30 top strategies to get ahead in the workplace

You’ve already read the title of this post. And, if you’re still reading, you likely have some interest in getting ahead. But what does “getting ahead” really mean? Climbing the corporate ladder? Earning more money? Feeling more fulfilled by the work you’re doing?

If you boil it down to the basics, getting ahead simply means achieving success — whatever that may be to you. Even though we all have varying goals in life, there are steps we can take to be happier, earn more, and advance in our careers. The best part? These steps aren’t as complicated or difficult as you’d expect.

So if you’re ready to get ahead, read on for our top tips to succeed in the workplace. Let’s get into it!

1. Over prepare

Whether you’re presenting a new campaign at an important meeting or simply touching base with a colleague, do your best to over prepare. Now, this isn’t to say you should create more work for the sake of being prepared. Instead, prepare what you need to and then take it one step further. Anticipate what kinds of questions you’ll be asked. Try to poke holes in and defend your work. Familiarize yourself with relevant examples, case studies, and data.

Taking steps to over prepare will keep your meetings moving quickly and efficiently. And you’ll come across as reliable, polished, and professional.

2. Get to know your strengths and weaknesses

Be honest with yourself about the things you’re good at and the things you need to improve. Honesty and self-awareness will allow you to hone your skill set. It will also give you the insight you need to take on projects you know you’ll be successful with.

3. Be positive

Always be a positive presence in any group. Even when you know something has failed, could have been done better, or didn’t achieve the expected results, be the person to lift up others instead of dwelling on the negatives.

Although it sounds corny, maintaining a positive attitude will help you immensely in your career. Your coworkers will want to spend more time around you and work with you. Because attitudes are contagious, you’ll help to not only improve the work environment but also improve productivity.

4. Demonstrate gratitude

Always express gratitude toward the people in your work life who make your job easier — whether they do you a favor, work late to complete a task, or simply brighten your day. When you express gratitude, it shows that you value hard work and don’t take anything for granted. As a result, the people around you will likely continue to offer assistance and to work hard, simply because they feel appreciated.

5. Keep an open mind, be flexible, and don’t be afraid to deviate from your plan

The best opportunities aren’t always packaged as such — if you don’t keep an open mind, you’re likely going to miss out on career-changing experiences. Often, we enter our careers with a plan,  not realizing what twists and turns are in store for us. If you hold too tight to that plan, you will limit yourself.

Instead of simply checking off boxes because you think you’re supposed to, say yes to new opportunities, try new things, and don’t be afraid to veer from the path you’ve set for yourself. You might just discover a new passion or calling, or surprise yourself with a skill you never knew you had.

6. Know your worth, but understand that you’re not entitled to anything

Success is never handed over free of charge. And just because you want to succeed doesn’t mean you deserve to succeed. Remember, you have to pay your dues to earn your success.

7. Go into each day with a plan

How much time do you spend each morning getting yourself organized? If you’re anything like me, you can spend hours putting together lists, checking in on tasks, and following up on emails. But as valuable as these tasks are, they’re eating into your productivity.

My best advice? Before you leave the office each day, clean up your desk and make a quick note of the top three to five tasks you’d like to accomplish the following day. That way, when you arrive the next day there’s no organizing or planning to do. You can get to work right away.

8. Be aware of office politics but keep them at arm’s length

Although office politics are complicated, messy, and at times exasperating, there’s really no way to avoid them. The fact is, it’s important to know how your company operates — and not just on paper. Pay attention to the dynamics between colleagues and departments.

Don’t play into office politics, though. You should be aware of them, but keep a safe distance so you don’t find yourself involved in any conflicts or difficult situations.

9. Take calculated risks

When it comes to your livelihood, it can be frightening to take risks. After all, you don’t want to make a decision that could compromise your ability to earn a living. But if you always play it safe, you’ll have a difficult time advancing in your career. So whether you pitch an out-of-the-box campaign or take a new position at a startup, don’t rule something out just because it’s risky.

Instead, weigh the risks and the rewards. If your campaign is turned down, it won’t be the end of the world. But if your superiors like the idea and allow you to run with it, the resulting success may set the tone for the rest of your career.

10. Use data to support your ideas, claims, and work

Always use data to support your claims, actions, and strategies. Doing so will make it easier to get people on board with your plans. It also adds a certain level of legitimacy to your work.

