Career Success–What’s Holding You Back?

Some people believe if you want something badly enough, you’ll work until you get it. Others believe that no matter how hard they work or how good they are, career opportunities will keep passing them by. Both these opinions might be true.

To quote a couple of very successful people, both of whom had a similar thought:
If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right. (Henry Ford, attributed)
If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right. (Mary Kay Ash, Mary Kay Cosmetics)

I remember once reading about a very successful author who had been told early in his career that he would never make a writer and he should go get a real job. Luckily, he ignored that or maybe he used it to spur himself on to work harder. Regardless, the outcome was that he proved the person’s assessment dead wrong.

Whether someone else has predicted failure for you or you’re the one doing the predicting, it’s well worth considering: What’s holding you back from your version of career success? And how much weight do you want to give to that prediction?

From Receptionist to CEO

I just read an article by Laura Stampler on Business Insider, titled “The Incredible Story Of This Woman’s Meteoric Rise From Receptionist To CEO.” It’s a real eye-opener. The woman in question is Karen Kaplan, who is now the CEO of a $184 million ad agency (Hill Holiday) but started in 1982 as the receptionist. The day after she started work, two girls from the switchboard room confronted her and bluntly told her she was absolutely at the bottom of the totem pole in the company. The inference was that she would never get anywhere there. According to the article, her reaction was to think, “We’ll see about that.”

Was the path to the top spot fast or easy? Not noticeably! But she did keep moving and growing and moving (up) again until she got where she is now. She could have accepted the valuation of those mean-spirited switchboard operators and believed there was no point in trying to improve her situation. They certainly didn’t make things easy for her. She didn’t ask them to. She set her sights on making her future better than the present.

So What’s in the Way of Your Career Success?

Are you the one standing in your own way–either because of beliefs you’ve held about limited capabilities, scarce opportunities, etc., or because you’ve accepted the evaluation of others as to your “inferiority”? If so, isn’t it about time you re-thought that attitude?

On the other hand, if you honestly see obstacles in your path, can you do something constructive about them–find a way to go over, around, under or through them to get where you want to go? If so, start now!

Career Success–Different for Everyone

Just remember that your goal doesn’t need to be gaining the position of CEO in your current company or elsewhere. Career success can have as many definitions as this planet has people. Whatever your definition is, keep that in mind when you assess your chances and what might be blocking your path. Then choose your actions accordingly.


Job Success: Make Others Look Great

Regardless of what you do on the job and when you’re pursuing a new job or career role, quality obviously matters. You certainly wouldn’t knowingly give less than your best to the situation. In fact, if you’re seriously invested in your job success or career advancement, you’re probably making a strong effort to excel in terms of quality performance. Is there something else you should be doing? Quite possibly.

Your Success Could Depend on Others’ Success

If what you contribute makes your colleagues look like winners, not just you, that’s worth something. Even better might be if you can add value that makes your boss look like a champ. Now I’m not suggesting that you become a shrinking violet and meekly let everyone else take the full credit for what you worked hard to contribute. However, you can boost others without sacrificing yourself if you do it right.

In fact, that’s pretty much the point of a recent article titled “Stop Emphasizing the Quality of Your Work and Do This Instead,” by Ben Drake. As Drake puts it, “no one cares about the quality of your work; people care about the quality of their own work….What matters to others (users, clients, citizens, friends, families, employees) is their quality. If what you do doesn’t make them better at what they do, you’re useless to them. This is extremely important to understand in the professional world. If you can’t provide value, they’ll forget your name 30 minutes after they meet you.”

I’m not sure I go 100% with his statement that no one cares about the quality of your work, but I think the point is that they care most about your work being high quality when/if it affects them one way or another (good or bad). That might sound a bit self-serving, but it’s basically just human nature.

How to Make Others Look Great

To start with, you need to focus consistently on providing value to others–your boss, co-workers, and so on. But, as Drake says, “don’t ask others how you can improve. Instead, ask others what they need from you to help them improve,” achieve their main goals, etc.

I can think of a number of illustrations of this point. For example, if your boss has a big meeting coming up and you know he/she wants it to go off as smoothly as possible to impress the senior execs from corporate headquarters in the UK, what can you do to help make sure that happens? Come up with some ideas and “float” them in a one-on-one meeting with your boss to see how one or more of them might produce desirable results.

This approach plays equally well in a job interview. According to Drake, it’s best if you “don’t talk about your quality. Talk about what you can do for them, not what you’ve done in the past. Provide the vision of how they can be better with you on the team.”

I talk about this a lot with clients when I’m doing interview coaching as well as when I’m creating a professional resume for them. It’s important that you have stories to tell to underscore what you can bring to the party that will benefit the company. “I am the greatest” worked for Muhammad Ali; it’s not necessarily the best way for you to come across!

