Countless books have been written on how to achieve career success, but their advice can, without great loss, be reduced to these admittedly boy-scout-like musts:
Be trustworthy. That goes well beyond keeping your word. It mainly means that when you get an assignment, it will be done, on time, and well—all the time. Your boss may not balk when you mumble your excuse but your unreliability will remain in memory.
Show initiative. Much more is under your control than you may think. Instead of complaining about a problem, fix it, asking permission only if necessary.
Go beyond. Provide something unexpected that will please your higher-ups. Let's say your boss is all about the bottom line. Write a report for improving it.
Be the go-to-guy/gal on something key to your organization: CRM software, on-boarding new employees, selling to Latino teens, whatever. Maybe write an article on that for a trade publication—higher-ups love to see their organization touted externally.
Sweat the details. Big-picture thinkers are a dime a dozen and their proposals usually make more work for people. What's mainly needed are people who can execute the boss's vision without much hand-holding.
Be positive. Every workgroup benefits from having one person who focuses on the problems. As Andy Grove, former Intel chairman and CEO, has said, "Only the paranoid survive." But generally, the yes-butter is regarded as a necessary evil rather than an up-and-comer. Unless your boss makes a truly unreasonable demand, be a person who makes it happen. And no bashing the company. If it's really worth bashing, shouldn't you be looking for another job?
Be likeable. It's hard to get ahead if many co-workers, bosses, and customers dislike you. In addition to having a positive bias, look for ways to make your co-workers and customers' lives better. For example, make them look good, help them get ahead, or when someone seems frazzled, ask if there's anything you can do to help. Take something off their plate or simply listen to them vent. The most potent question you can ask, especially of your boss: "Anything I can do to make your life easier?"
Speak up. Avoid self-aggrandizement. Instead, share credit. For example, toward the end of a discussion, say something like, "Having listened to what John, Mary, and Tom said, I'm wondering if we should X?"
Show that you're smart. Getting promoted means doing something you haven't done before. So higher-ups need to believe you can learn quickly.
Ask. Thank your boss for what they've done to help you—earned flattery helps. Then ask what you need to do to get the job to which you aspire, and do it—include working on your weaknesses rather than defending yourself. Demonstrate that you have the skills for the job you're seeking. Read articles, attend webinars, watch masters in action, see if you can wrangle opportunities during your workday to hone your new skills.
Look for another job. Even if your current organization seems to have a realistic path forward for you, it has only so many plum jobs and only so much money to give for raises. If your employer is afraid of losing you, and you quietly let it be known there's outside interest in you, you're more likely to get what you want.
So is it time to read one of the zillion articles here on U.S. News on how to land a job?
The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.