Careers expert reveals their top tips for progressing in your career

Has YOUR career stalled during the pandemic? Expert reveals unexpected tips to help you get ahead – including praising yourself when your toddler eats their greens and asking your boss to cut your number of meetings

  • Sarah Ellis, who lives in London, is the author of bestseller The Squiggly Career
  • Author has revealed her top tips for reaching your full potential at work
  • Among her advice is making yourself available on LinkedIn and volunteering 

From redundancies in hard-hit inudstries to pay rises and promotions on hold due to economic uncertainty, it’s easy to feel despondent if you’re looking for work or currently in a role you’re not enjoying. 

Or if you’re a recent graduate, you might feel like now is the worst time to be entering the jobs market, but according to careers expert Sarah Ellis, co-author of bestseller The Squiggly Career, there are still ways you can progress your career in the right direction. 

Sarah, who has teamed up with LinkedIn for its latest socially-distanced careers event in London, said that with more than half of professionals currently actively looking for a new job, there’s more movement in the market than you might think.

Here, she shares with Femail the steps you can take – many of which are small changes that are easily applied – to ensure you don’t get left behind, whether you’re a graduate, looking for work after redundancy or gunning for a promotion in your existing job. 

Sarah Ellis, who is one of the authors of bestseller The Squiggly Career, shared her advice for progressing in your career (file image)

What to do if…You were made redundant

Sarah said we can struggle to see the strengths and skills we have to offer a future employer after our confidence is negatively impacted by redundancy.

She recommends reaching out to your community for support. 

‘It may sound scary to put yourself out there when you’re feeling vulnerable, but I promise it will be worth your while – whether it’s supportive messages from people who’ve been in a similar situation, or even conversations that could lead to a new job,’ she said. 

Meanwhile, try these two exercises to build your self-belief: 

What are the best industries to target if you’re a graduate? 

‘Make the most of the free learning and advice that is out there to support anyone at the start of their careers, such as Gradvance and Breaking Through Careers. They have podcasts, courses and events you can get involved in, all for free.

Sarah cited recent data that data shows hiring in the UK in May was significantly up compared to the year before, so don’t be despondent about your prospects.  

According to LinkedIn, the fastest-growing jobs for grads are: 

  • Digital Marketing Specialist
  • Graphic Designer
  • Web Designer
  • Web Developer
  • Mobile Application Developer
  • Cloud Engineer
  • Healthcare Assistant
  • Electrician
  • Social Services Assistant 

1. What three words describe you at your best? ‘If you find this hard to answer for yourself, try asking friends, family and people you’ve worked with what three words would you use to describe me at my best? And be careful not to dismiss your positive characteristics by thinking ‘everyone is good at that’ or ‘other people are better than me’.

2. Very small successes. ‘Recognising and recording your very small successes will boost your optimism and help you to start making positive progress. Before you go to bed, write down one very small success you’ve had that day – personal or professional. It could even be getting your toddler to eat their peas!

Writing down your small successes in the same place every day will help rebuild your confidence and appreciate the progress you’re making. 

What to do if…You want to be promoted but your industry has stalled

Sarah pointed out that promotion isn’t the only way to that pay rise you’re after, saying there are other ways you can show you’re adding value that don’t involve a change of title or role. 

‘The idea of climbing up the career ladder has meant that progressing in our careers has become intertwined with promotion,’ she said. 

‘Career ladders were created over a hundred years ago and don’t feel fit for purpose anymore. 

‘Today we find ourselves in a much more “squiggly” world of work, and there is no such thing as a straight-line to success. Promotions are important, but are also only one of the ways in which we can progress. Three questions to ask yourself if promotion is a priority for you right now, but not an immediate option:

1. What are all your progression possibilities? Start mapping out all the ways you could progress in your career at the moment. A few ideas to prompt your thinking: volunteering, side-projects, shadowing, secondments, side-ways moves, causes/initiatives you’re passionate about, mentoring, learning new skills, and job swaps/shares.

