The day I updated my LinkedIn profile to display “Director of Operations” as my job title reminded me of how far I had come in such a short amount of time: three promotions in three years.
I was earning more than ever and had also negotiated extra weeks of paid time off to accommodate my passion for travel.
But, most importantly, the role matched my criteria for a dream job: I could be 100 per cent myself, I worked with people who inspired me, I played to my multiple strengths and interests with lots of variety, I was involved in high-level decision-making, I witnessed the impact of my efforts first-hand without tonnes of red tape around taking initiative, and I believed in the mission of the organisation with all my heart.
Whether you know about digital media or not, the guiding principles that propelled my career growth are not industry-specific. I use them to this day to achieve my goals — and now you can too.
Here is how I went from Junior Editor to Managing Editor, to Editorial Director, and then Director of Operations in only three years.
I focused on providing value and nurturing relationships
When I noticed my boss tackling a tedious task that was not the best use of her time considering her other responsibilities, I offered to take over.
When my deliverables were done, I looked for different ways to contribute and support our team, such as taking on a project that we always talked about testing but that nobody had the bandwidth to move forward.
I got to know my co-workers from other departments and formed genuine, mutually supportive relationships. I engaged in company-wide discussions on Slack and bonded with my teammates outside of work.
I didn’t do any of those things with an agenda in mind, but I knew it was an approach that would pay off in the long run regardless of current circumstances. Plus, I love to connect with people, and focusing on providing solutions and creating value drives me and makes work more meaningful.
It’s no surprise I am now an entrepreneur, and I can say with certainty that that entrepreneurial spirit helped me climb through the corporate ranks.
I embodied the type of role I wanted long before it was my reality
They say, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” I applied the same concept to embodying the role I wanted, not the role I had.
That doesn’t mean ditching current responsibilities or overstepping, but carrying yourself with the same attitude and standards you would have in a higher position.
Even as a junior professional, I aimed to embody the leader in me, approach challenges and opportunities like a leader would, and treat people like a leader would too.
When I contributed to conversations in meetings, I pretended I was already in a high-level role to hone my communication skills.
How would that version of myself speak and break down information? How would she address conflict? The more I practised, the closer my future promotion felt.
It didn’t matter that there were no openings right in front of me, I was planting the seeds for my development so I could be ready when opportunities would present themselves.
I accepted impostor syndrome and took action despite fear
In order to focus on providing value, build relationships and embody the senior professional I aspired to be, I inevitably had to get out of my comfort zone — a lot.
Was it scary? Of course. Did I have a raging case of imposter syndrome? Like many high-achievers, I sure did.
Instead of trying to combat my inner dialogue, which regularly told me that I wasn’t good enough and wasn’t ready for my big ambitions, I accepted it.
I acknowledged it was there, I felt insecure a lot of the time and acted despite it. And that gave me an edge.
I stayed aware of the bigger organisational picture
The efforts described above are all about laying the groundwork long before an opportunity for advancement comes along. And, in order to best position yourself when that happens, you have to be aware of what is happening around you and in the company.
It’s so easy to miss out on the perfect opportunity because you’re too focused on your day-to-day work. But, if you stay up to date with the bigger picture, the goals of the organisation and how they might affect its structure, the executives who come and go, you start to be able to anticipate reorgs and interesting movements. And you can align your contributions accordingly.
For example, if you notice the company investing in a new market and can predict that upper management is going to be allocating resources in that area, you can find ways to get involved with relevant tasks and projects. When a role opens, you’ll be in the best position to apply for it.
I owned my unrealistic desires and was vocal about them
The thing about having unrealistic dreams such as aiming for a management role when you’ve only joined the team at a junior level less than a year ago, is that you’ll sometimes wonder “who am I to do this?” or “what will people think?” But that isn’t a mindset that’s going to get you ahead fast.
I did have those thoughts. I owned my desires anyway. When the time came to be vocal about them, I spoke them out loud even when my voice was shaking and I worried about sounding ridiculous.
For example, right before my first promotion, I had a gut feeling my boss was about to leave (which was also based on being aware of the bigger organisational picture).
When she booked all of us for one-on-one meetings and asked about our career ambitions, I jumped on the chance to tell her I wanted to be the managing editor even though it was a bold move.
The following week, she announced her departure and recommended me for the role. The boldness had paid off.
I showed why I was the best fit for the role
But it wasn’t that simple. Given that I didn’t technically have the experience for the role, I was offered an interim job and the opportunity to prove myself over a six-month period.
I also had to earn the trust and respect of my peers, some of whom had been in the company for longer than I had and had also gunned for the role, without a formal job title that made me their boss. Tricky interpersonal stuff.
Despite the immense amount of pressure, I kept showing up and showing why I was the best fit for the role — both with my team, my co-workers and my boss.
I demonstrated decision-making abilities despite the unsureness that comes from not having years of experience to fall back on. I looked for ways to provide appealing projects to my team members and advocate for their interests so they knew I had their back.
When I finally got the job, not only did it feel like a huge relief, but I had also earned my spot — and gained confidence in the process.
I left a great job for an even more aligned one
The experience also opened up bigger questions: Why didn’t the dream job I had worked so hard for feel fully satisfying? What did I value in life and in my career? What did I enjoy doing on a daily basis? What about the things I liked less?
Armed with greater self-awareness, I set my sights on the next goal: a senior role that would also allow me to feel more connected to my true self and free at work, without sacrificing salary or career advancement. I didn’t want career growth for the sake of career growth, I now craved more meaning and purpose.
The perfect next opportunity presented itself in the form of another organisation: a fast-growing start-up.
While the company was very aligned with my values, there were no open roles that fit what I was looking for in terms of my day-to-day. So I reached out to the founders and, after a great networking lunch, asked if they were willing to create a role for me. They said yes.
I made my intentions clear and repeated the process
A few conversations later, we came to an agreement. They needed an Editorial Director, which was promotion number two. But I was already thinking of promotion number three: a position that would allow me to gain experience overseeing different aspects of the business.
I was transparent about it, once again claiming and voicing my desires. I accepted the Editorial Director role with the intention of evolving into the next role by following the guiding principles I broke down above: showing value, nurturing relationships, taking initiative, and seizing opportunities.
Six months later, I became the Director of Operations. The two fantastic years I spent in that role and with that team prepared me for my biggest leap yet: starting my own business.
If I had to leave you with one core learning from getting three promotions in three years, it would be to make it a way of life.
When you create a strong vision for your career and practice certain habits consistently, regardless of what’s happening around you or what others are doing, success will follow.
Your definition of success might change and evolve, but your mindset will take you wherever you want to go.
This article was written by Anouare Abdou and originally published on The Ladders.