Tips for Merging on to Your Career's Smart Track

Instead of the "fast track," take the pathway to growing professionally.

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Hannah Morgan
Hannah Morgan
Some early careerists envision themselves on the fast track. These overachieving young men and women can put the rest of us to shame, but that doesn't have to be the case. We can't all be overachievers, but you can absolutely put some strategies that these Type-As use into practice and at least put yourself on the smart track. The smart track is one in which you proactively learn from others rather than through the school of hard knocks. Smart-trackers learn from the 20/20 hindsight of others. Here is some wisdom to apply.

1. Earn respect. To gain respect, you have to deliver. Do you consistently produce outstanding work, exceed expectations, go above and beyond what is expected, take initiative and simply work hard? Where is the proof? Who knows about your efforts? Who can vouch for your work ethic and contributions? To acquire respect in the workplace, your accomplishments and efforts need to be visible. This may require you to arrive at the office early when more people are around, rather than staying late. You may have to send a memo to your supervisor summarizing your recent achievement. And in some instances, it might require you to do some shameless self promotion up the chain of command.

2. Don't wait for the deadline. If you procrastinate because you believe you perform better under pressure, think again. People who procrastinate have higher stress levels, which can be dangerous to your health. Coming in at the deadline or worse, after the deadline, can sabotage your work's quality. Get started early so you know what obstacles might impact your ability to deliver outstanding work. Another trick is to reward yourself for completing the task ahead of schedule. Smart-trackers may even enlist the help from colleagues to help hold them accountable to project deadlines.

3. Ask for help. There's a fine line between being too needy and asking for guidance. Your challenge is to find that line and straddle it. You have to realize that asking for help is not a sign of weakness or stupidity. In fact, asking for help proves you're smart enough to know when you need to seek assistance. Swallow that pride and do the right thing; don't wait for the issue to become a true emergency.

4. Mix and mingle. Getting your work done is your first priority. But don't forget that mixing and mingling with all levels of the organization is key to your long-term growth. Building relationships will serve you well in accomplishing future projects, especially when you need to elicit the help from other departments and colleagues. Some employees are fearful about starting a conversation with the C-suite, but even executives need your perspective as much as you need theirs. Savvy networkers understand and value the quality of relationships and realize these connections can be the key to opening doors in the future.

5. Speak up and stand up. Don't be afraid to stand up for something you believe in; whether it be an ethical issue or your informed opinion. And when a project goes awry, speak up and let others know it needs attention. Practicing the right type of assertiveness is critical regardless of your sex or stage of career. In an article for Forbes, Kerry Hannon summarizes five main points from Sheryl Sandberg's book, "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead." They include: Be more open to taking career risks; skip the people pleasing; visualize your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder; allow yourself to fantasize about your career, in other words, set goals and plan how you will meet those goals; and finally, start a Lean-In circle. This is a group of eight to 10 like-minded professional women who serve as a sounding board for each other. These are wise and valuable lessons smart-trackers can apply immediately.

Which smart-track strategy will work best for you depends on your situation. And remember, it takes almost a month to form a new habit. Pick one new habit to work on today.

Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.