There are five pieces of career advice that you think will get you promoted. But in reality, they’re almost guaranteed to get you stuck and hold you back from developing capabilities to get promoted. So what are they? How can you avoid them? And what should you do instead? We will be digging into it in this blog post.
Career Advice No.1: Work Hard To Get Ahead
Let’s begin with an old favorite and the most common career advice,” YOU NEED TO WORK HARD TO GET AHEAD”. The reward of working hard is more work. This absolutely not to knock having a strong work ethic. Having a strong work ethic is absolutely crucial and non-negotiable to career success. With that said, here’s a question for you:
When citing evidence that someone is working hard, what do you typically say? Or what do you typically hear being said?
One of the most common answers to such a question is, for example,” Emma is working so hard, she’s working 70 hours a week”(although these work hours answered may vary from person to person).
This is to say my problem with the phrase work hard to get ahead is that it typically means working a lot in order to get ahead—completely disregarding the quality of the hours spent.
For instance, if someone is working 80 hours a week, what are they doing during those hours? What impact are they making? What visibility is their work getting? What are they getting out of it?
We know from research coming out of Stanford that after 55 hours, employee productivity essentially falls off a cliff. This means that any time spent above those 55 hours is performative work. It’s like, an employee looks like doing emails but what he/she is really doing is watching TikTok!!
And it’s obvious that performative work can be necessary when you work in a work culture where you can’t advance if you aren’t doing 12-hour days. But not only is working an excessive amount of hours bad for productivity, but it’s also bad for you, for so many reasons.
It is going to impact your health, your social life, and the amount of sleep that you’re able to get. And all of these things, although they are not related to work are extremely crucial to your success.
Now, what should we do instead of working hard? Well, we already have a slogan(often propagated as a piece of career advice) for it. DONT WORK HARD, WORK SMART. But this is where things start to fall apart. Because yes, there are tactics like planning and time blocking that are going to make you more effective with the time that you have, and batching tasks certainly doesn’t make them go faster.
But to dramatically decrease your work hours while we elevate your visibility, your impact, and your career growth, we’re going to need to take a look at the second piece of career advice that is so terrible and you need to stop following it immediately.
Career Advice No.2: Be The Best At Everything
Many employees accomplish tasks beyond the prescribed limits and become overachievers. Socialization and the habits of overachievement start at a very young age. For example, when you’re in school, you’re trying to get straight A’s.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a subject area that isn’t aligned with your interests or your strengths. You are still going to do your best in order to reach that achievement level so that you get a gold star and the praise that goes with it.
The message is been that if you’re going to be good enough, you have to be great at everything that you do. And of course, we bring this story to the workforce with us. You aren’t just going to submit an expense report. You’re going to submit the best expense report ever. You’ll not just take notes in the meeting, you’ll take the most meticulous notes ever in the meeting.
There are going to be areas of work that this is going to serve you and it’s going to serve you well. When you’re working on high-visibility tasks or projects or anything that is really attributing to the key KPIs and goals that leadership is paying attention to, keep that vibe with you.
However, when it comes to the tasks that you’ve been doing to the best of your ability and no one seems to notice. I’m sure that you’ve had those complaint sessions with your best friend that your boss doesn’t notice the work that you’re doing. This is the work that I’m talking about.
For those tasks, you need to stop doing them so well. Work done isn’t better than perfectly done – done is just done. Not everything needs to be done to the best of your ability. Some things just need to be done. Obviously, what needs to be done exceptionally versus what just needs to be completed will be unique to you in your job.
What you can do is start noticing the things that other people don’t notice. The things that your boss never asks about have nothing to do with your goals or their goals and have no impact on the big goals that you’re working on. Those are the things that you should meet expectations and move on to, which should basically be your new mantra.
Now there is one exception and one caveat that I’m going to put on this. And that is anything that aligns with your unique awesomeness quotient, your UAQ. These are the things that you should continue to excel at and position yourself and build your professional brand.
Career Advice No.3: Just Do Your Job
And this actually brings us to our third point which is on the career advice TO DO THE JOB. Well, yes, I think that you should just do your job. But there is some nuance here so let’s talk about it. Let’s say that your boss comes to you and they ask you to take on a task that really is at the next level. It’s above your pay grade.
Now, if you follow the bad career advice of those viral videos and blog posts, you’re going to reject that work until you’re getting the pay for it. If it’s a long and ongoing thing, might be something that you need to consider.
