By Lee Gomes
But this advice is just as relevant in the office. In both places, anyone interested in getting ahead needs to remember that lots of other people have the same idea.
Career experts say that one of the first things you need to appreciate is that just keeping current, all by itself, isn’t going to be enough.
“There are probably a lot of people out there who share the same job title as you, and do the same thing that you can do,” says branding coach William Arruda, whose new book is Ditch! Dare! Do! “If you only think about ‘staying current,’ then actually, you are falling behind. The only way to get ahead is to realize that you’re probably sitting in a comfort zone, and that you need to be willing to take a step out of it.”
Arruda and other career experts say that staying ahead in your field isn’t much different from other career objectives. If you put in a little planning and dedicated work, you’re likely to reach your goals.
The good thing is that plenty of help is available, starting with the World Wide Web. Joel Garfinkle, author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level, says that many of the tools of the Internet are ideal for the career-conscious mid-level employee.
“In today’s content-rich Internet, it’s easier than ever to stay current in your field,” he says. “For example, I recommend following a handful of high-quality blogs that relate to the line of work that you are in.” Garfinkle recommends asking senior people in your department which blogs they regularly follow. “Every field has them by now,” he says, and most are free.
“But don’t just be a ‘lurker’ in the background,” Garfinkle adds. “Challenge yourself to comment on one or two articles per week, and then try to stay engaged in the conversation. It’s a great way to expose yourself to new and diverse perspectives. And it gets your name out there.”
The Internet played a big role in one of Arruda’s clients getting head. He was a member of a small finance department, and he was such a technological dinosaur that he didn’t even use email and had his secretary print out his messages. But the executive knew he was falling behind, so he made the bold decision to become the department’s expert in social media.
It wasn’t easy, said Arruda, considering how far behind he was and how much he had to learn. But eventually, he became such an expert that he was known not just in the finance department, but throughout the entire company, and is now on the radar screens of many higher-level managers, including many outside his own department.
Of course, not all examples of getting ahead take place in cyberspace. Many of them happen where they always did, in conference rooms. Garfinkle says, “Even though every professional I know has plenty to do, I advise people to set aside a few days per year to attend some sort of professional conference or workshop.
It’s is a great way to immerse yourself in the latest developments in your field. It’s also the best way to expand your professional network. If it’s a good conference, you’ll leave it re-energized and excited.”
Similar ideas are expressed by Talane Miedaner, author of Coach Yourself to Success. Miedaner suggests joining an association that’s relevant to your field or career, along with subscribing to trade magazines.
Miedaner says to find out what your own company might offer in terms of training and development courses and take all you can. Guest lunchtime lectures by outside specialists are features at a number of companies. Many bigger companies have career development specialists in their human resources department who would be happy to explain what options the company makes available. “If they don’t have internal courses, find external courses and ask your company to pay for you to take them. Some companies will even go so far as to pay for you to get an MBA, while others might pay for a sales training class or a leadership course,” she says.
One thing that staying current doesn’t involve, says Arruda, is taking on all manner of extra work to get the boss’s attention—though volunteering for the odd extra assignment now and then is a good idea.
“What we tell people is not necessarily to think up new stuff to do, but to rethink what they are already doing,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘What is your unique value? What is it that you have to offer?’ If you do that, you’ll be putting your stamp on everything you do, so everyone will know that it’s coming from you.”
Lee Gomes is a San Francisco-based writer who has written for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the San Jose Mercury News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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