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Today, doing your job well isn't enough

Those who advance must be able to add value to position

Internal networking is thought to be a powerful tool in expanding career opportunities. Internal networking is thought to be a powerful tool in expanding career opportunities. (Istockphoto.Com
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By Andrew Caffrey
Globe Staff / October 11, 2009

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It used to be a simple matter: to get ahead, you have to do your work well.

But in today’s workplaces, the people who get noticed and advance show ambition: they’ve volunteered to tackle problems - especially outside their home turf - cultivate mentors inside the company, and they have learned new skills or taken courses to broaden their range of abilities.

“It’s not enough to do your existing job well,’’ said Stephen Flavin, who is associate provost at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and runs its corporate and professional education programs. “If you want to be considered for promotion, you need to demonstrate that you’re able to add value beyond your job description.’’

An early mistake those who want to get ahead can make is not curbing their enthusiasm - or ambition. There are ways to put yourself forward without being off-putting.

It’s also probably smart to manage expectations by starting modestly. Focus on problems you can solve, assignments that introduce you to other parts of the company, or which help establish the kind of reputation you want to cultivate.

“A lot of people who have been successful in getting on the radar are seeking out those opportunities to learn other parts of the business,’’ Flavin said. “They’re trying to differentiate themselves from their colleagues by saying, ‘I have something more to offer.’ ’’

Such initiative may stir office politics, so it might be a good idea to take a realistic assessment of your people skills, and learn what makes the people you’re reaching out to tick.

“Tactful internal networking is a very powerful tool in expanding your career opportunities,’’ said Monte Kramer, senior director, human resources, at IHS Global Insight in Lexington. “Make sure you get to know management staff in your areas of career interest, and let them know of your interests.’’

Prepare for failure: You won’t quite do the bang-up job on the volunteer project, you might have legitimately overstepped and ruffled feathers, or that brilliant idea was looked at and lost long before you ever showed up.

Nancy Stager, vice president, human resources at Eastern Bank of Lynn, said ambitious workers should learn to manage their demeanors.

“Don’t get annoyed with an answer of no, or nonreceptivity to an idea or suggested approach to a matter. Management regularly says no at first, or requests time to consider how an idea could be implemented,’’ Stager said.

“Having patience, dealing with rejection or channeling frustration, especially for a younger worker, which leads to retention, is indicative of maturity and fortitude to stay with it,’’ she said.

There are numerous classes and training programs available through which promising employees can learn the so-called soft skills of communications, comportment, and the like.

Many local universities and business schools have seminars or condensed programs to teach executive leadership skills, as well as courses in more practical applications, such as project management.

Community colleges and even local vocational or technical high schools around Massachusetts offer courses in these soft skills, such as one-on-one communications, public speaking, and tricks for managing people and conflicts at work.

They are just some of the vast number of courses available outside the workplace that can help employees position themselves for advancement. Technical courses are especially important for blue-collar workers, whose jobs these days increasingly involve sophisticated equipment.

While employers are sometimes willing to finance such courses, you can’t just pick and choose what you want to take or use it as an opportunity to buff up on generic skills, said Allen Todres, senior vice president for human resources at American Tower Co. The course work, he said, must be specifically about improving or advancing the business your company is engaged in. “Alignment with the company’s needs must be central to the employee’s course of study and sanctioned,’’ especially with money so short, he said.

Flavin, the Worcester Polytech official, said lower-level employees should not be reluctant to raise their hands for extra work or training. When it comes to scouting for stars, he said, companies today are less hierarchal.

“It’s not like 10 years ago where you had to reach a certain stage in your career before being given more responsibilities,’’ Flavin said. “Companies are more willing to bet on individuals lower in the organization to do more important work. But not just anybody. Johnny has to have demonstrated he is up to challenge.’’

Andrew Caffrey can be reached at caffrey@globe.com.

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