Prepare for Takeoff

What does it take to advance inside a large organization?

This was the topic of a recent Career Development Symposium that took place over several days at American Airlines HQ. Most of the events drew standing-room-only size audiences. I served on a panel with company executives that included: Dave Campbell, SVP Technical Operations; Lauri Curtis, VP Onboard Service; and Charlie Sultan, Managing Director, Financial Planning.

Some takeaways for taking off, career-wise:

  • Know what you want. Those at the top have the pinnacle view in sight, sometimes on the first interview. They are goal oriented and achievement driven. They target and deliver. Most high performers don’t meander their way into the C-suite.
  • Build from strength. What are your passions? Core skills? Where can you best apply those talents? This is the basis for your brand and your essence of excellence.
  • Expand your bandwidth. Manage your time and output. Know how long it will take to accomplish a task. Then gain efficiencies and improvements. Expand your capacity and level of mastery.
  • Go the extra mile. Don’t just do the tasks you are assigned. Take on additional items — even if your peers are doing less.
  • Seek input at the outset. Asking for feedback at the end of a project is a passive approach and puts the onus on other busy people to do something that doesn’t change the result. Engage the input of others at the beginning, as you define and develop the project. People love to give advice and you can put their view to work for an optimal outcome.
  • Join projects and task forces. Get a view of what is happening in other parts of the business. Contribute value and input from your current/past experience. Learn what roles and needs are evolving elsewhere in the company.
  • Be a good networker. Keep up with those you meet and interact with — on an on-going basis. Congratulate them on advancements and successes. Share ”best practices” that might be helpful to others.
  • Always be learning. Be curious! Ask questions. How? Why? Don’t take things at face value if you think they could be improved. Learn about the rationale, end goal and all the steps in between. Also…take advantage of training programs that can help you in current and future roles.
  • Take ideas to the next level. Don’t just make a suggestion. Flesh it out. Run the numbers. Scope a process. What would it take to implement? Put it in writing. Merchandise the concept.
  • Sniff out future possibilities. What’s on the horizon? Connect with hiring decisionmakers and influencers on future needs and staffing plans. Get a head start for potential consideration. If you wait until it’s a published posting, you’re just one of many resumes in a database filled with other hopefuls.
  • Become known. Say hello and introduce yourself when you encounter executives and hiring managers throughout your day. Better yet, give them a compliment on an activity or initiative. Keep an up-to-date C.V. and be sure to populate internal career development databases with your latest accomplishments and skill sets.
  • Pay your dues. In a large, global organization, you may have to take on lateral assignments and relocations to reach the top. Not every job role in a career path will reflect what you most like to do, but buck up and punch your ticket. You might have to endure short-term pain for long-term gain.
  • Make a difference. It’s what everyone wants in their organization. People who will step in, be ready and productive on day one — and truly be distinctive in their performance and contribution to the team.
  • Be grateful. (My own comment to the group!)

Yes, many companies are going through tough times. Yes, it’s easy to feel beleaguered and discouraged. But, believe me, it’s tougher on the outside — with fewer opportunities and much more competition for every slot. Just ask anyone in transition, particularly those without a severance package. It’s all a matter of perspective.

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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene