“But I’ve served this company for many years! And very few people here have the experience that I have … All the projects that I’ve worked on and the improvements I’ve helped deliver …,” he tailed off into silence, as his thoughts and emotions swept him into a maelstrom of disappointment and resentment.

I felt for him.

I know what it’s like to give your all to an organisation and yet not feel recognised and rewarded. Especially when colleagues with less experience, qualifications or abilities are getting ahead.

Many of us have experienced what Gavin was going through. It’s something I’ve come across several times with coaching and mentoring clients who’ve missed promotion or need help with elevating their careers.

Quite often, what I find is that people expect senior management to notice their talents or contribution, leading to their subsequent career advancement. Typically, their unspoken expectation is accompanied by working diligently at their jobs, often delivering good results.

Yet their progress up the career ladder remains stunted, which causes a build-up of frustration and discontent over time.

As I counselled Gavin, the days of reward for tenure are long gone.

Captain of your ship

In today’s workplace, promotion or career advancement prospects don’t correlate with one’s time in a job or organisation.

And certainly from mid-level upwards, you just can’t assume that your boss, the HR department or the top brass in your organisation will recognise your potential and push your career progression. In fact, the notion of letting your manager or employer set the pace and trajectory your career advancement is mistaken and ill-advised. You, and only you, are responsible for your career growth and success – you’re the captain of your career ship.

You must reframe the way you view your career development.

Expand your perspective to appreciate that career success isn’t just about delivering results or showing commitment. There are other ingredients in the mix which you must not overlook.

For example, and perhaps most paramount, you must be clear on what your own definition of “success” is. Your career direction shouldn’t be defined entirely by the path or opportunities offered up by your employer. Neither should your view of success be measured against what others do or achieve.

Also, understanding the organisational dynamics is invaluable. Learning to tap into it prudently will enable and empower you to steer the course of your career ship better. The more organisationally savvy you are, the more prosperous your career progression will be.

Managing your visibility is also critical, especially in large organisations. So make yourself visible and manage your personal brand sensibly. Learn how to build rapport, communicate your achievements and aspirations, and market yourself; in the right way, to the right audience and with the right message.

Flash your brilliance

Managing your personal brand is an intrinsic aspect of selling yourself judiciously.

This isn’t about being a vainglorious twit, brown-nosing or becoming a yes-man or a political animal. Rather, it’s about making people aware of your positive traits (e.g., through your operating style, the way you come across as a person and your proactive efforts to network and foster camaraderie) and the value you bring to your work and the organisation (e.g., by blowing your own trumpet with subtlety and finesse).

Mercedes-Benz don’t invest effort in making a brilliant car and then tell no one about it. So if you’re brilliant at your work, a solid contributor, have desirable traits and experience, and get on well with people, you should flash the brilliance of your star; albeit with the right degree of modesty.

You’re selling yourself when you write your skills and accomplishments on your CV, your social media profile or a job application form. And you have to sell yourself at interviews to get the job. Why might you think selling yourself stops there?

You also have to sell yourself throughout your career – for instance, to secure better opportunities, pay increases or promotions – in order to get wherever you want to be ultimately.

The idea of “selling yourself” may sound pushy, unappealing or repulsive. But if you think about it deeply, much of our everyday work entails some form of selling, not least every instance of asking our bosses, colleagues or stakeholders to consider or accept a different perspective or a new angle on some work issue or another.

Remain impeccable

We may not have to work hard at selling the different perspective or new angle. But the very fact that it’s new or different means that, more often than not, there’s inherently some element of “selling” involved in people “buying” into and accepting our ideas.

We’re selling almost all the time, knowingly or unknowingly – to others and to our own selves.

In fact, life itself entails lots of selling and buying.

For example, right from childhood our parents sell us a rubric of morality and, generally speaking, we buy into it; we sell our best selves to love interests, who buy into the potential happiness and sweetness we convey and end up as our spouses and lovers; prophets, gurus and all manner of religions sell us doctrines and beliefs which we buy into; even your boss or employer sold you a career opportunity which you bought into and led you to the very job you’re doing now.

Clearly, selling ourselves along our career journeys to attain our aspirations doesn’t have to mean we’re sleazy snake-oil salespeople; not if we remain in tune with our moral compass.

Your inner compass is the lighthouse that will guide your career ship, helping you remain impeccable as you navigate through the currents of opportunities on your career path. Remember this as you sit in the captain’s chair steering your ship to the port named Success.

Adapted excerpt from Career Dreams to Career Success by Sigi Osagie © EPG Solutions Limited 2023