How to get ahead at work

Getting ahead at work – most often read as setting yourself up for a promotion – has something to do with your performance and a lot to do with your perceived performance. I will talk about how to prepare for and handle your promotion talk in an upcoming post. However, I think no matter how well you prepare for the talk or how good of a conversation you can handle, the most decisive factors are your performance & perceived performance.

When it comes to your actual performance, it’s quite obvious. In order to get a promotion or a salary increase, you need to bring in the good results. I have always been an achiever and therefore I’ve often been identified as a high performer, both during my studies and also in the workplace. This always put me on the fast track for promotions both in my current and previous job. The reason why I am mentioning this is because in my opinion, this is crucial to get you leverage in the performance/negotiation meetings. If you don’t have the story or the numbers to back you up, then you will have a hard time fighting for it. So make sure to put in the work, document your achievements and when the time comes, prepare your case with hard facts and numbers, and be ready to bring them up. Another advice for pumping up your performance is to make sure you play to your strengths ( I wrote a post about how to find your strengths at work and you can read it here).


Laptop flower-min


The other side to getting ahead at work is your perceived performance. Which is nothing new but just the good old office politics. One thing that I learned – rather the hard way – is that politics also matters. I, personally, am not a fan of office politics at all and try to stay as clean and honest as possible. However, even if you are not a fan of it, it does not mean that you can avoid it. It’s like the law, not being aware of it does not spare you of the liability.

My one advice here is to compromise as little as you can, and become as visible as possible – a little bit of the “become so good that they can’t ignore you” philosophy. The trick to it is that you need to work to make yourself visible, just doing the work well won’t be enough. If you like me, dread boasting about how great of a job you do and how this and how that, you will totally hate the idea. But, let me tell you there are ways to bypass that and make yourself visible while staying true to yourself and your own values.


Some good ways to up your game when it comes to gaining visibility at work are:


  • Let your work and success stories speak for themselves. If you’re like me, this one is the easiest to do, you only need to do the work. Just make sure that you are doing the work that matters and that will make a difference. Results and numbers speak for themselves. Whether it’s unlocking new revenue opportunities, saving costs, securing a new partnership, all these accomplishments should already help build your reputation.
  • Pick up an internal initiative. This is such an easy way to get visibility internally and especially in the eyes of your leadership. It shows drive to better the company and internal processes and it can help build your network and reputation. Picking an initiative that has strategic importance is the way to go – just organizing the Friday drinks might not get you there – as it also increases your chances to interact with leadership, especially if you have been trying to get that exposure without much success. Is there a need to consolidate best practices or own a new internal process but there is no one doing it? Consider volunteering for the cause. Becoming a subject matter expert allows you to build a network and be top of mind when it comes to certain topics.
  • Speak up in meetings, bring up valuable feedback and share best practices. Start leveraging public forums such as team meetings or town halls to build your reputation. It’s essential to get your voice heard so the right people know what you bring to the table. You don’t need to use these forums in an inauthentic way, you need to simply project an image/voice of reason, competence and drive. Just ask a few right questions or bring up relevant topics. If you have a forum for it, you can even go as far as volunteering for presenting your own best practices and successful approaches you’ve been leveraging in your day to day work. If there is no forum for it but a clear need for the knowledge to be shared, try organizing it yourself.
  • Get other people to do the heavy lifting for you and boast about how great you are. Support others and good will reciprocate. Chances are, your internal and even external business partners already know how great you are and they will already send thank you notes. Many people know it is valuable to highlight when somebody is doing a great job and I honestly think it’s good business practice, however, not everybody has it in them. If that is not the case, and you have not received such feedback yet, start by giving back first. Have people gone out of their way to help you on certain projects? Has your teammate really done a stellar job recently? Don’t let it go unnoticed and e-mail their manager with them in cc letting them know how valuable they are. This will help you build relationships and they will also return the favour in the future. Now, don’t start over-doing it and make sure to stay candid so it has a good impact.


My approach to office politics is still through hard work, but acknowledging it and trying to use it to your favour and on your own terms. In the end, the trick for me is to combine your hard work and expertise with building a network that will bring you the exposure you need. 


I hope you find this post useful and if you have any other tips, please let me know in the comments, I would love to learn more!


1 Comment

  1. Love the post! Completely agree that there is no alternative to hard work when it comes to getting ahead in your career. I do like the idea that you let good work speak for itself. At the same time, I also think that in highly, highly competitive corporate environments where more or less everyone is producing great work and it’s easy to go unnoticed, one must periodically speak about the value they have added to the right stakeholders. An approach I follow is to share what I’ve done and then ask for feedback + where else I can add value. It’s more pleasant and humble, but still puts one in control of the narrative around their hard work that may otherwise go unnoticed in the sea of hard work from so many other achievers in the company / team. 🙂

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