Tactical Tips for Career Advancement

I’m a big fan of going back to basics when the need arises. So often we forget the simplest skills are the foundation of success.

Back in February, I had the privilege of presenting these tactical tips at a Women of the Channel event in Tampa. (Check out their full agenda of events here.)

I got great feedback both from those earlier in their career (these were things they could implement immediately upon returning to their desks) and those more seasoned (great tips to share with your more junior staff).

For those of us who are more tenured, if you are bored to tears reading this, first congratulations on knowing what you are doing! And secondly, remember, you are obligated to share your wisdom because empowered people empower others.

Define the end goal: Everything you do should lead to your end goal. The places you network, the relationships you build, the roles you take, even the people you email. It can be intimating to define your end goal and to be frank, I struggle with this myself sometimes. Remember that your end goal is not necessarily a title or a specific role. To help define your end goal, ask yourself these questions:

  • What brings me joy?
  • What inspires me?
  • What scares me?

If creating art brings you joy, your end goal may be “Creative Leader at Cool Company” or CEO of your own design firm. If helping others, hitting quota, and being on stage inspire you, your end goal may be “SVP Sales at Big Company” or inspirational speaker. Remember my previous blog calling out the War of Art? Stephen Pressfield tells us that those things that scare us the most do so because deep down we know they are symbols of our destiny. Are you scared of publishing your writing because someone might comment on it (gasp!)? Do it. Do it today.

The path to success is wonky: Some people start their career on the bottom rung of very straight ladder and progressively move up in very neat line. I may know exactly two people whose career actually followed this path. Rather, the vast majority of successful people I know, myself included, have a wonky, squirrely, zig-zaggy, occasional-step-backwards kind of path.

So many times in your career (and in life) you will be faced with opportunities. Some will seem so far off your presumed beaten path that you may fear they could derail your trajectory. But remember, our paths are like an extremely wide road. While the goal remains like a beacon of light guiding us to the end, we have a lot of leeway to get there. In fact, taking a perceived detour may actually get you there faster. To riff one of my favorite bands, CCR, as long as you can see the light, you won’t lose your way home. 

Networking like a boss: I got my job at Veeam because I knew someone who already worked there. I reached out to him, he remembered he liked me, he recommended me, I got the job. This is, essentially, the ultimate reward of building and utilizing your network. I constantly have people reach out to me either looking for a new role for themselves or for recommendations on people to hire. I imagine you do, too, so you know how freaking important networking is!

Networking can be heartburn-inducing for some people. If you can work the room like a pro already, awesome, skip this section. But for me, even as an ‘outgoing’ person, I often have to force myself to take the first and very crucial step of networking:

  1. Get your body there. That’s right. SHOW UP to a networking event. Even better, enlist a buddy and hold each other accountable for showing up and conversing with others. My go-to networking buddy is Michelle Curtis.
  2. Ok great. You’re there. Your buddy’s there. Now remember, it’s not about you. It’s about what you can give to others, how can you help them, what do you have to offer. And it will all magically, naturally, karma-ly come back to you tenfold if you embrace this idea. People, by human nature, enjoy talking about themselves, because it’s a subject we know, right! Especially executives…and not because they’re arrogant jerk bags (for the most part) but because look how often they are in fact asked to talk about themselves! When it’s not about you, the pressure is off. At no point will you be asking someone to help you. Instead, you will be offering your guidance and contacts to others and BOOM that is how a connection is made which later will develop into an opportunity, I promise you.
  3. Start the conversation, then zip it. Last year I met JJ DiGeronimo, an inspirational speaker and writer with a passion for technology. I was inspired after hearing her story and after the event, I got enough courage to approach her. I introduced myself, started the conversation and then shut up. I absorbed everything she said. I literally took notes as she spoke. I left the event inspired to be more bold in reaching my goals. A few weeks later, she reached out to me to check on my progress and let me tell you how much that meant to me, and frankly, pushed me to get my shit together! First, how often does a well-known speaker actually take the time to reach out to a random fangirl like me?! Secondly, if she was going to check back up on me, I better have something to report on. Since the event last year, I have been promoted, appointed co-chair of Veeam’s women’s advancement group, lobbied to get more speaking spots at events, and used my influence to encourage Veeam to sponsor two WOTC events. All of that was inspired by one 15-minute conversation at a networking event.

Never under estimate the power of effective networking.

Email etiquette: This may be the most basic advice you have heard all week but I cannot tell you how often I receive an email that does not follow even the most basic etiquette.

