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Five ways to get ahead in 2008


Get ahead this year

A new year is upon us and the annual reviews should now be a distant memory. However, if you weren’t fortunate enough to get the promotion or pay rise you wanted, Kate Farrell offers you some advice that could make all the difference in 2008.

Before I start, working in the field of recruitment, you might expect my advice to be ‘give me a call’, but, contrary to public belief, a number of the people we speak to are asking for advice and career guidance as much as for a new job.

If we honestly don’t think a candidate could do better than their current situation, we will tell them that and advise them how to get ahead within their own company.

That has never been more true, and, as Gordon Brown has been so keen to remind us in recent weeks, 2008 is likely to be a challenging year as the squeeze from larger economic uncertainties begins to be felt.

“In an increasingly competitive job market, the usual tactic of simply trying harder is no longer enough – to get ahead, you need to ensure that you stand out from the crowd.”

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that HR is often one the first areas that begins to feel the pinch. So following these five simple pieces of advice could make the difference between fast-tracking that promotion or waiting yet another year to try all over again.

In an increasingly competitive job market, the usual tactic of simply trying harder is no longer enough – to get ahead, you need to ensure that you stand out from the crowd.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask

The very worse they can say is ‘no’, but the more likely answer will be that they will think about it and get back to you. As long as you don’t ask in what might be considered a grumbling manner, the seed should be planted in your boss’s mind. Don’t, whatever you do, frame your request as a provocation: “If you won’t promote me, I’m off.” Start a dialogue; don’t set an ultimatum. Bring positive reasons for promotion to the negotiation table and, most importantly of all, stress what you will achieve for the company in 2008.

2. Get your name in the papers

Very often, simply doing your job well and meeting expectations won’t get you that big promotion. What often secures a promotion is creating the perception in your manager’s mind that you are of sufficient value to competitors that you should be rewarded for staying with the company. Unfortunately, hard work alone often isn’t enough to create that perception.

A simple strategy to overcome this is to increase your name and profile within the industry: volunteer to speak at conferences and seminars; write a letter to your industry trade magazine and get involved with your industry body. These simple steps will demonstrate to your manager that you are a big-picture thinker with excellent industry insight and a commercial mindset. Just the sort of person, in fact, that the company should be retaining and promoting. Make sure you run it by your comms team first just to be sure it’s on message.

3. Find out how much you’re worth

Finding out where you sit in the market can be a real eye-opener. Finding out doesn’t mean having to be offered another job – in fact, most industry magazines and websites now regularly publish their own salary surveys. Whilst not a perfect measure, they are a useful barometer and might provide you with some useful ammunition when you negotiate your salary. If you meet with a recruitment consultant, try to provide them with as much information about yourself as possible: previous performance reviews or a journal of your own achievements.

4. Don’t be indispensable

This piece of advice sounds counter-intuitive. You would, however, be shocked to know how many candidates we see who have found their career path blocked because they can’t be moved. It’s very difficult to get promoted if an organisation feels that, in promoting you, a vital function will go unmanned.

Learn the art of delegation. Make sure you aren’t the only person who can operate an important database, for example, or work through important but low-skill admin tasks. Being indispensable can, in certain circumstances, be very career-limiting and the longer you continue to perform in that role, the harder it will be for an organisation to promote you. If you find yourself slipping into this situation, speak your mind before it’s too late.

5. Train for tomorrow, not just for today

“As the mergers and acquisitions market continues to pick up, HR professionals with expertise in change management and organisational development will hold a clear advantage.”

In the spirit of convincing your manager that you are ripe for promotion, it’s worth thinking about preparing yourself in advance for a move up. For HR professionals, I think there are three clear areas of performance that will command a premium next year.

First, as the mergers and acquisitions market continues to pick up, HR professionals with expertise in change management and organisational development will hold a clear advantage. Specialist expertise in the area of compensation and benefits will also continue to be in high demand.

Similarly, developing a firm grasp on new workplace legislation due out in 2008 will demonstrate your value to managers or even potential suitors. And don’t be afraid to show this knowledge off: volunteer to train your HR peers and colleagues in other disciplines within your organisation.

Presentation skills, not normally immediately thought of as a strength for people in HR, will become an increasingly vital skill as organisations look to their HR director and staff to communicate more effectively with the workforce. Indeed, many interviews for senior HR professionals now involve a presentation and those unable to command an audience will find they lose out.

If these don’t work for you, and you do decide to look for another job, do bear in mind that the HR market is becoming increasingly flexible. Indeed, companies are often keen to employ HR professionals who have multi-sector experience so it’s worth considering how your skills profile could be adapted outside your current industry.

Similarly, interim roles are now an excellent proving ground for motivated individuals, keen to demonstrate their capabilities on short, focussed projects delivering measurable outputs, across a wide variety of sectors.

2008 might well be a tough year but with the right mindset and a sense of pragmatic confidence, the right job and the right salary is still yours for the taking.

Kate Farrell is associate director at Hudson, the international recruitment and talent management consultants.

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