12 Essential Tips for Professional Success

Every professional has successes and failures; we try to learn from both as we go.

Every professional has successes and failures. We try to learn from both as we go.

We collect rules of thumb, principles we can deploy, habits that make success more likely than failure. In my own work, I've done this, and I keep them handy, as a way to always remember how to be better.

After ten years of post-school, working life, I continue to learn how to be better, more effective, and more valuable. Failures have tended to be my most effective teachers, but to save you the trouble, here are 12 tactics that I have learned are essential. I hope this list helps you too–or, at least, prompts you to consider tactics you will find valuable.

1. Write every day.

Writing is important for every single professional role you might take–ever. The best way to hone your skills is to practice. Take advantage of platforms to which you already have access, engage friends for feedback, or begin your own blog.

2. Promote yourself.

You have to promote yourself before your boss will promote you. Begin or complete your LinkedIn profile right now. Post your work on social media. Be proud of what you do, and make sure that you are the first person who comes to mind when someone is hiring for a new role.

3. Speak up.

Don’t wait for anyone to read your mind, especially regarding sticky issues that can harm your productivity or job satisfaction. Get advice, talk to someone to see how they can help you address problems.

Also, if someone asks your opinion, they are inviting you to share–take them up on it.

4. Plan for your desired professional situation next year, then in five and ten years.

Plans change, but outlining your trajectory will help you create and capitalize on opportunities you have in your current role that will prepare you for the next one.

5. Engage mentors.

Meet them. Interest them. Collect ‘em all!

Eventually, this means becoming a mentor, but that doesn’t mean you’re ever finished learning from others. Never pass up an opportunity to have regular contact with someone whose career you want to emulate or network you want to tap. As with everything in life, success is all about who you know.

6. Take manageable risks.

Sometimes rocking the boat is hard to stomach, worrying that the new thing you do could be catastrophic. The fact is, it’s highly unlikely that a new design, process, or other innovation will sink the ship. Just try it.

And if you need to take a bigger risk, talk to your colleagues so they can either help or walk you off the edge.

7. Appearances matter.

As my godmother always says, “The eye eats first,” meaning we make quick judgements based on what we see at a glance. Beauty is often overlooked by those who think the power of a good argument wins every time. But we humans are judgers, and we aren’t so easily captivated by impeccable logic as by a pretty picture or face.

Always bake aesthetic quality into your products so your audience can begin to feel what it means to you.

8. Actively manage your reputation.

How are you perceived at and outside the office? Are you considered competent, personable, and passionate or otherwise? What would your boss or colleagues say if asked to write you a recommendation or when approached impromptu?

9. Get (the right) stuff done.

As you imagine your desired goal, work backward to plan what needs to happen, in what order, and how often. This helps not only with your direct work, but also reputationally: Be known as the person who gets the valuable stuff done.

10. Manage up.

Your boss forgets, too. When this happens, don’t wait while the moment to act passes. Gently rattle his or her cage to clear the bottleneck.

11. Put points on the board.

Define what success looks like, solicit buy-in from colleagues (I’ve found this takes a lot of work), and document at every stage of the game. Identify competitors and partners to make it a game, and keep reaching forward.

12. Never fear.

No matter how smart, accomplished, demanding, or famous, every person is as ignorant about the future as you. The only thing they have on you is experience. If you avoid being intimidated, meet them, and talk with them, you can benefit from their experience and perhaps make a powerful new ally.

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