How to Get Ahead at Work

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I often hear from employees who feel stuck in their job and don’t know what their next move should be. They become dissatisfied, don’t feel challenged, or aren’t getting the promotions and salary increases they feel they deserve. In fact, a report by Right Management confirms that only 19% of employees are satisfied with their jobs.

In order to understand what it takes to stand out and get ahead at work, I partnered with American Express on a new workplace success study. The short version of what we found? If you want to get unstuck, you need to take the initiative. Here are six things you can — and should — do to stand out, build a strong reputation and advance at work:

  1. Become an entrepreneur at work. Our study found that 58% of managers are either very willing or extremely willing to support entrepreneurial employees. What does that mean? If you want to get ahead, you need to take on projects outside of your job description. If you see a new opportunity that your company could take advantage of, or you see something that can be improved, come up with a solution. Do research, develop a presentation outlining the opportunity, and present it to your management. Before you engage in any entrepreneurial initiatives, of course, you have to master your current role and prove yourself — because no one will invest in you unless they trust you first.
  2. Engage in activities outside of the office. Everyone knows there is no nine to five workday anymore, but working outside the office doesn’t just mean keeping an eye on your smartphone. Extra outside projects and roles and learning opportunities can enhance their reputation at work. And we found that 63% of managers are very willing or extremely willing to support an employee’s professional related activities outside of the office. You can, for example, join professional organizations and social groups to expand both your network and knowledge of your industry and profession. Find volunteer opportunities on; a list of associations you can join on; and local events on
  3. Think twice before you friend your manager on Facebook. We found that only 14% of managers are either very comfortable or extremely comfortable being friends with employees. Most managers don’t want to add their employees as contacts because they want to separate their personal and professional lives. Before you decide to friend them, think about the type of relationship you have with them and ask them what their comfort level is. If you tend to share personal matters with your manager at the office, they would probably be more inclined to have the same relationship on Facebook.
  4. Develop your soft skills. We found that managers, and even recruiters, value soft skills over hard skills: 61% of managers believe that soft skills are most important, our study found. The most important soft skills for employees who want to get promoted are the ability to prioritize work, communicate effectively, and work well in a team. If you want to develop these skills, you need to actively pursue situations where you can both interact with other people and get feedback so you can improve.
  5. Become a subject matter expert. If you want to stand out at work and gain visibility and recognition, you need to be an expert on a particular topic. Our study found that 65% of managers say it’s either important or very important to become a subject matter expert when it comes to advancing at work. It can be as simple as being your company’s or department’s expert on Microsoft Excel formulas. When your co-workers need help in that area, they will come to you every time and you will become more valuable as a result.
  6. Get more face time. Employees, especially millennials, tend to use email, instant messaging, and video chat to communicate, yet face time is still extremely important when interacting with management. In our survey, 66% of managers say that in-person meetings are their preferred way of communicating with employees, while only 26% said email. The more your manager sees you and knows what you’re capable of, the more you’ll be viewed as a future leader.

Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career and workplace expert, the founder of Millennial Branding, and the author of the new book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.