How to Advance in Your Career Even if You Aren’t the Boss Yet

Is there a way to advance your career even when you are not a manager, the BOSS yet? Career-advancement is a topic which often just relies on titles and the number of rungs one has climbed on the corporate ladder. In such a scenario when titles on paper matter so much, one might end up feeling stagnant even though the value one attaches their work is high.

Some people might be quite content with their current roles and they might be fearing a certain stagnation; they might be thinking: is this the limit to what one can do before their nature of work changes? Is there no way to continue doing the work they love and still advance in some other way?

Take for example a journalist who might enjoy reporting, and might be fearing the supposedly higher position of an editor where they will have to put a stop to their regular reporting, and actually manage teams and departments. Or a salesperson who loves to interact with clients and engage in selling, and as they become managers, they have to forego the sales part and end up handling administrative responsibilities.

There are many people who might be willing to take up a new challenge and yet, also might be fearing the new kind of responsibilities that come with such a higher, management position.

Is there a way to get over the stagnancy, to advance, without having to embrace a managerial position?

 Is there a way to advance in your career even if you aren’t the boss yet?

Turns out there are a few ways. Let us take a look at a few of those.

Look for In-Role Growth:

When a promotion to a managerial position seems to be on the horizon, it is a good idea to talk to your seniors and mentors within the company and be honest about your values and what kind of advancement means more to you. There are roles and opportunities which can be tailored especially for you. There are roles like an in-bound consultant and/or the expert, where you can have a ‘promotion’ within the role, get around the sense of stagnancy and yet continue to do the work that you value. All without or with very minimal managing to do.

A way to stay in the company, get promoted without having to take up a managerial position is to become a mentor or a trainer for new joinees. You will not only get to use your expertise, but also impart it to others. This can be as “satisfying” as the promotion you didn’t go for.

Looking Elsewhere:

You can be a ‘bigger fish in a smaller pond’, or you might as well look for a ‘bigger pond’. As an article by the Muse goes on to explain, one might need to take a leap and look for other options where there is scope for growth in other aspects. Growth and advancement in career can be found in:

  • A leap to a bigger company/brand
  • A leap to a bigger market
  • An increase in your client pool

In simple words, it could be as simple as switching to a company that has a larger reach and more prestige. But if that sounds like a turning your back on your current company that has given you so much, and a risk at your well-earned independence, then the next option might look more pleasant.

Take the Independent Route:

If one feels that they have enough experience, networking skills and potential clients ready, a great step into career advancement is consulting. An independent consultant will have the autonomy and hands-on work to learn more and more on the job. They will have the liberty to pay attention to their work and their clients. At the same time, they will also have a better sense of control, as opposed to someone who might be on managerial position constantly needing to check on their team members.

And consulting is something that can be done full-time or part-time: it could become a side hustle, and eventually, perhaps a full-fledged retirement plan.

The position of the ‘the boss’ comes with its own perks and advantages. Some of us might be game for it, while some of us might be looking for growth and advancement in other ways. Some of us might be getting a little impatient and looking to overcome the sense of stagnancy. At the end of the day, it is all about being honest about the kind of work which has more personal value for you. It is about keeping the learning curve rising. Any kind of role, whether that of a managerial or non-managerial kind will have its own set of challenges; it’s up to us how we want to shape our career using those challenges.

Factors to Keep in Mind While Deciding if You Want to Work In-Office or Remotely

Last year we saw the emergence of a full-fledged remote working scenario. Gradually, with the improvement in the situation, we saw the arrival of the ‘hybrid’ system of working, as we have charted out in one of our earlier articles. As of now, we have a whole lot of us returning to the office.

There are some organisations which have offered the employees an option from among remote work, in-office work, or even a combination of everything. Some offices have called back everyone in full strength. Some offices have an in-office time-table for each set of employees spread over the week, and some offices have a policy of dividing remote work and in-office work evenly.

To the ones who are fortunate enough to have a choice of deciding if they want to continue remote work or go back to the office, what are the factors that should be kept in mind?

To the ones looking for a new job and wishing to weigh in the pros and cons when it comes to choosing remote work or in-office work, how should they decide?

To the ones feeling stuck at their jobs, is it possible that a different format of working could be just what was needed?

In this article, we give out some pointers to keep in mind while deciding if we want to go for remote work or go back to the office, or have the best of both worlds.

Safety Concerns:

If you have been provided an option about working remotely or in-office, one major deciding factor would be the safety policies of the company. What kind of safety precautions have they adopted? How well is the office space maintained when it comes cleanliness and hygiene? What are the surroundings of the space like? How are the meetings conducted in the office space and do the employees follow the protocols?

Does the space make one feel safe, literally, or is coming to the office likely to become a daily source of anxiety for one’s personal safety?

These are some basic starting points to think about when making a decision.

Job Description and Company Values:

Some jobs like those in hospitality, defence, healthcare and other public services don’t have an option to choose. But there are some jobs, like those in advertising and marketing, and other corporate jobs, where depending upon the responsibility, one would be able to reach a compromise. These are also the jobs where once in a while an offline, in-person session would work well, perhaps to brainstorm and set the agenda, and later disperse remotely to work on them at one’s own pace.  

There will also be values and culture of the particular company which would come in play here. Some companies, with a more conservative, bureaucratic structure might expect its employees to be around and establish great networks with seniors, clients and collaborators. Some companies on the other hand might be looking to just get the work done, irrespective of networking patterns.

It thus becomes necessary to keep these factors about the company in mind and deciding whether one wants to go for remote work or in-office work.

Communication Preferences:

Again, depending on the profession and company, the communication style amongst team members and departments would differ. Information about the tools the organisation uses for remote networking, the expectations of how and whom to report from the employee would make a difference in how the work gets done. These are the questions the individual will have to ask to the employers, as we have mentioned in an earlier article about the new kind of questions one should be prepared with amidst the new normal.

Here, one also needs to factor in the communication style of the individual. Are you someone who likes to take their own space to get a task done? Or are you someone who likes to discuss and brainstorm? Are you someone who can handle delays that come with not having immediate offline access to a head or team member? Or are you someone who has a lot of autonomy and finds notifications, out of the blue virtual meetings a hassle? Are you someone comfortable with technology or prefer the old-fashioned way to work?

The communication style involved at the level of the organisation and that of the individual when mingled, will give a fair sense of the choice one needs to make.

At the end of the day, it is the personal priorities, goals about one’s career, working style, and the extent to which the company work culture fits with these aspects that will help the person to make a decision about working remotely or in-office.

How to Make the Irrelevant Experience Relevant

Are you at a place where you feel your work experience so far has been ‘irrelevant’? There are many reasons why someone might be on this juncture: a late start, having a degree that doesn’t always have the best hiring rate, a sudden career-change, or any life situation that impelled you to switch directions.

There’s more nuance to this. We are living in a gig economy, in a remote-working scenario. Young people these days have a penchant for trying something new frequently, which results in them jumping jobs quite a lot. Hence, even without a conventional reason, many of us might end up gaining skills and experience which may seem ‘irrelevant’.

Of course, gaining experience and skills is always a positive thing, it is always indeed a ‘gain’. There is always something to learn, as we will see further in this article. So, why is it that we are talking about experience being relevant or irrelevant?

A blogpost on People Matters goes on to tell how most companies are looking for productivity and not necessarily creativity, consistency and not necessarily coincidence. They are looking for expertise to reduce the expenses that come with training someone, and looking for someone who can fit into a readymade role. Is there a way to make the ‘irrelevant’, relevant?

There are some outliers like Apple which actively look for the so called ‘irrelevant’ work experience to bring in new perspectives. Take this example given by the same People Matters blogpost of a ‘software engineer’ at Apple who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, worked with motorcycles, taught English, made fine art photographs, taught himself computer programming, made his way through early tech start-ups and finally ended up at Apple. But this is more of an exception rather than a general rule.

So, this leads us to questions like:

  • Is there a way to include ‘irrelevant’ experience in your resume and interview career narratives in the first place? Should you? And more importantly,
  • Is there no way to use your ‘irrelevant’ work experience in a way that renders it relevant?

Should you Include Irrelevant Experience:

As an article by Zipjob spells out, there is one school of thought which says you shouldn’t list your irrelevant work experience since that could potentially cloud the other important details. This is something people with a vast work experience can keep in mind. The simple solution for them is to tailor their resume and interviews according to the job description and the position.

The tricky part is for someone who doesn’t have much (relevant) experience to begin with in the first place. That is when it becomes necessary to include whatever you have in an already limited resume and experience narrative. It becomes necessary to prove your relevance, so to speak. How do you do that?

Making the Irrelevant Relevant:

Simply put, every job, every activity does teach us something, be it hard skills or soft skills as we mentioned before. As the Zipjob article aptly points out, employers today are not just looking for ‘drones to fulfil highly-targeted tasks…they are looking for competent, accomplished team-members to help achieve the company’s goals…’

Thus, when preparing for the interview and deciding on tailoring your resume, the basic steps to take are:

  • Look at the job description and note down the key responsibilities and concerns.
  • Next you move on to thinking about your previous work experience and linking your older responsibilities to the potential new ones.

One of the keys strategies here is to think beyond the job title(s) you have held so far. It is about thinking in terms of your responsibilities and tasks, and not just your day to day. If you had a responsibility which is similar to the one you are to handle now, or which had skills which can come in handy, then that is the responsibility you want to highlight in your resume and interview.

An article by Muse gives a great example:

“Maybe you’re an office manager trying to become a marketing coordinator…In addition to your administrative responsibilities, you manage your company’s Twitter feed and help with trade show coordination. That’s marketing! So, be sure to highlight the marketing stuff you’re doing—or have done in other roles—even if it was not your primary job function.”

What Stays Relevant:

The strategy discussed above will naturally veer us into telling how problems were solved and results were achieved. Whether the skill or the experience is relevant or not, solving problems will also be relevant, and letting someone know that your problem-solving skill is transferrable is anything but irrelevant.

As we push this further, we will be able to turn any ‘irrelevant’ experience in the ever-relevant soft skills. Problem solving is necessary everywhere. So is team-work, conflict resolution, adaptability and flexibility, critical thinking, communication, writing and public speaking skills, presenting, networking, and the list goes on. They are always relevant and always used, no matter how different the fields are.

At the end of the day, companies want employees who can get work done and continue to learn. What matters is how you structure your experience so far into a narrative that tells what led you to this point. To repeat and extend what was said earlier, most companies might be looking for productivity and not necessarily creativity, consistency and not necessarily coincidence but if you can convince them that this is what you can offer with your current supposed ‘irrelevant’ work experience, perhaps it is not so irrelevant.

Want a Productive Meeting ? Ask these Productive Questions

Picture this. A team-meeting where just one person is speaking, setting the agenda, explaining the tasks, and the others just nod their way through the meeting, only to realise much later that they aren’t clear about a key concern.

Take this other scenario. Again, a team-meeting, and someone who isn’t in a habit of conducting meetings is doing so now. A barrage of questions would overwhelm this new person, but just the right amount could potentially help them get a cue about how they are doing the job thus helping them ease into the meeting. It can also tell them how effectively have they communicated and what they can keep in mind in future meetings.

Asking questions is almost like an art. When asked at the right time, to the right person, in the right manner can lead to fruitful discussions, integration of unique perspectives leading to innovation, filling gaps and loopholes leading to the outcomes actually desired.

This art is seen in interviews, but it can also be utilised in meetings, brainstorming sessions and important decision-making discussions.

Let us take a look at some strategies to ask better questions so that team-meetings can actually include perspectives of team-members, and brainstorming sessions don’t end up becoming storms to run away from!

The Nuance of ‘Why’:

Contrary to what is obvious, ‘why’ is actually not a question that can lead to many fruitful discussions; at least not always. Have we not had times when a sudden ‘why’ rendered us questioning the whole point of our agenda? It could often shut us down and demoralise.

As Amy Drader writes in a blog for growthpartnersconsulting.com, ‘why’ can actually make the person asked get defensive. It often requires them to look into the past and justify a key decision. Necessary at certain times, at other times, it can drive the discussion away from the solution and more to the problem itself.

So, asking a ‘why’ demands a lot more prudence about how one frames or phrases it.

Open-Ended:

The key then is to ask questions which elicit answers that lead one to think in a direction they might not have. To lead one to offer their perspective. To clarify, to specify. Because let us face it, speakers could forget key details in the rush to get done with the meeting, and thus the onus lies on the others listening to ask the right questions and get all the details clearly laid out.

Open-ended questions, generally but not always begin with a ‘what’, ‘how’ and sometimes ‘who’. Some examples provided by the blog cited above include questions like:

  • How do we move forward?
  • What is the important thing to do here, and what is that can wait for later?
  • What do you think is the best option?
  • What are some things expected from us?
  • What can we expect this to achieve?
  • What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • What seems to be the best practice/alternative/strategy?
  • How has this been done in the past and how can we do it better?
  • Who are the key persons with what sort of roles in this?
  • What impact is this likely make?

And so on.

Note how most of these questions are likely to elicit a discussion, invite some perspectives, clarify a few things and provide the specifics. For the speaker too, it is not a bad idea to ask questions like these to individual members. A question as simple as ‘what do you think about…’ followed by questions on a similar tangent as mentioned above can encourage the listeners put their point forward.

Listening Skills:

However, great questions will not mean anything if we don’t listen to the responses and not help taking the meeting in the right direction. While asking questions should be an important part of any meeting, it should not become a hindrance to the agenda.

Thus, it is important that the questions are asked with an intention to:

  • Get clarity about the agenda
  • To prevent taking unnecessary long detours
  • Avoiding potential loopholes and filling gaps
  • Make sure the speaker isn’t missing out on any key detail

And not with an intention to:

  • Provide opinions that don’t directly concern the agenda
  • Waste time
  • Assert power to fuel in office politics

While open-ended questions work great, there will be times when a simple yes or no shall be enough to provide the necessary clarity. At such times, it is best to let the meeting move forward and not try to come up with further questions just for the sake of coming up questions. The key is to ask questions that facilitate the movement of the meeting.  

The Independence Within

The Independence Day of our country is right around the corner! Time and again we are reminded of the sacrifices our freedom fighters have made and how indebted we are to them, when we take a look around and see where we stand as a country after all these years. Have we looked within and tried to cultivate a state of freedom in our own thinking and actions?

Hereby we take a look at some aspects where an independence of thought and a freedom from the shackles of conformity is a must if we want to make the best of our careers. Let us take a look!

Independence in Thinking About our Career-Values:

Often, we find ourselves being confronted by key decisions…of other people. When a long-time co-worker leaves their job, we find ourselves wondering if it’s time for us to leave as well. When we see a colleague take up a new side-venture, we wonder if we should do it too. In other words, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of comparison and put ourselves through unnecessary rethinking. There is a fine line between wanting a change in one’s path and wanting a change in one’s path because someone made you feel so.

 A keen sense of self-awareness about one’s own career path is necessary to make sure we make the right decisions, independently, keeping our own situation, our aspirations and our own dreams in mind. An independence in thinking about what works well for our life and career is necessary to stay on the right path so we don’t end up projecting the situation and aspirations of someone else onto ours.

This brings us to a related but nevertheless an important point.

Independence in Thinking About our Values:

Everyone wants different things from their jobs. Some of us might crave for some structural stability, while others are looking for an outlet for their creativity, while some are looking to channelise their need to uplift and inspire people. A person might be looking for autonomy, fulfilling intellectual work, fast-pace and new challenges. Another person might be looking for stability, security, steadiness and routine work.

What gives the other person contentment might leave another feeling stuck. It is thus necessary to think about our own individual values, independent of what others decide for themselves and what countless success-stories of others might tell us.

One too many of us often under-utilise our potential, change paths unnecessarily or stay at the same place wondering why we are unhappy because of not thinking about what we really want from our work.

Independence in Initiative:

We often let factors like office politics, prejudices and biases of others, our own assumptions about people, our mental-sets about our own capacities come in the way of taking efficient initiatives within the workplace environment. The latter point deserves some more explanation. A senior member might have the mental-set that they can’t learn anything new and that technology is difficult to master when in reality, it’s a fast- growing learning curve. A younger person might feel the interviewers on the panel are out to bully their lack of experience and go in the interview already under-confident when in reality, they are testing how fresh their ideas are. A person in the middle of their career might feel like their opportunities have dried up and it’s no use learning or undertaking anything new, when in reality their wisdom and humility are much needed qualities.

While communicating with client and colleagues, we often let the established biases, prejudices and assumptions come in the way, stopping us from trying our best, thinking ‘It has always been like this…’, when in reality, a little independence in thought, a little unshackling can lead us to think, ‘Yes, it has always been like this, but have we tried to…’

It is about trying out an innovation without waiting for someone else to bring it up.

It is about understanding the shackles that bind our thinking in the form of hearsay, unsaid conventions and outdated beliefs and cultivating that independence in trying to look beyond them.

Thus, this Independence Day, let us free ourselves from habits and thought patterns that prevent us from being the best version of ourselves and making our office environment a better place. Team UHR wishes everyone a very happy Independence Day!