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6 easy ways to fast-track your career

Being ambitious is great, but you should also be strategic.

6 easy ways to fast-track your career
[Photo: estherpoon/iStock]

As members of Generation Z are graduating from college and entering the workforce, many have already set their sights on moving up the career ladder—and fast. According to a study by InsideOut Development, 60% of Gen-Zers have aspirations of being a manager, and 76% say they don’t think they should wait more than a year for a promotion.

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To fast-track your career, you’ve got to hit the ground running from day one. Entry-level employees who demonstrate leadership characteristics during the interview or at the start of their career can become top of mind when a management position becomes available, says Vicki Bracket, author of The Leadership Toolbox: 14 Strategies That Build a Chain Reaction of Success. “Become a pseudo-leader without the title,” she says.

1. Talk like a leader

Powerful words and phrases elevate your standing. Start by talking like a leader, using terms that Bracket describes as “senior-level” words, such as “strategic,” “tactical,” and “execution.” Utilize leadership phrases, as well. For example, Bracket suggests saying during an interview, “I took the lead in developing a strategic game plan,” or, “Under my leadership we developed X.”

Share stories when you mentored other people. “Third-party stories with a situation, an action, and results can demonstrate leadership,” says Bracket. “For example, ‘We did this, under my leadership.'”

2. Help others succeed

In addition to talking the leadership talk, walk the leadership walk by helping others succeed. Support your peers and managers by delivering on promises, going the extra mile on projects, and sharing or giving credit where it’s due.

“Successful businesses don’t stay the same, and it’s leaders that drive change,” says Bracket. “Businesses need to have a power base—an influencer who helps others.”

When you talk powerfully (without being an egomaniac) and take the lead, you earn the respect of your peers, says Bracket. “Peers want the power base to be promoted because of the positive emotions they bring,” she says.

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3. Show dedication

Take charge of the things you control, says Brian Binke, president and CEO of The Birmingham Group, a construction executive search firm. The easiest thing to do is show up.

“Get there early and stay late,” he says. “Don’t be a clock watcher. Showing up and staying late are really important today, and it will put you in the top 10% of your peers.”

Too often, new employees run in the door 10 seconds before work starts and then leave right at 5 p.m., says Binke. “I call them the ‘Flintstone workers’: No matter what they’re doing, they’ll slide off the dinosaur and leave when the whistle blows,” he says.

4. Make your boss look good

Find out the most important tasks and traits your managers are looking for, and put your effort into excelling in those areas, says Binke.

“At work, 5% of tasks are really important, and the rest is a lot of noise,” he says. “Know what the company’s goals are, and work on making your boss look good.”

You can determine the important tasks by paying attention to what leadership talks about most. And there’s nothing wrong with asking. “Ask your manager, ‘What do you feel is the most important thing I can do?’ Then make sure to hit your goals,” says Binke.

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5. Take calculated risks

Don’t be afraid to share ideas and speak up. Organizations judge emerging leaders by their willingness to take calculated risks, says DJ Paoni, president of SAP North America.

“Employees who proactively challenge the status quo are essential to innovation; and it’s equally as important for companies to empower these voices to be heard,” he says. “Future leaders can be determined by their vision, enthusiasm, passion, and ambition to create new ideas and work toward implementing them.”

6. Build your network

Companies evaluate how potential future leaders interact with others, says Paoni. “Those who actively build their network within an organization, who promote collaboration, and who seek mentorship from others are the types of leaders we look for,” he says.

But be patient

The timeline to move up is different in every industry and every company. “With a small company, you could move up quicker, but with a bigger company, it could take five to 10 years,” says Binke.

Do some research on the industry and company by looking at LinkedIn. “These are real-time resumes, and you can get a sense by looking at job titles and dates.”

Going into your first job with realistic expectations will help you stay on track and get ahead.

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