Five career-growth tips for millennials

Monday, December 12, 2016

By Kapil Jagtiani, MBA '12
(Article originally published in the Charlotte Business Journal)

Having spent 15 years in the workplace, I can relate to why many millennials are dispirited. It can be discouraging to be constantly decrypting age-old industry jargon, navigating through intricate layers of organizational hierarchy, fending off stereotypes about your generation and attempting to make sense of organizational politics.

Some millennials have found, despite persistent late hours at the workplace, they don’t make the cut for that next promotion. I have been there and wished there was a cookbook with a very precise recipe for career climbing and growth.

By taking time to support peers and cement relationships across the organization, you also build advocates who strengthen the case for your career advancement. While I don’t have a recipe, I do have a few steps that I have found to be helpful. Here are five tips for my fellow millennials:

1. Shift your mindset. Promotions are rarely a reward for completing an advanced degree or doing your job well. More often than not, a promotion is recognition of the expanded scope of your role. The single most important step to career advancement involves a fundamental shift in mindset from thinking like a worker to thinking like a leader. By doing so, you cease to think about your job as a series of tasks. Instead, you envision your job as an architect of better business outcomes. This allows leadership to see you as someone who can be entrusted with delivering bottom line results.

2. Work hard and smart. There is no substitute for a great work ethic. Working hard is a requirement for advancement; however, working smart is just as fundamental. Take an inventory of all the projects you are working on and categorize them in four buckets by impact (high, low) and priority (high, low). Is a large amount of work that you do high priority but low impact? Reprioritize your work to ensure you are focusing on work that is high impact and high priority and knock it out of the park. More often than not, high value work is also high visibility with senior leadership.

3. Nurture relationships. Partnering with cross-functional teams in the organization and assisting others to achieve their objectives is a key building block to nurturing relationships. No one likes a self-serving peer focused only on accomplishing their own objectives. By taking time to support peers and cement relationships across the organization, you also build advocates who strengthen the case for your career advancement. Take time to identify key influential relationships that you will nurture.

4. Invest in yourself and the community. Investing in yourself means consciously setting aside time for development and education. Have you considered getting an advanced degree? Are you keeping up with industry trends? Do you read articles pertaining to your industry on a daily basis? Have you visited a toastmasters club recently? Investing in your community is sharing your skills and knowledge with a broader audience. Have you contributed to a business journal, spoken at an industry conference or written for a blog sharing your industry insights? Have you volunteered your skills to a local charity? These are highly visible ways of being seen as an industry expert and thought leader and can help you achieve accolades both inside and outside your organization.

5. Seek out experts. Even after years in your career, you may not have all the answers. Seek out both personal and professional mentors to help. A mentor can help guide you through the many layers of an organization, bring awareness to your blind spots, provide essential context within the organization and become an advocate for you. A mentor can provide priceless knowledge on how to navigate organizational politics, how to network within the organization and open doors that appear locked shut. A mentor-and-mentee relationship is a two-way street. It is imperative to go into the relationship by thinking about what you expect to bring to the relationship.

Millennials have a lot to offer the workplace, including our unconventional approach, our passion for causes, our ability to challenge the status quo, our desire to continuously learn and evolve and our embracing of diversity. These five tips have helped me in the workplace.

What tips would you add to the conversation?

Kapil Jagtiani is marketing director at TIAA. He received his MBA from UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business in 2012. 

The Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte is the academic partner of #NextGenCLT. Join us for the next program on February 8.