The ultimate guide for women to advance their careers (16 steps)
More women are rising to leadership positions than ever before. Why not you, too? It's certainly within your reach. You just need to understand the steps and believe in your abilities.
There are factors great and small that impact your chances for career advancement. These come together into a 16-step path that leads to success.
The ultimate guide for women to advance their careers
Get the qualifications
There is no substitute for skill. If you want to have a successful career, whether you are a man or a woman, you should be able to deliver according to your job description. This is truly step zero to career advancement because all the rest is just building on this foundation.
Proper qualifications include certificates, degrees, internships, or previous work experience. You don't have to overdo it with multiple degrees or tons of certifications, but you must have at least one solid credential that proves you are capable.
This is worth the cost, so don't fret about educational debt. Investing in yourself up front is the only way to advance your career.
Bring your A-game, every single day
Once you have a job in the field you wish to stay in, work hard. This doesn't mean you work hard sometimes. It means you work hard every damn day. Effort trumps talent more times than not, and continued hard work will hone your talent, so you will be a double threat.
Often, the privileged or naturally talented people in your same position don't know how to work hard because they've never had to. Therefore, committing to hard work each day will help you advance your career faster than anything else. It also shows dedication and helps to build trust with your boss. You will be someone they can count on.
Document your successes
Never assume people will remember your successes. These must be documented in a professional way and brought up at appropriate times, such as during an annual review. Most bosses manage many people, and they just can't keep track of everything.
If you want to advance your career, you have to document your successes on your own. These might include the completion of a large project, winning an award or contest, an email of praise from a customer or superior, or admission to an exclusive professional society.
Whatever you feel have been your greatest accomplishments should be documented. Remember to provide a brief explanation as to why you feel these are worthy accomplishments. Sometimes bosses pass these accolades on to human resources in order to bump up your pay, and people outside your field may need a little extra help understanding why you are fantastic.
Don't sink to Becky's level
As your star starts to burn brighter and you receive recognition for your hard work, you may notice co-workers behaving differently toward you. The Becky in the office is likely to say negative things about you, complain, or ask why she wasn't rewarded instead of you.
Don't sink to Becky's level. This is part of the process for advancing your career, and even though it's frustrating, there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with Becky. Your boss is going to watch your reaction to this "workplace conflict" situation and may make decisions on whether you are ready to move up based on that reaction.
Yes, Becky deserves to hear that she didn't get rewarded because she doesn't actually contribute anything. BUT saying that will likely make Becky cry and run with her pumpkin spice latte straight to HR, so a better plan is to be indifferent toward Becky. Listen to her complaints and respond with noncommittal words. Not fighting back in this situation is strategic, and you can deal with Becky later when you are in a management position.
Dress the part, head to toe
Leaders need to look like leaders. You've probably heard people say that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. This is true, but there is a bit more to it.
You can't just slap on a blouse and lope into work with wet hair and smudged glasses. You need to dress for the part from head to toe. Opt for a briefcase instead of a backpack. Choose kitten heels over comfy sneakers. This is where the little things add up to a big picture idea that you are ready for advancement.
Your boss has to consider whether clients and colleagues will take you seriously. By focusing on the details of your appearance you are illustrating that you can set aside your home life, commit to the tasks ahead, and deliver.
Go above and beyond
At this point, you are on your boss's radar. Anything you can do to go above and beyond on expectations is super important right now. Push harder than you did before, but remember not to step on people's toes.
Going above and beyond can be as simple as bringing your customer a nice latte before your meeting. Most of the time these things fall into the category of thoughtfulness. Show your boss there is more to you than just roboticly completing your assignments. You think ahead and anticipate needs.
Be kind, even to Becky
Sometimes managers aren't looking to promote the most talented person in the group. Often, advancement includes managing other people, and your boss might be looking for someone who is well liked rather than someone who can simply do work. You are not a cog in the system. You are a future leader.
Being kind is not optional if you want to advance your career. Sure, some people get pretty far by being cut-throat and putting others down, but it doesn't usually last. If you want to float to the top and stay there, you have to learn how to get along with everyone, even Becky. This doesn't mean you have to be friends with Becky, you just have to be the bigger person.
Make other people look good
On that note about kindness, remember to give credit where credit is due. Making other people look good is a very clever strategy for advancing your own career. It might seem like you would be working against yourself, but people remember when you make them look good. They may not repay the favor in the same way, but it's likely they will repay it. There is an idea of "I owe you one" after someone does something good for you, and you can use this in creative ways.
The recipient may offer something to help you on a project. Perhaps they connect you with someone useful. Often, the repayment comes quietly and directly to you, but an alliance is established and the repayment will help you complete your work.
Find a mentor
Navigating a career can be tricky. There are industry standards and institutional knowledge. It takes significant time to understand these things, but you can skip ahead a few chapters by seeking a mentor.
Find a mentor who can offer insight into your next steps. Ask them about possible career paths, how people got to where they are now, and any lessons learned they gained through their own career advancement.
Slowly build trust with this person, and never ask them to stick their neck out for you. In time, they may offer to do that on their own. Your goal though is to absorb their knowledge like a sponge.
Careers have specific skills required to complete needed tasks. Those skills are likely to be the same wherever you work, as long as you stay in the same career field. BUT, institutions and companies don't just need generic skills; they need skills specific to them.
If you want to advance your career, you need to understand what is valuable to your specific company. Gain those skills. This will make you indispensable to them.
Express your intentions for leadership
You should now be ready for leadership consideration. That doesn't mean you will get an advanced position right away. First, you need to express your interest in advancement. Again, your boss is busy and likely hasn't noticed the small hints you've been dropping.
You need to explicitly tell your boss that you are looking to advance. Ask them for guidance on how to get to where you want to be. Ask if there are opportunities opening soon. the less you leave to guess work, the better.
Be realistic about time frames
Sometimes career advancement comes down to timing. Not every position is open at all times, and you may have to wait a year or two before the right opportunity comes along, even though you are ready now.
Also, if you haven't been at the company long, you probably won't be at the top of the advancement list. They want to advance those they've invested in and can count on to stay. Being new means you are still a wild card. Give it time.
Keep gaining new skills
During the wait, gain new skills. You can always take classes for free on Coursera. Or, you can use the time to get an additional certification. Keeping your skills fresh is important for staying on top of your game, and it shows you are dedicated to your career.
Ride the ups and downs
This is likely the toughest time because you are ready for advancement but it hasn't happened yet. Stick with it and ride those ups and downs because it will happen, as long as you stick it out. Moving to a new company or a new job will just lower you on the list for advancement. At this point, your best bet is to stay where you are and keep showing you are next in line by doing a great job.
Apply for the job you want
When the right opportunity opens up, apply. Don't chicken out because it might be a long time before another opportunity like this opens again.
However, be realistic in what you are applying for. If this is more than one step up for you in terms of advancement, you are likely aiming too high too fast. You are more likely to succeed if you wait for the right opportunity and go in with an unequivocally excellent record of accomplishments.
Give back to the next generation of women
Once you've made it, recognize your accomplishment. You might not be all the way at the top yet, but you are much further along than the newbies starting out. Take the time to give back. Mentor a young woman like you were mentored.
Never be intimidated by their youth and eagerness, and never be their Becky. You earned your place through hard work and diligence, and you can help the next generation of women do exactly the same thing.