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Leveling Up in Your Career

Leveling Up in Your Career

By Valerie Good-Turney

A few years after college, I began my career at ֱ as an entry-level account administrator. Now, just 4 short years later, I was recently promoted to operations manager. During my time at ֱ, I have held several different titles and roles, each one adding to the reputation I had built in the previous position. Although there is certainly no formula for guaranteed career success and growth, there are several things I’ve discovered you can do as a young professional (or a regular professional) to “level up” in your career.

Learn (and learn some more!)

There are a few ways you can use learning to your advantage. One way is to become familiar with other areas and departments. Ask questions, understand processes, and get to know your colleagues and their roles. You’ll start to gain an understanding of who does what for what reason, and how everyone works together. From there, you can facilitate collaboration in new ways, propose new ideas, and spot inefficiencies. Figure out how to wear multiple hats and fill in for others when needed.

Another way to leverage learning is to take advantage of any professional development opportunities. I’ve found webinars and conferences particularly beneficial. Read industry articles and blogs. Explore your industry, find out who the thought leaders are, and then share any new ideas and resources with your colleagues and clients. Look into seeking professional certification (like the CAE) if you can.

Be Flexible

I love it when a plan comes together (The A-Team, anyone?). However, such is life that there are times when things will not go according to plan. From handling emergencies at conference to last minute requests at board meetings, there always will be something you have not accounted for. By all means, create a well-thought out plan but don’t forget a backup for when things go wrong. And when those crises arise, don’t panic—trust in yourself, use your resources, and view it as an opportunity to overcome a challenge (rather than something that’s going to derail and ruin everything). Having a back-up plan in place will help you stay even more nimble.

Flexibility is also helpful for less immediate predicaments. Say your association’s board wants a different dashboard developed for their meetings. Or, a committee chair wants to change several large areas of an upcoming conference. Choosing to be flexible fosters a more cooperative environment. And, who knows, an unexpected new idea may make things better for everyone!

I wrote in my last blog post about how improvisation has helped me to be flexible (and successful). It’s a fantastic and fun way to develop the confidence to go with the flow.

Act with Integrity and Initiative

Do what you say you will do. Be someone others can rely on. As you prove you’re trustworthy with the small things, people will ask you to take responsibility for bigger projects.

Also, don’t wait to be asked to do something. Take initiative. Be proactive about making suggestions. When you see a process or project that needs updating, don’t wait for someone to ask you to do it. See what you can do about tackling the problem. Have a wish list of items that you can work on implementing when you have free time (such as during a slower time of the year). Going that extra mile will help you stand out.

My foundational values have shown me how acting with integrity can truly help you succeed. For instance, nobody likes to be the person who made a mistake. However, we’re all human, and mistakes are bound to happen. Be someone who owns up honestly and quickly for your mistakes and then make up for them. Offer solutions for how to fix them. If you don’t know what to do, proactively seek out people who can help you resolve them.

And, when it’s someone else who’s made a mistake, show them the grace you would hope to receive. Don’t be known as someone who’s quick to yell or freak out, but rather someone who is patient and looks for ways to work together more efficiently.

Prioritize!

Each day you accomplish everything on your to-do list, right? If only life were that easy! Especially in the association world, each day brings curveballs that we need to juggle in addition to our regular tasks and standing appointments. Often when workloads are high, it’s impossible for one person to do it all. But, how do you stand out from the others who are all facing the same dilemma of too much work, too few resources, and too many emergencies? Prioritize!

Though it may feel good to knock out smaller tasks to feel more productive, all tasks are not created equally. Sometimes it’s more productive to set aside 60 minutes, not check email or talk with coworkers, and focus on the one report that you need 3 other people to review before it goes to the board. Or, sometimes you need to push off the project you have already put off several times to handle last-minute requests that have to be addressed before a conference call. In some cases, it may help to talk to your manager about what the priorities actually are for the day or week and gain clarity on what really needs to get done.

It also can help to plan out your day or week in advance, blocking off time on your calendar for high-priority activities or creating reminders for yourself. Some days there will just be too much and the plates will be stacked too high; instead of panicking, focus on what’s important and give that your all.

Find a Leadership Opportunity

Whether it’s a chance to lead within your team or somewhere else at your organization, step up and volunteer some of your time. Maybe it’s contributing to a company newsletter or blog. Maybe it’s planning events or charity drives. Maybe it’s supporting coworkers who have multiple projects in the works.

I served as a cochair for ֱ’s Young Professionals Special Interest Group (SIG) for 2 years, and it provided so much value. I accomplished much more by helping out in this arena. I planned content for SIG meetings, connected ֱ’s leadership with our members during mini-mentoring events, and presented to our Management Team on several occasions. Leading enabled me to not only acquire and refine new skills, but also gave me the opportunity to be visible to and connect with other leaders, both inside and outside ֱ.

Quick Tips

And now for the lightning round. Here are a few quick tips that may seem small but can go a long way:

  • Get and Stay Organized. Find a strategy that works for you. There is so much value in keeping track of (and following up on) multiple projects and deadlines. If you’re struggling to manage it all, ask your coworkers what works for them!
  • Be Responsive. You don’t need to be on email 24/7, but keep your colleagues and clients in the loop. Let them know if you are looking into something, even if you don’t have an immediate answer. It will show them you are on top of their needs.
  • Work/Life Balance. Allow yourself time to refresh away from work. If you can decompress and give yourself a true break, you will be more efficient at work. Working on maintaining this balance can allow you to enjoy both work and your personal time more!

Each person brings their own unique experiences and skills to help them achieve more success. Here’s hoping these tips and techniques that I have learned on my career journey help you “level up” in yours!

Valerie Good-Turney is an operations manager for the .

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