No Shortcuts: 5 Tips for Launching the Career of Your Dreams
I am living my dream. Over the last 10 years, I’ve built a career as a policy expert in Washington, DC. My job is to inform the public, Congress, and the administration on pressing fiscal and economic issues and to formulate and advance policy to improve lives.
I started at the bottom, as an immigrant with a high school degree from Germany and no connections or relevant experience to my name. Today, I direct a research center at one of the largest and most influential think tanks in the world. I travel more than 100 days a year—in this country and abroad—while overseeing the work of a team of four highly capable and well-regarded issue experts.
Here’s my advice for those eager to launch the career of their dreams.
1. Scour for opportunities. Instead of thinking of yourself as merely a worker who got hired to do a defined job, think of yourself as an entrepreneur, someone who is on a mission to discover opportunities to create value for your organization. Seek to understand the vision and mission of your employer, and scour your environment for as-yet undiscovered ways of adding value by leveraging your skills and strengths. Do the job you were hired for, but do not stop there. You’ll become highly sought after by anticipating needs and setting yourself up to step into roles that open up and pitching new ways your organization can succeed in its mission.
2. Just do it. Every organization is looking for people who can get whatever job they need them to do, done. Plain and simple. You can quickly become the person your boss seeks out to get something mission-critical done by delivering projects ahead of schedule and by going the extra mile—no matter what it takes to get the job done. Too many people look for obstacles to success, instead of stepping stones to moving toward the goal. Make it your responsibility to deliver the project, whether it will take other people’s help, additional resources, or working overtime and weekends. Adopt a “just do it” attitude to remove obstacles and secure the resources you need to succeed.
3. Cooperate and delegate. Important work gets done in teams. This is especially true for big projects that benefit from diverse expertise and experience. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a supervisory title and salary-setting power to convince people to help you. Treat people with respect. Demonstrate to them that you value their time and talents. Help them to understand how their involvement is critical for mission success. Communicate (or, better yet, over-communicate) up and down the chain of command. Persuade people, at all levels of hierarchy, to join your team by being a strong team player yourself. Become a servant leader.
4. Negotiate your value, and earn your worth. There’s lots of career advice out there about how to ask for a raise or promotion. Yes, making the ask is important. But even more important is acting in the role you’re hoping to assume and making a compelling, verifiable case for the value you create and the responsibilities you have taken on and seek to expand. Keep a log of your contributions and articulate how you’ve created value and how you’ve assumed greater responsibilities before asking for a raise or promotion. Show them why you’re worth it and how you’ve grown your contributions and responsibilities in the pursuit of a promotion or raise, and what you plan to do if you get it. Draw up your work plan and present it to your supervisor for input.
5. Leverage your strengths. It is especially critical early on in your career to explore your strengths by exposing yourself to a variety of projects and tasks. This is how you discover your comparative advantage. Many people mistakenly focus their time and energy on their weaknesses. If it’s something that you do that is holding you back from succeeding, by all means, fix it. Otherwise, forget trying to be good at everything and focus on being especially good at some things. Tools like the Gallup StrengthsFinder are useful to help you identify and leverage your unique strengths.
There are no shortcuts to launching the career of your dreams. You can walk your own path to success by setting your vision and pursuing it with discipline and conviction. You are the master of your own destiny. Put your mind to it and just do it.