues at all levels of the company, not just the senior managers you want to impress. Invite people in the office to coffee or lunch, or simply use dead time before a meeting to have a conversation with someone rather than simply checking your phone. Those relationships you build with people will help you when it comes time to be considered for a promotion. Decision makers are likely to ask your peers as well as supervisors and people who work for you what they think of you. “You never know how those relationships are going to impact your ability to someday get promoted,” says Cucuzza.
Expressing interest in taking on new challenges and broadening your skill set is a great way to get noticed by those in positions of power who can determine the course of your career. Showing that you’re willing to be stretched and grow and expressing interest in helping the company is also how senior leaders will get to know you.
“Expanding your horizons will help position you for career growth into a different part of the business, or upward where you will be given greater responsibility,” says Cucuzza. Of course, getting involved in new projects may require a redistribution of your current workload. Ask yourself what you’re working on that isn’t adding any value to make time for things that could play a role in your career advancement.
Getting involved in projects doesn’t mean you have to say yes to everything. “Successful professionals often fear saying no or not being seen as a team player,” says Sherwin. But the key to getting ahead is actually setting boundaries and being strategic about the things you say yes to. Saying yes to a project that may give you a leadership role, for example, may help you to hone your leadership skills that you don’t get a chance to use in your current role.
When saying yes to a project, consider how the project will help you to become more visible to decision makers, and choose projects that will build your skills and experience that will benefit your career and the company. If it’s just someone dumping work on you and you’re saying yes to that, that’s not going to help you advance. Being strategic about what you say yes to means you’ll be more focused and will likely do a better job. Turning down a task can be uncomfortable, which is why Sherwin recommends taking the “yes, but” approach. Instead of saying an outright no, try saying something like: “I’d love to help, but I think someone else would be a better fit for this.”