Six Sure-Fire Ways to Climb the Career Ladder

How to get a promotion or new job in today's evolving working world.



Welcome to the new workplace. You’re smart. You’re hardworking. You’re an asset. And that’s great. Except it’s not enough. It’s 2015, and there are a lot of smart, hardworking people competing for the same jobs as you. The rules have changed since I took my first job in Philadelphia in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, the world is a much more uncertain place. The opportunities are still there, but success takes a different approach. You’re no longer just an employee. You don’t just collect a paycheck. Today, if you really want a successful career, you have to combine the qualities of a good employee with those of an entrepreneur. You have to be an employee-treneur. And here’s the way the ones I hire think.

Be transparent.

Back in the day, you would leave work and go home and no one would know anything about you, your family, or what you did at night. Not anymore. Sure, you can make your Facebook page private or block your boss on Twitter, but you can’t hide. That’s reality, and so transparency is expected from you, the employee-treneur. This isn’t stalking; it has a purpose. If I want to hire or work with you, I want to know as much as possible about you beyond your professional qualifications, education and references. It’s research. Hiring someone isn’t easy, and I want know whether you’ll fit in our organization. Most importantly, I want to know if you’ll be a profitable employee (more on that later).

Loyalty may be a liability.

While most of the nine million jobs lost during the Great Recession have been recovered, those jobs came back at pay levels that are lower than pre-recession. (In fact, most workers in this country are actually earning less than they did five years ago.) Meanwhile, corporate profits are skyrocketing to record levels. So it should come as no surprise that many workers today aren’t exactly married to their jobs.

Employers get that. Their attitudes are changing, too. Nowadays when I see someone who’s held only one job for more than five years, I start to wonder if that’s not a liability. Does this person not enjoy change or new challenges? If she’s only been working in one place, what new knowledge is she bringing to my company? Changing jobs is no longer a stigma. It’s becoming an acceptable strength. “Companies today — including Comcast — are more inclined to look through or past loyalty to a company and instead test for loyalty to teamwork, hustle, service and personal improvement,” offers Bill Strahan, EVP of HR for Comcast Cable.

Become an expert.

Isn’t Google awesome? And Wikipedia? You can find the answer to anything, anywhere at any time. But with that awesome power come awesome responsibilities. The entire Internet has raised expectations, and those expectations are affecting your job.

Want to get up to speed on a new line of business before the big meeting? Look it up on the website — and while you’re at it, check out what the competition is up to, so you can offer strategies to help. Not sure if that’s a capital or an operating lease? Find the literature online. “Since we’re a management consulting firm, we expect our people to be self-starters and obtain whatever information they need to help serve our clients and the team,” says Robert Kathol, CEO of Navigate. “To us, it’s not having all the answers immediately but knowing where to go to get the information.”

Employee-treneurs are experts at their jobs. Or at least appear to be. I don’t want a lot of questions about things that you can research on your own. You aren’t expected to have all the answers, but the employee-treneurs who rise to the top are the ones who take ownership and figure things out by themselves. They view themselves as experts in their field because there are enough tools available to make them experts.

Be responsive.

Once upon a time, banks closed at 3 p.m., employees left work at 5 p.m., and weekends were spent going to the Shore. Some of this hasn’t changed. Much has. If you want to succeed today at your job, work doesn’t end at 5 p.m. We all have smartphones, and we’re all checking them. Bosses know you’re getting these messages. And we expect a reply.

Employee-treneurs understand that there’s no more off-the-clock nowadays. A tougher employer might demand action after work hours. But most, at the very least, want an acknowledgment, a “Roger that” or “I’ll check this out and let you know tomorrow” to ease our worried minds. Our customers are demanding immediate service from us, by the way.

Sell yourself.

When I worked for a large financial-services firm in Center City, my dad warned me that at best, I had two weeks of job security. Maybe that’s a little extreme. But in today’s world, where value is placed more on results than on loyalty, any employee-treneur would be insane not to be doing everything possible to build his own personal brand. Every day. This isn’t easy, because the workday is long. But what if you were given notice? What if your company suffered a downturn? What have you done to prepare yourself for the future? What sets you apart?

Today’s employee-treneur blogs and tweets information that’s relevant to what he does. He makes sure his social media sites are up-to-date and professional. He’s continually building his network and staying in touch with other influencers. He attends networking events. Yes, he’s doing this on behalf of his employer. But his ulterior motive is to build his brand for the potential day when he parts ways with his company.

Be profitable.

Today, companies have data. Lots of it. They know what you’re selling and how much. They know when you’re arriving to work and when you’re checking your email. They can track how many orders you processed, how many complaints you received, and how many sick days you took. They compare your performance to that of others in the company and in the industry. They can research salaries and benefits for your position. Metrics show how much you cost a company, what your compensation adds to overhead, and whether your actions are contributing to or taking away from profits. It’s a cold, hard world of big data, and managers are looking at this data because their competition in Florida, China and India is, too. They’ll stop at nothing to shave a few pennies off their prices. “The data is very important, and using metrics helps both our people and our business,” says Alex Phinn, president of Griff Paper and Film in Fallsington.

Are you profitable? A profitable employee-treneur is making sure his work is accomplishing one of two goals: reducing expenses or increasing revenues. Your contributions may be making your company more productive, efficient, flexible, happy … whatever. It’s all profits. And trust me — that’s what your employer is being asked to prove by his customers. So why should you, today’s employee-treneur, be any different?

Gene Marks is the founder and president of the Marks Group consulting firm. Originally published as “Philly’s New Working World” in the November 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.