I worked in Corporate America from high school graduation until I left 15 years later to pursue my interest in Executive Coaching. I loved every minute of those days and had an active progression through the ranks, making hundreds of lifelong contacts.
At my second job, I stood out because I dressed in a skirt and sweater as opposed to the jeans and t-shirts worn by the other clerks. Little did people know that my previous company had a dress code and these were the only work clothes I owned. My professional appearance drew the attention of two upwardly mobile female managers who told me their motto, “Dress for Who You Want to Be & Not Who You Are”. I always followed that advice and took it further. In addition to making sure my appearance was presentable, I made sure my behavior followed suit. Here are the five things I did that enabled me to excel and move up in a large corporate setting.
5 Steps to Advance Your Career
- Listen & contribute
- Be Involved
- Get Educated
- Stay In Touch
Listen & Contribute
After careful thought about what was discussed in meetings, I would gather my ideas and meet individually with my supervisor. Once I gained credibility with my superiors and peers, I began taking a more active role during meetings. Taking the time to build relationships before asserting myself in a group setting was crucial to help me navigate the tricky political climate of my firm. Much later, a high-ranking IT executive, known to be very tough on non-IT personnel, was quoted as saying, “If you want to understand how to survive the political climate in our organization, just watch Donna Teitelman.” I was shocked to hear this as my role was strictly in organizational development. This was a grand compliment indeed.
Don’t just deliver the work. Check in the next day or next week to find out if the recipient is satisfied or if they need more input from you. This is the heart of relationship management and everyone can do this. A reputation for being thorough and providing excellent customer care is something that makes people personally request you for projects, and ultimately job opportunities. Yes, I am an extrovert, so interaction charges my battery while I’m making great relationships. My extensive company network helped me to get questions answered, introduce colleagues to collaborate on solutions and to recommend interest sessions so my mentees could learn about other departments. Introverts can do this too even though interaction may drain their battery. Introverts just need to schedule quiet time after their communications to recharge. Either way, it’s worth carving out specific time every day to check in with customers, partners and colleagues. Working through and with others is a great way to expand your skills and get help when you need it.
There is always more to do in a big company than just the work on your desk. I found that many people stretched out their tasks to fill the day, but I did the opposite. I finished my assignments and then set out to find adventure. At 18, I was running the company’s CPR certification with the American Red Cross. I did this out of frustration because every time I signed up for the class, I was told it had been canceled for lack of participation. There was no charge for the session and it seemed that people kept canceling at the last minute when something else came up. I had a vision of how to adjust the registration process to improve the turnout rate, without changing the free cost structure. I met with my boss and asked if I could approach the medical department with my idea.
Within one month of implementing my process, we had a perfect attendance rating and maintained that for several years while I ran the program. My secret to success was creating a perceived value for this free class. Upon registration for American Red Cross CPR Certification, employees were required to submit a deposit check for $10. The checks were then returned when people showed up for class. If someone had to cancel, they always managed to get a substitute to attend and pick up their deposit check. Problem solved!
I targeted my job search for a company that paid tuition as an employee benefit. The search took me a little over a year, but I accepted a job for lower pay because I knew the value of going to college would far outweigh the slight difference in base salary. Fast forward 11 years and I had been promoted eight times and earned a BBA and an MBA without a cent of debt. I was a Process Engineer for IT Systems and ran the company’s Award and Recognition Program. I was also the IT representative for the companywide Service Honor’s program and was able to greatly increase the number of IT nominees and winners. I took a job in our NJ office but still kept my previous position in PA, which I visited once a week. Despite all this activity, I was still looking for a challenge. I was intensely interested in what I could do to improve the processes of each executive I met. Because of this, I later struck out on my own to work with leaders in every industry from architecture to finance to telecommunications as an executive coach. I still love to learn and my diverse client base teaches me something new every day.
Stay In Touch
Relationships are for life if you take care of them. It is especially relevant now that social media has lined up multiple ways to keep track of colleagues and friends. In the good old days before the internet, I used our site-wide CPR program to meet people from every department in our complex of over 2000 employees. Those relationships supported my career success and growth for the next 10 years. I also met some amazing contacts in business school and did my best work in the group projects assigned. I think today, the ease of staying electronically connected has taken some of the relatedness out of our business networking. There’s a race to see just how many contacts people can rack up on their account. I believe in quality over quantity, which may be why a large percentage of my customers have been with me for over 10 years. I call my networking strategy the Five Step Touch. That means it takes five meaningful interactions for someone to remember your name and take your call with the intention of an active response.
If you feel your networking has stalled, remember these 5 tips to take control and keep moving ahead.
- Schedule time after each networking event to follow-up
- Follow-up within 24 hours of meeting a new contact
- Mention something memorable from the meeting and set up a next step
- Use the contact to establish how the relationship will move forward
- Diligently reach out to that person on a quarterly or bi-annual basis with meaningful communication to keep the relationship warm
I will admit that relationships are hard work, but it is worth it. We all have the power to manage our career strategically. I hope these ideas get you started on a path of career advancement. Please consider my services for further in-depth steps to becoming the CEO of your career.