  • First, for the love of everything holy, use a greeting. Think of your reader. It can come across as aggressive if you open your email with just their name or launch directly into your request.  Stumped for something appropriate? Try “Hi”.
  • End your email with some type of closing like “Thanks” or “Regards” or even “Cheers” if you’re hipster enough.
  • Have an email signature with your name and title and phone number. You don’t have to have 16 lines of crap, but remember, not everyone you email knows who you are.
  • Know your audience. For everyone, keep it brief. For execs, keep it extra brief. For colleagues of other cultures, take that into account: avoid emojis, abbreviations, and terminology that might not be familiar.
  • Respond in a timely manner or delegate to another team member but also know what emails need a response before others—like the one from your boss’ boss!
  • Avoid ‘Reply All’ like the freaking plague.
  • If you find yourself in an email conversation, pick up the phone. You will accomplish more in a ten-minute conversation than 87 emails where things can easily be misconstrued.
  • Finally, use OOO wisely. Don’t tell us about your beach vacation so we can hate you, just let us know you have limited access to email. In a world where we all travel and work in different time zones, it’s understood that there are times you cannot respond to email right away so sometimes an OOO may not even be necessary.

Presentation skills: From now until the end of time, people will be asked to make presentations so mastering this skill is essential. Having a presence in front of others and being able to explain ideas is also key for networking and ensuring you have a seat at the table.

  • Know your audience. Sales want to see numbers, executives like ‘big animal pictures’, technical teams like graphic configurations that show rather than tell, marketing likes charts and graphs. If you communicate to your audience in the way they best receive information, your message will be better understood and appreciated.
  • Get feedback from others on your deck. This avoids those really awkward questions during your presentation like, “Where did you that data? Looks like last years.”
  • Less words, more pictures. This helps capture attention and helps to not fatigue your audience.
  • Speak up: But if you’re using a mic, don’t garble and yell into it, dear Lord. And beware your sleeve, hair, necklace, horrendous but oddly sexy messy manbun brushing over or clacking against your mic if it’s clipped to your jacket.
  • Watch the clock: Stick to yourallotted time. Time yourself at home. Remember presenting to your stuffed animals when you were a kid? No one? Oh dear, just me then…anyway…it pays to practice!
  • Take a breath: Give your audience a second to take you in, anticipate what you will say before you launch into your presentation. This also helps you relax.

Know your numbers: Know your shit. Know your business. Avoid fluff and marketing jargon. When you’re networking with internal leadership or strangers, you should be able to demonstrate some basic knowledge of your company and your business. You won’t get promoted to a sales manager if you don’t know your Q2 quota, right? If you aren’t sure about your business, take steps to learn it. A few years ago, our tax director spent about two hours presenting to a group of Veeam women on our assets and liabilities, expenses, cash flow, and P&L. It did wonders for my financial acumen, which is crucial if you want to be taken seriously. I now know what EBITDA means and while I may never actually use it in a sentence in my life, understanding general financial terms helped me not be left out of conversations.

Know your product: Know what your company sells. When I was a regional marketing manager, I insisted my team, including myself, could give the Veeam product presentation to partners, both in the event one of our partner managers couldn’t make a meeting and to demonstrate to the partner that we all knew what we were selling. You cannot sell or promote what you do not understand. And again, it’s tough to get promoted if you cannot articulate what your company actually does.

Know your roadmap: Partners and customers ask this all the time, they want to know where you are going….so know this. Memorize it. When you demonstrate you have a firm grip on where your company is going and (most importantly!) how you play a part in that, you will be recognized as a leader.

A word on mentoring: Looking for a mentor?

  • Choose wisely. Not every VP is the right mentor for you even if they have the job you covet. And don’t underestimate the value of a mentor younger than you or equal to you in terms of seniority.
  • Have a couple. This is like a college dating scene, right, not marriage….everyone can offer you something that someone cannot!
  • Have a courageous ask for your mentor. This ask must move you closer to your end goal.
  • Meet regularly and have an agenda of topics. Don’t meet just to meet and if you find yourself blowing off meetings with your mentor, reevaluate the relationship.
  • Check in on that ask. Are you closer to your goal? Is this person helping you?

If you are the mentor, set some requirements to make sure you aren’t just a therapist and it’s the best use of your time as well. This arrangement should benefit you, too!

Finally, always be selling…. YOURSELF. Always be your best. Even in our most humble moments there is an opportunity to shine. Say yes to opportunities. While it’s stressful as hell to ‘build the plane while you’re flying it’ as they say, so often that is exactly what companies are looking for in leadership. Don’t get too complacent, that’s when you stop growing and ask for guidance when you think you need it. And most importantly, stay true to yourself. You will be the most confident when you are loyal to your style, your nature, your gifts, and your skills.