Employment is on the up side. Employers are actively looking. Offers are getting better. Even so, many find themselves “stuck” where they are with no light at the end of the tunnel. Getting ahead eludes them; knowing how to make things happen isn’t easy.
Keeping your fingers crossed that a rising economic tide will take care of you or that your luck will change is, to put it bluntly, naïve, or stupid. You have better odds at the lottery.
This may sound pessimistic. “You have to stay optimistic,” some will say. It sounds good but it won’t get you where you want to be. Not today. Getting ahead requires a different strategy, one that changes how you think and what you do: Instead of relying on “a job search” to find the right job, a better way is to get the right job to find you. And here’s how to do it:
- Be a source of ideas. Most of us grew up with someone telling us be humble. “Keep your head down.” “Don’t make waves.” “Play it safe.” “Stay beneath the radar.” By not calling attention to yourself, the boss won’t yell at you. What actually happens is that the boss won’t see you, let alone think of you. Just doing your job may also be the best way to be passed over and replaced.
Coming up with ideas is dangerous. Some will be lousy. Don’t worry about it. The people who make a difference can recognize that you want to do more than merely doing your job. You can think and you want to contribute.
Here are questions that are crying out for answers in every business:
- How can we better understand the competition?
- How can we better understand our customers?
- How can we be more efficient?
- What are we doing that we don’t need to do?
- What are we not doing that we should be doing?
Be serious about your answers to these questions and you’ll get ahead.
- Be the real deal. “Clothes don’t make the man,” an oft-quoted line a songwriter wrote years ago. But it’s the next line that makes the point: “It’s the man that makes the clothes.” Even though it may not be politically correct today, it makes the point that faking it, attempting to transform yourself into something you’re not, won’t work.
It’s being the “real deal” that counts. Maybe that’s one reason why Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla’s Elon Musk, as well as others, enjoy such widespread respect, not for what they wear, but for coming across as genuine, smart, and competent.
- Solve problems. If you’re lucky enough that someone asks you to solve a problem, grab it. Challenge yourself by taking on problems you don’t know how to solve. It’s called learning by doing. Or, if you see a problem, let it be known that you’re willing to take it on.
Your first thought might go something like this: “I might not do a good job and make a mess out of it” or “I don’t know how to go about it.” That’s exactly why so many people don’t try. They pull back when there are challenges—and they make themselves invisible. And they stay invisible when it comes to advancement.
If you want to get ahead, start solving problems. You don’t need answers; you need a willingness to try. If there were answers, there wouldn’t be a problem.
A problem doesn’t need to be earth shaking, either. There are more than a million apps, and 90% solve small problems like automatically watering your plants or finding your car in a huge parking lot.
Start with your own job, something you’re familiar with. What could make it easier, reduce the cost, make it more convenient for customers, encourage cooperation, speed up something, unblock a bottleneck or get rid of something that’s unnecessary.
- Demonstrate expertise. OK, don’t go away, at least not yet. Whether you’re 23 or 53 years old, if you’re like most people who have expertise in one or more areas, you doubt your competence, particularly when compared to others or feel embarrassed if someone asks your opinion.
We’re all the same and it didn’t happen by accident. Mother told us not to play in the front yard—don’t brag, know your place, and don’t be pushy. Good advice, but only up to a point. While modesty is a virtue, self-doubt isn’t. It programs us to downplay or underestimate our capabilities and to think it’s in bad taste to feel we’re good at or experts at anything. That’s a tragedy because most people go through life underestimating themselves.
- Be open to the unexpected. It’s OK to play in the front yard. Sure, it’s daring and a bit scary, no doubt about it. But it’s the only way to make your own luck. Being too sure you know what you want or being too goal oriented may hinder you, limiting your possibilities, and holding you back.
One man’s experience makes the point. He was about 40 and had been trying to change careers for several years, but nothing seemed to click, even though he had good contacts. No one seemed to see him in a different field. Then, he was asked to chair the committee for a major program. Someone recognized his skills and recommended that he be hired to run the program. He accepted and when he left the program, he launched his own business. His new career had found him.
More often than not finding what we want becomes a dead-end, and we settle for something less, while being open to the unexpected gets us where we want to be.
Remember, you’re not looking for a job. You’re packaging, positioning, and presenting yourself to uncover possibilities, so the job finds you.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales Ideas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.