“The only constant in life is change” – Heraclitus

While this quote is from thousands of years ago, it’s an accurate description of the world of work today. Frankly, things feel more unpredictable than ever.

First, we’re working from home, then it’s everyone back to the office, now it’s hybrid working.

The job market is volatile with salaries skyrocketing in some sectors and other sectors downsizing. In some areas, power is shifting to workers but elsewhere, employers are still calling the shots.

Against this changing backdrop, you still have your career ambitions, personal needs and financial goals.

So how do you keep advancing in your career when things keep changing?

Here are three essential areas to focus on that will serve you well no matter what happens.

  • Get in touch with what you do best
  • Understand the system (and make it work for you)
  • Establish your brand and reputation

These are foundational for your success no matter where you are in your career and no matter where you live and work.

Develop the skills to get recognized, promoted and paid more

Start by getting in touch with what you do best

In an everchanging world, it’s less useful than ever to shore up your weaknesses. They might not matter when things get reshuffled… again. Plus, you (or your employer) can always find someone else to do that part of the work.

Instead, get crystal clear on your special strengths and double down on that. Your special strengths are at the intersection of what you do well and what you enjoy doing. If you’re not sure what those things are, think about the achievements that have been most joyful and meaningful to you.

These could be things you worked hard on and achieved, like a challenging project that stretched you. But also look beyond those obvious candidates for the times when you were doing something that felt so easeful that you didn’t even realize it was an accomplishment until others recognized you for it.

For example, you might be the one people look to for handling the tough clients and tricky conversations, but you discount it as an accomplishment because you find it easy to win over difficult people.

Once you discover your special strengths, the key is to operate in this zone – your “zone of genius” (as Gay Hendricks calls it) or “Unique Ability” (as Dan Sullivan calls it) – as much of the time as possible.

Knowing what this is allows you to make sure you’re leaning into those strengths and skills, which is when you’ll make the fastest progress with the greatest ease.

Don’t waste your time and energy trying to become great at things when you can go much farther faster by honing and mastering the things that are in your unique ability or zone of genius.

As the saying goes, “why teach a turtle to climb a tree when you can get a squirrel to do it?” Figure out where you’re the squirrel and double down on mastering that.

Which brings us to the second area.

Understand the system you’re operating in so you can make it work for you

Given all the changes happening around us, it’s worth spending some time investigating what’s going on in the environment around you.

Think about what’s changed, what’s staying the same, and what’s going on in the “power dynamic” in your organization. Who has the power in your organization now? What’s valued in the new world order? And how can you take what you do best and apply it where it’s most valued?

You could discover that with all the changes in the market, your group is now more in demand and you can call more of the shots than before. In which case, think about how you can make the most of that new spotlight.

Maybe you’ll discover that you’re in the right organization but in the wrong role, or that you’re doing the exact right job but in an organization that’s struggling to survive in this environment. Or perhaps you’ll find that the system you’ve been in doesn’t suit your skills and interests anymore and it’s time for a change.

The key is to cultivate awareness of what’s going on around you in times of change so you can come out on top no matter what happens.

And this brings us to the third area.

Figure out how to establish your brand and your reputation in the most accurate way

When things are uncertain and changing, people are likely to be distracted. Whether it’s your managers, colleagues or team members, they’ll be preoccupied with their own situation and paying less attention to you or anyone else.

This is an opportunity to take matters into your own hands and influence how you're perceived.

In an environment where attention is at a low, be proactive. If you want to get in front of someone and stay top of mind, go ahead and reach out to them. 

If your best setting is with clients, then invite your managers to join a client meeting. If people don’t know who you are and what you do to add value, share updates with them.

The important thing is to show consistency. While the one or two big situations when you’re on stage do matter, the bigger opportunity (and the one you have the most control over) lies in how you show up day in, day out.

When I was at Harvard Business School, I lacked confidence and struggled to speak up in class. Unfortunately for me, one of my class grades was based 80% on class participation. With the semester half over, I had only managed to raise my hand and get called on twice.

Fearing a bad grade, I went to see the professor who told me, “When you say something, it’s excellent, but there just aren’t enough comments to make an impact.” I needed to speak up more… a lot more.

I managed to up my commenting frequency and was grateful to end up with a middling grade.

To create the kind of brand and reputation you need to stand out and advance, it’s best not to leave it almost-too-late like I did. Start now and build your brand on a consistent, daily basis.

It’s how you sit in the meeting – are you slouching back or looking at your phone, or sitting up and engaging in the conversation? If it’s a Zoom call, can people see your face and are you looking professional? Or can they hear you typing on your keyboard, being obviously distracted?

How are you taking advantage of those daily opportunities to influence the way others experience you? How can you “raise your hand” and show up every day?

Career Mastery has been a game-changer for me. Wonderful, actionable advice that helps me be better than the day before.”

Carol Vincent

But what if you’re not sure what to do?

The important thing is to make a start. You don’t have to get it perfect and usually there isn’t one “right” way. Think of your actions as steppingstones and not the last step you’ll take.

If your aim is to expand your network of relationships, reach out to a few more people. Not everyone will want to engage, so this will get you closer to your goal more quickly than if you take days to draft the perfect email and approach people sequentially.

If you’re looking for a new role but haven’t yet found your “dream job”, maybe it’s time to think of it as finding your next job that leads you closer to your ideal. Sometimes it takes two or three steps to get from where you are to where you want to go.

Don’t feel like you have to make big or sudden moves. Sometimes, the role of a leader – in this case the leader of your own career – is to decide to stay the course. Doing nothing is a decision too, and it’s best to make it consciously.

Just don’t leave the choice in someone else’s hands

In times of change and uncertainty, waiting for others to tell you what to do means you risk being left behind.

If you’re working from home and feeling you lack visibility, don’t wait – go ahead and reach out to others.

If you see the market shifting toward a skillset you’d like to develop, go and find a way to develop it.

It’s up to you to direct your career.

When things are uncertain and changing, it’s time to take the lead

For most of us, the natural inclination in uncertainty is to pull back and wait. But in my experience, it’s exactly the time to be the leader and take charge of your own career.

As a former colleague liked to say when we were waiting for someone to tell us what direction to take, “There is no Dad!” It was his way of saying we needed to decide for ourselves.

This is the time to think for yourself and don’t wait for others to direct you. And as you do that thinking, remember to:

  • Get in touch with what you do best – and then double down on that. You’ll make more progress by leaning into your zone of genius than trying to shore up weaknesses.
  • Understand the system you’re operating in – and figure out how to make it work for you. This is especially important as things are changing.
  • Establish your brand and reputation – when attention is at an all-time low, it’s time to take the lead in reaching out, showing up and letting people see you do what you do best.

Which of these areas would most help you advance in your career this year?

I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!