So whether that means climbing the ladder toward management, following the entrepreneurial path or becoming an expert contractor, let's take a look at a few strategies that will help you (and have helped others) progress as a professional toward ultimate career bliss.
1. Have versatile communication skills. Ambitious professionals will find themselves out of their niche frequently.
In these circumstances, those best positioned for success will have the social savvy to tailor the content of their message based on the interests, values and knowledge of those receiving that message.
Take for example David Heinemeier Hansson, the developer of the open source Web application Ruby on Rails and a partner at the Web application firm 37signals. When Hansson is addressing a target audience of programmers as the co-author of "Agile Web Development with Rails," his tone and rhetoric are highly advanced and technical. However, when he's addressing a general business audience as the co-author of "Rework," the lessons are so simple and direct that virtually anyone could understand them.
Refining similarly versatile communication skills will not only make you a superior instructor, but simultaneously position you as an undeniable asset wherever you're working, since the ability to translate knowledge across audiences is difficult to replace or outsource.
2. Handle stress with grace. In late March, President Obama was addressing a highly controversial topic during a speech in Jerusalem when a young man began heckling him from the audience. Not missing a beat, the president listened while the young man finished his comments and responded by stating, "This is part of the lively debate we talked about," without expressing anger or frustration.
Disregarding President Obama's politics, he handled what could have been a tense situation gracefully and ultimately got a standing ovation for his quick, collected reaction.
Adapting this circumstance to the business world, professionals are liable to face stressful situations all the time, whether it's dealing with an upset customer/client, digesting a critical performance review or addressing a co-worker's mistake. In these situations, you have the opportunity to show off one of the most valuable skills that exists in the business world: the ability to stay cool and positive while handling setbacks. People are certainly liable to notice when you complete something successfully, but constructively addressing a situation that's spiraling downward without panicking is a fantastic way to position yourself as a versatile professional who can thrive in any environment.
3. Create and maintain a bustling Rolodex of professional contacts. When you build strong, diverse professional relationships (defined by Keith Ferrazzi, the author of "Never Eat Alone," as "personal relationships in a business environment"), you can advance your career in a number of powerful ways. On one end of the spectrum, you have a huge toolbox to work with for projects. For example, if you're in a marketing position and have trusted relationships with talented video producers, Web developers, graphic designers and press contacts, you can easily take ideas to an implementation and promotion stage without exhaustive vendor evaluation.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, should you decide you want to make a career move, having a wide assortment of contacts will afford you a number of great references and a variety of professionals who can help usher you into a new role.
One of the best ways to build your network for these reasons is to refine your personal brand. Get into the field independently and share information on your passions by writing articles for reputable news sources, speaking at industry events and advising less-experienced professionals. That way, you'll have the opportunity to connect and collaborate with all kinds of diversely talented people. This strategy was central to Ferrazzi's initial success.
Not only will this cushion your network with all the clever individuals you're sure to encounter in the process, it will also increase the likelihood that a hiring authority will notice your work and reach out with new opportunities.
4. Simplify the complex. You may have heard the phrase before "I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter, I didn't have time to write you a short one."
The crux of this sentiment is that there is an art to simplicity. The simpler a solution you can provide, the easier it will be to explain and roll out. For example, let's return to "Rework" for a moment. The authors take what could be an incredibly complex topic (building and growing a business) and simplify it into a series of perfectly segmented, punchy lessons that are individually no longer than four pages a piece.
As a result of their simple, direct, no-nonsense approach, the authors have earned countless accolades, gotten major publicity for their business and generated significant profits.
While there are countless other ways to position yourself for professional advancement, these four strategies are a great starting point for getting your career where you want it to be.
Ben Weiss is the digital marketing strategist for Infusive Solutions—an NYC-based IT staffing firm in the Microsoft Partner Network that specializes in the placement of .NET, SharePoint and SQL Server developers as well as Windows Systems Engineers, DBAs and help desk support professionals in verticals such as legal, finance, fashion and media. Connect with him on Twitter: @InfusiveInc.