3 Things To Focus On In Your Career For Maximum Leverage

As I got my offer letter to join PwC in 2018, one of the first things that came to my mind was how to grow my network within the firm. Because as we would later be told, PwC is a congregation of the best and brightest. So I couldn’t get it off my mind thinking about how I can have a lot of people on my contact list as “networks”. I believe in all those periods, my definition of a network is either wrong or unclear.

Well, I took that enthusiasm of building a network with me until resumption, training school and eventual deployment to our respective place of assignment. All the while, all I could see was my dream of building a network getting farther away from me. Why? Because at the end of our training school, I am not sure if I had up to 10 numbers saved on my phone and out of the 10, I can’t confidently boast of 2 that I can call a “network”. Seriously, I had the idea of “network” totally mixed up in my mind then. Chuckles.

This reality followed me until I met a manager who gave me a ride home one day. Since the idea of building a network was still top of my mind until then, the first question I could think of asking him was “how does one build a network within an organization?” To which he gave an answer that stayed with me until today and will be one of the points of maximum leverage that I will talk about here. He said to me, “for now, just get your job done, become good at your job, and the network will come.”

I was astonished. And I thought a lot about that response. Apparently, I got the idea of who a network is very wrong. Like really really wrong. Well, this is now my working definition of a network, in case you also have it all wrong.

A (professional)* network is a person who knows you professionally, can vouch for your skills (technical and soft) and can recommend you for a role, job, projects or any other thing in a professional capacity. 

My corporate career is now about three and a half years old. And I’ve learned that my focus on networking in the early months was naive. These are three things that I believe every young and mid-career professional should focus on. Networks will only be one of the by-products, I assure you.

Get your job done

This was the exact thing that the manager told me and that I focused on very early on. Get your job done excellently. You are new (or young) to this part of life. You need to build a reputation, you need to prove yourself, and you need to discover yourself. Focusing on getting your job done excellently will eventually give you the reputation and allow you to grow. 

It is through getting your job done that people will form an opinion of you. Either as a trustworthy colleague or a non-dependable one. It is by going the extra mile to get the job done that your managers get to know about your work ethic and therefore decide if they want to continue working with you or not. And it is by being consistently good, dependable and technically sound that they may choose to recommend you to others. 

Seriously, really, in the beginning, the only thing that makes sense to focus on is getting the job done. Remember that my definition of a network is someone who knows you professionally. And people only get to know you in that manner by working with them and doing an excellent job while you do that.

Be visible

As soon as I crossed the stage of getting the job done, I started looking out for what my next focus could be. So I observed. I noticed those whom everyone wants to be around and those whom no one wants to work with. I paid attention to those who are liked and those who are neither liked nor disliked. I also watched out for those who got promoted and those who didn’t. Being visible is the next thing that I found. 

A quick caveat here, my observation of the workplace dynamics goes beyond my own story alone. It also includes all the stories that friends told me and those that I read. 

Being visible means you have to go beyond getting your job done and socialize in the workplace, volunteer for tangential tasks and raise your hand to help where you know you can. Depending on where you work, you are likely not going to work closely with more than a few (10) people. And you will agree with me that knowing ten people in an organization of 1,000 is not good enough for you. This gap gets bridged by other activities that you involve yourself with within the firm. So engage, socialize and offer to help others.

I’ve talked about being visible internally. But being visible goes beyond the four walls of your organization. You also need an external visibility strategy. Beyond the four walls of your organization, you must also be known for your technical expertise, deep thoughts and sound judgments. There are different ways in which this can play out. I will share a few that I know are effective:

  1. Have a blog. Yes, this is by far one of the most effective ways to build a reputation outside of your organization. And all you need to have on the blog is 5 – 7 articles that shed light on your core ideas and how you think about things generally. If possible, put a couple of your work portfolios on it. And let the link to the blog be available on your social media pages. Again, you don’t need to write 1000 articles on the blog. Just a few that will help anyone form an opinion of you when they stumble on the blog. That’s all.
  2. Participate in your professional community activities. This will allow you to be visible among those who play in the same industry as you. A lot of advantages come with that.
  3. Take up speaking engagements when you are presented with such an opportunity.
  4. Be a mentor to those who are willing to climb the ladder that you have climbed. You will be surprised at how quickly they either grow to your level or to a level where you also need them just like they once need you. And don’t be naive. Needing them may also mean you want them to work on a project with you because you know they are best capable. Or it could be that they need to recommend you for a role in their organization. 
  5. Also, join professional-agnostics communities. These are communities that have nothing to do with your profession but that you are attuned to its goals and objectives. This is where you meet those whom you may not get to work together with, but you are sure to learn a thing or two from them beyond what’s obtainable in your profession. And there are always a lot of them out there.

Being visible will not only expand your network, but it will also often serve as a career accelerant for you.

Own your story

Owning your story is the last on the list of things that I believe you should focus on. In my place of work, a common phrase that you often hear as a new joiner is that “your career is in your hand”.

Owning your story entails being in control of the narrative of your career. It means you try all within your power to be on a project that will help you develop the right skill and work with the most ambitious people. Notice that I said, “try all within your power”. Yes, I understand the workplace dynamics and I know you can’t always have your way. But try. 

Another aspect of owning your story has to do with how you choose to tell your story to others. Your job might be repetitive. It may be an environment where you do almost the same thing all the time. However, you can choose not to tell the story that way but rather in a way that will favour you under the prevailing condition. Knowing how to tell your story is a superpower because it puts you in control of the narrative. Learn it.

Here’s an example using someone who does a repetitive job

Story 1: I work at XYZ Ltd where I prepare the management account every month and do reconciliation.

Story 2: Here’s what a typical week looks like for me, I get to work, meet with the head of the department to understand his expectation for the new week, we deliberate together on the best approach to go about handling the task then I move on from there to execute. Of course, at XYZ Ltd where I work there are standard expectations for my role which includes preparing the management account that the top executives’ leverage for decision making and handling complexities of the introduction of new items or changes in existing items…

Let me stop there as I believe you got the gist already. They both do the same thing but one person owns their story more than the other. And you must set yourself up to own your story. Don’t be a victim, don’t play the victim game.

Focusing on these three things is sure to take some energy from you but you are equally sure of gaining the maximum leverage and accelerating your career. Of course, there’s no overnight success anywhere. This is a long-term (infinite) game that requires you to play it with the best of intentions and a spirit of cooperation rather than competition.