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Catapult your career: how to get ahead at work

Do you ever find that work seems like nothing more than a means to an end? It’s perhaps a morbid view to take, but often we can feel like we sit and work on the same things day-in and day-out.

The prospect of putting yourself out there and asking your boss, ‘Where to next for my career?’ can be a daunting thought.

One of the potential solutions to solving this predicament is asking your boss about possibilities for you to take on more advanced projects. The best way to take a step up is to find an opportunity in an area that allows you to use your existing knowledge and expertise, but also challenges you with something you haven’t done before.

To help you along the way, we spoke with Professor Hannah Piterman, a Professor of Practice for the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University, to discover how you can gain better projects at work and catapult your career to new heights.

Know your strengths, values and what you want to do

Often in a sea of fellow employees you can feel like a small fish in an ever-growing pond. The key here is to begin to differentiate yourself from the pack. According to Prof. Piterman, this can be done by knowing what you have to offer.

‘I think today, being noticed is very, very important. People have to sell their strengths. Know what your strengths are; what you like doing,’ she explains.

Although knowing your personal skills is imperative, it is also important to ensure you’re using this knowledge to work towards a goal you truly want to achieve.

‘It is a bit short-sighted to say, “Whatever promotion there is, I’ll take it,” this doesn’t make for a happy and fulfilled work life,’ Prof. Piterman asserts. ‘It’s easier to sell yourself when you really believe in what you’re doing and you really like what you’re doing because it’s something that gives you meaning.’

'I think today, being noticed is very, very important. People have to sell their strengths. Know what your strengths are; what you like doing'

Professor Hannah Piterman,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

Understand your workplace’s culture and develop relationships                  

If you’re new to an organisation and already feel as though you’re not working to your full potential, Prof. Piterman recommends beginning your path towards more challenging work by first understanding the workplace culture.

‘You have to learn to observe and be quiet,’ she says. ‘Learn for a while and take in the culture because all cultures are different.’ From here, it is easier to plan your approach to broaching key conversations with your boss.

The second key step here is to cultivate workplace relationships. ‘Have a trusted advisor. Whether it’s your boss or somebody else,’ Prof. Piterman recommends.

She suggests finding someone with whom you can talk things through and think aloud. Someone ‘who’s on my side and who’s going to give me honest advice and I won’t be offended,’ she adds.

Be proactive about speaking with your boss

Developing a working relationship with your boss is very important, Prof. Piterman points out. ‘If you’re not developing a relationship with that person, they’re not going to know what you’re doing. Make it your business to develop that relationship,’ she adds.

As with many aspects of life, the key to getting ahead at work is getting started. That is, taking the initiative to connect with your boss and discuss your potential.

‘Make it your business to arrange meetings,’ Prof. Piterman advises. ‘If your boss isn’t arranging meetings with you, you’ve got to arrange meetings with your boss.’

If your aim is to get more from your job, it’s not wise to rest on your laurels. ‘It’s not good enough to only meet with your boss at once a year performance review,’ Prof. Piterman adds.

Be prepared to deal with rejection

Let’s say you’ve prepared yourself and decided to take the plunge. You’ve asked your boss to let you work on something bigger and better than you’ve done before, only to be rejected in your bid to gain personal growth. You’re probably feeling hurt, and possibly even humiliated. So what now?

According to Prof. Piterman, there are two ways in which you can go about handling this rejection. ‘You can have a tantrum or you can think about why you weren’t given it.’ The first, of course, is the least useful of the two responses.

Find out what you can do to get ready to take on a more difficult workload, Prof. Piterman advises. ‘You’ve got to learn from that and ask your boss how they can help get you ready for that next position. Rejection is always an opportunity for learning.’

Cultivate your emotional intelligence

When thinking about ways to progress your career, emotional intelligence may not be the first thing you think of. But continuingly growing your ability to empathise, communicate and develop relationships with others could help steer you on the right path to career progression.

A good way to develop your emotional intelligence is putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes. When you’re younger and less experienced, this can be more of a challenge. But the more you develop the ability to empathise with and understand others, the better your relationships at work will be. Prof. Piterman recommends ‘moving outside your own comfortable circle of friends that are all like you’. ‘Take risks and develop other relationships in your life,’ she says.

Another aspect of cultivating your emotional intelligence is being able to voice your achievements. Prof. Piterman points out that this can be particularly difficult for women at work.
‘Women in particularly often don’t want to step out too far, because if they push themselves they think they’re not going to be liked, they don’t have the confidence. If you are good, and you say you’re good, you’re giving other people permission to say they’re good too.’

Achieving movement forward in your career all starts with knowing who you are and what you want. As Prof. Piterman explains, ‘It’s about really recognising who you are and what you like doing’.

‘You can’t say what you want to be when you grow up because we’re going to change our careers many times, but we have to have a sense of what you value and what your strengths are.’

Still having trouble catching that big break at work? Find out what to do when your career goes stale.

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Professor Hannah Piterman
Professor Hannah Piterman

Professor of Practice, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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