However, in most cases, rejecting that work is going to be incredibly self-limiting. You’ve probably heard about the Peter Principle before, and that is where people are promoted up until their level of incompetence.
Let’s face it. The Peter Principle is most often exhibited in people of a certain demographic. Now in an effort to combat the Peter Principle, there has been a growing trend, especially over the last decade for the promotion to trail the work. This is especially true if you work in the tech industry because it has been standardized by companies such as Google and Facebook and everyone follows what they do.
If you want to get promoted to the next level, you need to begin performing at the next level. Unless you’re in that demographic who is being promoted on their potential in which case go off.
Now, what this means is that, of course, you need to do your job. But when you’re ready for that next level or maybe you’re ready to transition into a different role. You need to start strategically taking on more and different work.
This does not mean you’re doing your lazy co-worker’s job or picking up the slack on another department. But the fastest way to get to the job that you want is to start showing up for that job today.
For example, if you want to get into leadership, start showing up as a leader. If you want to be promoted to a senior-level role, start taking on senior-level work.
Now, that isn’t to say that all of the work offered to you is going to be the thing that opens up the gates for your next promotion. It’s actually not.
Career Advice No.4: Never Say No To Your Boss
And that’s why we need to talk about the fourth piece of terrible career advice SAY YES TO EVERYTHING. Do managers and leaders love a yes person? Of course, they do.
They can dump any work on them. And it will reliably be done but do you want to be the person that your boss and your colleagues come to? When it’s something that is not important but urgently needs to be done. Because that is typically what happens to the say-yes type of person.
So, will that person get promoted? Hmmm…. Probably not. Because when you’re the go-to person who’s gonna get stuff done. The stuff that you’re doing isn’t the stuff that’s going to elevate your career that we were just talking about.
In fact, you might be so trusty and so reliable that they can’t even promote you to the next role because who is going to do all of this work that you’re taking on? This isn’t to say that everything that is brought to you should be rejected. What we need to do here is discern the tasks that are going to elevate and accelerate your career on the tasks that are going to bury you in busy work, forcing you to work hard.
There’s also an element of time management here. If you’re extraordinarily busy. Even if a career-advancing opportunity lands on your lap, you need to get rid of something in order to take it on. Or you need to move around timelines.
What is not a career-advancing opportunity, then you need to reject that one. Refer it to someone else so that you can do the things that you need to do in order to achieve your career goals.
Ultimately, the goal should be to establish your professional brand so that you’re the go-to person for your (UAQ). The biggest impact that you can make for your highest potential path.
For instance, if your UAQ involves your unique ability to create a strategic plan to cultivate executive relationships with a prospective client. You want your co-workers coming to you about that, not troubleshooting an excel formula.
Career Advice No.5: Wait For Your Turn
And this actually brings us to the fifth piece of career advice and I think this is the most important one. Because from what I’ve seen, this is the difference between fast-track career success and career stagnation. That is, WAIT FOR YOUR OPPORTUNITY. I love the way this is discussed as though there is a proverbial line for the people who got promoted.
And yes, this might be true if you’re in a seniority environment, but I think those have mostly gone away. And if you’ve ever been passed over for promotion by someone who is jumping the line, you know this. You don’t have to wait to be handed an opportunity. You don’t have to wait for your boss to notice you. You don’t have to wait for the project of your dreams. You can get out there and create this all right now today.
You have a shocking amount of control over your career success and exactly what you’re achieving at work. Instead of waiting for a career advancement opportunity to be given to you, find a way to go and create it. Instead of leaning back and letting the quality of your work speak for itself, learn how to create buzz about the work that you’re doing without having to brag about yourself because we all hate doing that.
Stop overachieving on everything and making yourself invisible within the company and start making a strategic impact aligned with your UAQ stop thinking that socializing at work is a waste of time when you have work to do and realize that the relationships that you build authentically and organically are going to relate to the opportunities that you receive and are acknowledged for your work
Whether it’s a startup or a Fortune 500 company, you’ll never see proactiveness being penalized. In fact, you’ll always see proactiveness being rewarded with more opportunities especially when that proactiveness was related to a company priority and was within the person’s UAQ.
Before concluding, I’d love to know your thoughts. What career advice drives you nuts, and you think it’s so bad but keep on saying it anyways.