2. How could you accelerate your impact? If promotion isn’t an option right now, how can you use this ‘waiting’ time to put yourself in a position where an even better promotion opportunity might come your way in the medium term. What could you get involved in that will stretch your skills and strengths in new ways? Can you talk to your manager about re-designing aspects of your role to do less of certain tasks to free up time for some new responsibilities?

Sarah (pictured) recommends expanding your skills with free learning courses 

3. Who could you help? One of the best ways to learn is to share what you know with other people. Who inside and outside of your organisation would benefit from your expertise and knowledge? This could look like setting up ‘lunch and learn’ sessions for anyone in your organisation to come along to, or writing a monthly article to share your perspective on a topic you’re passionate about. 

What to do if…You feel stuck in your career

Sarah said it isn’t uncommon to feel like you’ve lost motivation at some stage in your career. She revealed three ideas for adding some inspiration into your day: 

1. Be a beginner 

‘Being a beginner gets us out of our comfort zone and stretches our skills in new directions. Being a beginner might mean learning a new skill or getting involved in a new type of project at work. It doesn’t matter what stage of your career you’re at, all of our brains are ‘neuro-plastic’, which in simple terms means everyone has the ability to keep developing in different directions,’ Sarah said. 

‘Starting something new also has the added benefit that we meet and learn from new people, which broadens our horizons, helping us to spot new ideas and opportunities to get unstuck.

2. In the moment mentoring 

‘Mentoring can sound formal and hard to ask for, but the best mentoring is often more ‘in the moment’ and can be a one-off conversation. Rather than starting by asking someone to mentor you, try instead thinking about what you’d like to learn and then who could help you. For example, maybe you’d like to learn more about working part-time, switching departments or improving your gravitas in meetings. 

‘Once you know what you’re interested in, you can then ask people for specific support in a way that’s easy to say, such as: ‘I’m exploring the idea of moving from x to y department and I know you’ve successfully worked in a few different areas. I wondered if you could spare me 30mins for a chat to share a few insights from your experience?’

3. Create don’t wait 

‘It’s easy to get stuck in a trap of waiting for the perfect job or opportunity to come our way. Or to feel that the change we want to make is out of our control. Make a list of all the things that you can control and use this to prompt what actions you can take in the here and now. 

‘It’s also useful to test your assumptions on the areas you can’t control too. For example, you might think you can’t control how many meetings you’re in at work, but you could have a conversation with your manager/team to challenge whether you need to be in every meeting.’

What to do if…You want to change your career entirely

Sarah explained the importance of doing research and taking small steps towards, to avoid failure when transitioning to a new career. 

Curious career conversations

Sarah said: ‘This is not about applying for a job, it’s about exploring and learning more about the career change you’re interested in. The sorts of questions you might ask in these conversations are what does an average week look like for you? What skills are useful in your team? What problems are you trying to solve at the moment? 

‘The purpose of these conversations is to understand more about the new field you’re interested in and to figure out whether it feels like a good fit for you. End your conversations by asking is there anyone else you think it would be useful for me to chat to? This is a brilliant way to keep expanding your connections.

Small steps versus giant leaps

‘Research from London Business School Professor Herminia Ibarra has shown that the most successful career changes are the result of lots of small steps and actions over time rather than an overnight transformation. Consider whether there is anything you could volunteer for that’s connected to the career you’d like to transition to. 

‘Or perhaps there’s a side-project you could start that would help you to build your experience and skills in your area of interest. It could even be as simple as making time each month to read, watch and listen to people or organisations who are in the industry that you’d like to transition towards.’ 

Sarah Ellis has teamed up with LinkedIn as part of The Jobs Shed taking place at London’s Ham Yard Hotel on Tuesday 15th and Wednesday 16th June, aimed at helping people get their careers back on track, or follow #KeepGrowing for insights from Sarah and the team.

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