Whether you dream of a swanky corner office at a downtown law firm, or a coveted spot on camera as an investigative journalist, your career goals may take years of work to achieve. However, it’s not always the hardest worker who gets what she wants. Often, it’s the smartest worker — the one who knows to ask for advice and how not to get mired in office politics.
Here’s a look at five ways recent grads and young professional women can climb the ladder to reach the career of their dreams.
1) Manage your time and understand your work style.
Employees who labor at their desks far past 5 o’clock to meet a deadline aren’t necessarily the most diligent workers. In many cases, it’s because they procrastinated or wasted time on email, Facebook, or other social media. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the person who works the most hours gets the most done! Figuring out your work style can help you manage your workload more efficiently and work more effectively with coworkers.
2) Find allies for your success.
Having allies or mentors who can introduce you to other contacts or offer advice on handling a difficult negotiation can pay huge dividends throughout your career. These can be mid-to-senior level management professionals you admire, or even your savvy colleague that can become your ally. Millennial career expert Lindsey Pollak sites a study of Millennial women in five countries that found 94 percent of Generation Y women said that the best mentors are people you can trade advice with and 77 percent said that mentors can be people your own age.
3) Understand that it’s okay to say no.
“Yes” women run themselves ragged doing favors for anyone and everyone while getting little in return. The smarter approach is to be more strategic in the projects you agree to tackle and only commit to as much work as you can reasonably handle. If your boss asks for your help preparing a big presentation, you probably need to honor that request. But if a colleague from another department asks you to cover for her over the weekend so she can take a last-minute vacation, don’t feel obligated, especially if you’ve helped her out in the past. You don’t have to offer an explanation when you decline but suggest an alternative if you can. It’s great to be of assistance, but try not to lose sight of your goals and responsibilities.
4) Remain open to learning new things.
A 2013 Randstad survey of Millennials and more mature workers found that both age groups ranked flexibility and adaptability as the most important skills for growing a career. With the rate of change in technology and business nowadays, even the most seasoned professional can discover new technology or explore a new way of working. For example, if your position calls for working with tools like Cision, Google Analytics or Adobe InDesign that may be new to you, don’t let their complexity intimidate you. Instead, research best practices and quick hacks on how to use these tools quickly, and always be receptive to learning new strategies and ideas. Also, practice makes perfect — so don’t be afraid to give yourself time to adjust and use your co-workers or supervisor as resources.
5) Take constructive criticism and become better.
Criticism can bruise your ego and sap your confidence, but if you take it to heart and apply yourself to improving, you’ll make tremendous progress over time. Instead of getting defensive when your boss offers a less than flattering critique of your PowerPoint deck or your legal brief, take notes and ask for suggestions on what you could do differently next time. Then incorporate that constructive criticism so your next project hits closer to the mark!