11. Network, network, network

We’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And while this might not always be the case, it certainly has a thread of truth to it. Rather than approaching networking with an attitude of “What’s in it for me?” ask yourself, “What do I have to offer?” Instead of looking to gain something, look to build real relationships with smart, vibrant, creative people.

12. Learn to control your reactions

No matter how professional and patient we believe ourselves to be, we’re still human beings. And that means our emotions get the best of us at certain points in our careers. Although this is inevitable, we don’t always have to act on our emotions.

Next time you’re ready to fire off an angry email or tell off a colleague, take a step back. Allow yourself time to let the emotions subside so that you can deal with the issue rationally.

13. Learn important leadership skills before you’re in a leadership role

Although there are certainly great leaders who learn on the job and improvise as they go, we strongly recommend taking a leadership workshop or course. Even if you’re just starting your career, understanding how people operate and knowing the basic tenets of leadership can dramatically accelerate your career trajectory.

14. Dress for the job you want

We’re by no means saying you need expensive or even fashionable clothing to succeed. Just maintain a polished, professional appearance. This will increase your productivity, make you feel better, and give others the impression you care.

Think about it this way: Imagine two people have the exact same experience and qualifications, but one takes the time to iron their clothing, tuck in their shirts, and throw on a tie, while the other comes to work in wrinkled or stained clothing and flip-flops. The first person will come across like they value their work, while the second may seem like they don’t care, don’t pay attention to detail, and so on.

15. Surround yourself with those whose success you admire

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with”? While there isn’t really any science to back up this theory, there’s no doubt that the people around us influence our lives in a big way. Therefore, if you spend time with people who work hard to achieve their goals, not only will that attitude be infectious, but you’ll also pick up some tips and tricks along the way.

16. Process and learn from failure

Failure stings, there’s no denying it. But if you let failure bring you down, it will ultimately get in the way of your success. No matter how big or small, take each failure as a learning experience. Once the initial disappointment subsides, analyze the factors that led to your failure and make an effort to approach the problem differently the next time around.

17. Get comfortable being uncomfortable

In order to learn and grow, you must take on challenges that are slightly outside your comfort zone. Unfortunately, it’s not part of human nature to seek out uncomfortable or challenging scenarios. For this reason, you must really make a conscious effort to do so.

For example, if you find yourself super comfortable in your role and you haven’t learned something new or taken on a challenging new project in a while, this is an indication that you’re ready for the next thing. And, although it can be scary to ask for a promotion, take on new work, or even find a new job, the benefits and life lessons will long outlast the temporary discomfort you feel.

18. Help out

Become known as the person who’s always willing to help out, and soon you’ll find people are much more willing to help you out. Not only does this benefit your reputation and personal relationships, but the more areas you explore in business, the more you’ll learn.

19. Think one step ahead of where you currently are

Although it’s important to focus on the task at hand, you should always have some idea of the big picture as a frame of reference. Do your best to understand how each task, project, or assignment is contributing to your company’s overall goals as well as your personal goals.

20. Make your superiors look good

Whether you get along with your boss or not, it’s your job to make them look good. No matter what the dynamic is, it’s important to establish a relationship of trust with this person so that they know no matter who you’re in front of or working with, you will do your best to reflect positively on them.

Although it’s not always easy to do this, and can sometimes come at a small cost, the loyalty of your boss will pay off in the long run. On the flip side, if you don’t advocate for your superiors or pay attention to how your actions reflect on them, you’ll likely be regarded as a loose cannon, and as a result, you won’t be trusted to take on important tasks or roles.

21. Recognize and feel good about your accomplishments

Previously, we mentioned the importance of thinking one step ahead of your current position. But it’s equally important that you don’t breeze past your accomplishments. Once you accomplish something, it’s easy to immediately start working toward your next goal without ever taking the time to acknowledge your success.

While we don’t recommend gloating or basking in your successes, you do need a moment to reflect on the hard work and persistence that leads you to each accomplishment. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself feeling unfulfilled despite having achieved what you set out to do.

22. Listen to the people around you

No matter how good you are at your job, there will always be areas where you can improve. And no one person can accomplish everything at once. For this reason, it’s important to really listen to the people around you. What are your coworkers’ concerns? How would someone else approach the task at hand? Is anyone working on a similar project?

If you stay in your own little bubble and only emerge when you need something, your work will lack sophistication due to the simple fact that you didn’t get feedback, explore multiple options, or bounce ideas off other people. If you listen more to those around you, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn and benefit from them.

