How to Advance Your Career Without Selling Your Soul

It's Not About Kissing Ass, It's About Keeping Your Wits About You

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Joe Hodas
Joe Hodas
Those early in their careers or those who joined the working ranks just prior to the recession may have a completely skewed perception of career advancement. Their professional lives have consisted of coping with layoffs, raise freezes and hiring holds -- all the while absorbing more work with shrinking teams and fewer resources. Career-advancement tips may seem irrelevant while many employees are operating from a place of fear or are just grateful to have a job.

Throughout my nearly two decades in the marketing industry, I've witnessed many different ways in which people have "moved on up" (apologies to Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson). And I firmly believe that you don't have to kiss ass or sell your soul, no matter the economic conditions, to get ahead. Rather, it almost always comes down to following 11 key principles.

1. Nothing replaces hard work. In an industry where smoke and mirrors are used in abundance, take heed -- nothing can disguise the absence of hard work. And don't confuse effort with results. I don't care how early you arrive or how late you stay -- it's about ROI.

2. We all have a personal toolkit -- know yours and how to use it. As my mother told me on numerous occasions, I have special talents. Specifically, I'm a good consensus builder. You may be a killer salesman. Or extremely detailed. Whatever your "special talents" are, hone them and let them help define your personal brand.

3. It's about teamwork, but know who is and isn't on your team. I too hate office politics. And avoid them at all costs. But ignoring their existence is not only careless, but possibly counterproductive. Even if you don't engage in them, someone else might on your behalf. Know who has the boss' ear, who the players are, and who could take or leave ya. Whatever the political landscape in your company, it's your reality and one you'll have to navigate whether you like it or not.

4. Never lose your shit -- at least not in public. Let's play a little game of association. When I say Christian Bale, you say what? Probably not "great actor from 'American Psycho,'" right? Rather, I bet you said something along the lines of "overindulged jerk who pulverized some poor sound tech on a movie set for making a mistake." I'm not saying that we shouldn't be human, but one single outburst -- even if merited -- can do permanent damage to your personal brand.

5. Life is not always a box of chocolates -- so decide how much you can take before you bail. The perfect job doesn't exist. I would imagine that even the taste-tester at Krispy Kreme has complaints about his gig (though I can't imagine what they might be). Too often we hit tough times and jump ship for a lateral move or get frustrated and stop giving 110%. A career is like a relationship, so make sure you're putting as much effort into trying to fix the problems as you put into feeling bad about them.

6. Humility goes a long way. Nothing infuriates your boss (and co-workers) more than employees who feel they deserve something they haven't earned. I'm a firm believer that raises are for the work you've done, and promotions are for the work you can do.

7. Individuality is to be respected -- as long as you're still part of the team. Sometimes, there is an "I" in team. It just has to be the right kind of "I" -- distinctive yet collaborative, unexpected but on strategy. Don't be afraid to stand out, but do make sure you don't alienate your teammates in the process.

8. Always try to add something smart to the discussion. Ask a smart question or make a great point that no one else has thought of. But do your homework so you can back up your comments and aren't asking things that you should already know the answer to.

9. Sometimes you have to shout to be heard. You've heard the phrase, "Squeaky wheel gets the grease"? Well, take note: Occasionally, persistent voices are listened to. Don't be afraid to speak up when you're passionate about something.

10. Have a perspective on the past, present and future. It's not enough to do well today. Your boss wants and needs to see that you have a broader outlook on where you/the client/the work/etc. has been, is now and will be going.

11. Always be that ray of light in your boss'/co-worker's day. This one's simple. Surprise. Delight. Be the kind if individual you'd like to spend 200-plus days each year with. And to be clear -- that's much different than kissing ass.

There you have it. Stick to these, and it won't be long before you-know-who notices. So go forth and get promoted.

Joe Hodas is the senior VP-brand communications at Vladimir Jones, a privately held, full-service agency in Colorado specializing in integrated marketing, advertising, communications and insight. Hodas formerly led communications for Consumer Capital Partners (Quiznos, Smashburger) and Frontier Airlines, where he worked on the team that launched the "a whole different animal" branding campaign. Contact him at [email protected].
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