Disorganized Job Search Slows You Down

Whether you’re currently in a job search or not, you need to be aware that disorganized job search activity can slow down your progress–sometimes considerably. Of course, not everyone is a highly organized, efficient person who dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t make a real effort in that direction. You owe it to yourself and your ongoing career success.

How Disorganized is Your Job Search?

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being indescribably disorganized, where would you rank yourself? Be honest! You don’t have to tell anyone else the answer, but don’t try to fool yourself. That’s an exercise in futility.

Normally, I’d say there’s no crime in taking a free-spirited approach to various aspects of your life. Spontaneity can be very productive, if it suits you. Even a highly organized person might benefit from a little “off the cuff stuff” now and then. It only becomes a potentially big problem when it stands in the way of your achieving an important goal–such as landing a much-needed new job or a coveted career promotion.

Organize Your Job Hunt

Recently I read an article on CBS News’ MoneyWatch by Suzanne Lucas, titled “How to organize your job hunt,” that speaks to the point about having an organized job search plan and activity. Lucas interviewed Deanne Kelleher, founder and president of kAos Group, which specializes in organizing a lot of things, not just job searching. It’s worth reading, if you haven’t already seen it.

Among other things, the article talks about some of the key pieces to getting your job search organized, such as bringing all your contacts into one central location, including notes about people you speak to during your job search, and organizing both your hard copy files and your job search emails.

It finishes up with this advice: “As you go throughout your job hunt, it can be tempting to stop keeping track of what you’re doing, trusting yourself to remember, but Kelleher cautions that you need to continue tracking your contacts, and your emails and everything involved in your job hunt. Keeping organized can help make your job hunt easier and more successful, which is something we all want.”

Although there are numerous tools on the market, including something as relatively straightforward as an Excel spreadsheet, one of my favorites is It’s a fairly robust and useful tool. Founder Jason Alba developed it after his own job search proved to be much tougher than he had expected, and it has been used by countless job seekers in the years since then. Jason works hard to keep it useful and relevant, too. (He has also written some books, including I’m on LinkedIn–Now What? and I’m on Facebook–Now What?)

As a popular saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” You don’t want to make that mistake with regard to your career success, so avoid the perils of a disorganized job search that can slow down your progress!

How Valuable Are You to Employers?

Whether it’s your current employer or the company(ies) you’ll be targeting in your next job search, the question of your value takes center stage. If you can’t answer the question posed by this post, you’re probably in trouble! Employers flat-out will not take the time and effort to figure it out for you.

Your Needs vs. Employer Needs

You need or want a new job, maybe a new direction involving a career change or an opportunity to advance in your profession. That’s what you’re after, but what about the employers you’re focusing on? More than likely, they don’t particularly care that you want to earn more money or move up the corporate ladder or whatever else your personal goal is.

So what do they care about or need? Probably one of the first items on their list is an employee who can contribute a lot more value than it will cost to hire and keep that person! In other words, someone who can contribute value from day one and quickly make a positive difference to the company’s success. That person might need a number of qualifications and qualities–motivating leader, enthusiastic team player, X number of years of solid experience in a given area, and so on.

The ultimate question still remains: Can you do the job that’s needed, do it well and (probably) quickly, in a way that validates the company’s initial decision to offer you the job?

How to Determine Your Value to Employers

I can’t begin to list here all the factors that could play into your value to employers, but the following is a small sampling:

  • You have a realistic grasp of what you can bring to employers and are confident about your abilities in that regard. You don’t over-sell or under-sell yourself in interviews, for example.
  • You do your homework ahead of time with regard to your competition and the market for your skills, expertise and knowledge-base. Among other things, that means you take the time to research what’s “out there” and honestly evaluate how you stack up against the competition. What do you have that they don’t?
  • You also research the company you’re targeting, as well as its industry and its competitors. Then you assess how your qualifications and strengths fit into that picture. What are likely to be your greatest advantages and how can you make the most of them?
  • You understand that value isn’t only about money. Yes, you want to earn as much as you can and the company wants to maximize its profitability, but that’s not all there is to your value. For instance, can you get a team of people who don’t much like each other or are territorial to work together effectively on a critical project? Not everyone can do that, so if you can, you just might have an edge.
  • You are willing and able to put out a great effort to help the company achieve its goals, rather than counting the minutes until 5:00 p.m. every day. At the same time, you don’t want to provide that degree of commitment and dedication to an employer that won’t appreciate or reward it appropriately.

Good salespeople know that it’s about benefits (value) versus features (laundry list). When you’re engaged in a job search, the benefits you can bring to your next employer are critically important.