23. Ask for and be receptive to feedback

This tip goes hand in hand with our previous one. Feedback, no matter how difficult it can be to hear, is your friend. After all, if you’re the only person evaluating your own work, you’ll never grow and evolve past where you are right now. For this reason, it’s important to regularly ask for feedback from those you admire or learn from.

24. Add something new to your resume once a year

Whether you volunteer for a new charity, earn a new degree or certification, or teach yourself to use a new piece of software, make an effort to add one new thing to your resume each year. Not only will this make you more marketable, but it will also help you bring a more diverse skill set to your work.

25. Don’t get hung up on credit

In an ideal world, we would all receive recognition for the time and effort we put into our jobs. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out that way.

When someone else gets credit for your hard work, it’s easy to become defensive and emotional. This can backfire, though. Sure, you might get credit, but it’s much more likely that you’ll develop a reputation for being difficult, selfish, or volatile.

Of course, there are exceptions — but generally, if something doesn’t compromise your morals, get you in trouble, or have any major impact on your life or career, it’s best to let it go. Chances are, instances of misassigned credit are the result of an honest mistake. And any instances of malicious or manipulative intent are often uncovered or revealed with time — so don’t get hung up on them in the moment.

26. Prioritize work-life balance but be willing to work hard when your job calls for it

As with most things in life, the key to workplace success is developing a healthy balance between work and home. If you’re overworked, your personal life will suffer and you’ll start to resent your job. Yet if you’re not willing to stay late, come in early, or answer emails off the clock occasionally, you might not advance as quickly in your career.

Be willing to work hard and put in your time, but know when it’s best to log out and get back to your personal life.

27. Find a mentor

Throughout your career, you will encounter a variety of people. Some will make a lasting impact while others will be merely coworkers, and that’s OK. You don’t need to form deep relationships with everyone you work with.

Occasionally you’ll meet someone who is farther along in their career and who has a wealth of knowledge to share with you. Nurture these relationships and seek out mentorship when it’s appropriate.

There will be times in your career when you need someone to lean on, someone who’s been in your shoes before. For this reason, a mentor’s impact will extend beyond the workplace and into something deeper — no matter where life takes you.

28. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself

Don’t be afraid to speak up — volunteer yourself, extend a helping hand, and offer your opinions. It’s easy to feel intimidated in a new or high-pressure environment, but don’t allow the fear of speaking up to get in your way.

After all, if you don’t make your voice heard or highlight your own accomplishments, who else is going to?

29. Figure out what you enjoy doing, what you don’t enjoy doing, and what you’re willing to put up with

Just as you would in a relationship, you need to identify your career deal breakers. Figure out which activities are the most fulfilling in your job, which you enjoy most, and which you wouldn’t want to part with. And on the flip side, figure out which things you don’t enjoy or would prevent you from being happy in a given role.

Once you have these lists filed in your head, you’ll know when a position or task is right for you, and you’ll know when it’s time to walk away and start something new. The better you know yourself and what you bring to the table, the more confident you will be in your career decisions.

30. Make yourself indispensable

During my club soccer days, I would regularly complain about having to play defense. In my mind, I was a midfielder. But, ever the voice of reason, my mom would tell me to learn as many positions as possible. She would use the same fictional scenario to illustrate her point: “Say it comes down to you and another girl at tryouts, if she can only play one position and you can play multiple, you’re far more valuable to the team.”

I’ll admit, I didn’t really understand the concept as a preteen. But after riding the bench during my first two collegiate games, I found myself being thrown in on defense when a teammate got injured. After that, the rest was history: I started every game as a defender for the remainder of my college career.

My mom may have been onto something.

I think about this lesson regularly as it applies to the corporate world. The lesson here is that in order to be successful you must make yourself impossible to get rid of. Take on a campaign or project no one wants to tackle. Explore other outlets and channels that your business hasn’t yet mastered. Learn and do as much as you can and you’ll be more valuable than those who simply stick to the basics of their job description.

Final thoughts

There you have it, the ultimate list of tips and tricks to help you get ahead in the workplace. Whether you take all of this advice or incorporate it a little at a time, you will be better off — no matter how you define success.

Molly Clarke is a senior marketing manager at ZoomInfo, the leading data intelligence platform for sales and go-to-market organizations. Molly writes for ZoomInfo’s sales and marketing blog on topics related to B2B growth and success.

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