Knock, Knock, Who's There?

Why speaking up is key to career success

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Sam Geer
Sam Geer
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I want to play a game. I want you to close your eyes for a second and pretend… hang on, that doesn't really work when you're reading! Let's try again.

I want to play a game. Imagine you're a door-to-door salesman. It's your job to walk up to strangers' doors completely unsolicited, thereby making you one of the most annoying people in the world.

And as a door-to-door salesman, how many sales do you think you would make if you didn't knock on any doors? That's a simple equation, right? It would be zero. Nothing. Nada. Nil.

As a matter of fact, I used to be a door-to-door salesman. I was terrible. I would selectively choose houses to approach, judging each by the way its door and yard looked. I was extremely cautious, often scared, and, all-in-all, far too backward in my approach. As a result, I made very few sales and it was only a matter of weeks before I decided that media was a better career choice.

So what point am I attempting to demonstrate with this ridiculously self-indulgent and drawn out metaphor? If you want somebody to answer the door, you first have to knock. It's a simple principle, but one to which I attribute most of the career success I've had so far.

The sad truth is that it's not good enough to do the work and put in the hours and have the talent: it should be, but it's not. You need to ask for the things you think you deserve in your career, because – if you don't – someone else will. There is no one easier to ignore than the quiet achiever who is too proud, humble or shy to put his or her hand up. I've seen some seriously talented people get left behind because of their unwillingness to ask, and it can be detrimental to both the individual and the employer.

We're taught that when people ask for things, they're "acting spoiled." Like the pretty, 16-year-old little rich girl who's never had a pimple in her life asking for a new car because the one she has now isn't pink enough. Or the classic Millennial stereotype of entitlement that's all too often thrown around in today's workplace.

In reality, most employers aren't mind readers; if you believe you are deserving – and have the proof to back it up – then I ask you, what's the harm in sitting down with your bosses and having an honest conversation about where you want to be?

They could say no. In fact, they most probably will say no. But who cares? You will be no further away from what you wanted, and you have now set the expectation for your desired future. And perhaps most importantly (assuming you do it correctly), you will have earned the respect of your bosses and will feel pretty bloody good about yourself.

Having said that, it's important not to knock every day. Yes, you want to be forward and proactive, but no one invites the door knocker back to their house for too many repeat visits, do they? And just as important to remember is that – once you've knocked on enough doors – be sure to start answering them for others, as well. You can't expect people to help you if you aren't willing to do the same for them.

Always remember this: the person with the most interest in your career is you.

Yes, you will have good bosses who will do their best to help you along the way but, at the end of the day, the only person responsible for your career progression is you. No excuses, and no stone left unturned. Work hard and prepare, so that when you eventually find the right door to knock on, you will have the courage to do it. You never know – somebody just might answer.

About the Author

Sam Geer is associate director of strategy at MediaCom. He first joined MediaCom in 2007 in the agency's Sydney, Australia, office. After five years, Sam has brought his passion for brands to the New York office, where he currently helps lead the thought process for clients including Audi and Revlon.

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