Tiny career moves that make a big difference

Small investments in the right direction can earn big dividends over time.
Tiny career moves that make a big difference

If pursuing your career goals is akin to following a GPS map, then each turn you make in the right direction gets you closer to your career objectives.

“Your goal is the destination, and what you need to start doing is making the correct turns to get you there fastest,” said Mike Whitaker, US-based author of The Decision Makeover: An Intentional Approach to Living the Life You Want. “A GPS plots the straightest path between where I am now and my goal, and it tells me the best decisions, the lefts and rights. If you make a wrong turn, what does it do? It re-routes you — that’s decision-making at its best.”

Once you’ve figured out what your primary goals are, following these relatively small steps can make a big difference.

Rethink how you want to be perceived. It’s often difficult to recognise your own flaws. Find someone in your industry who exhibits the traits and presence you admire, and deconstruct the behaviours that make them stand out. Then do a 360 with your colleagues and peers to discover the gaps between how you’re perceived now and how you would like to be perceived. Ask yourself what you need to work on to bring you up that level.

“It’s tough because you have to examine your own flaws, but it’s not insurmountable,” said Lucy Foster, senior international career and transition coach with IMPACT Group based in the UK.

Examples of small changes you can make include the way you dress, the time you arrive at work, the way you speak in meetings, and the way you follow through.

“If you say you’re going to do something — do it. It can be as basic as that,” Foster said. “Work on your reputation, and as your reputation builds, so will your career opportunities.”

Meet with someone new every week. Networking is always going to be crucial to achieving your career goals, especially in finance. By making small efforts to reach out to people whose orbit you would like to be in, you will not only learn a surprising amount, but also build a web of people who will advocate for you.

Whitaker recommended going to lunch with somebody you don’t know every week from another company to learn what else is going on in the world. He also recommended attending conferences, industry events, and placing yourself in any situation that will open you up to new people.

Take up more space. Especially with female clients, Foster emphasises the importance of owning your real estate.

“Even within a meeting, it’s important not to let the men around you take up all the space,” she said. “Hold your place at the table and have a presence. That doesn’t sound like a big thing to do, but it can feel like it.”

And along those lines, making an effort to be heard in those meetings will make a huge difference in how you’re viewed within the company.

“It’s learning how to speak to people, attending more meetings, and speaking up in those meetings, but in the right way and at the right time,” she said.

Get in on the pre-meetings. Foster pointed out that, oftentimes, even before people sit down for a meeting, a lot of the discussion has taken place in “pre-meetings”. Whether that’s near the coffee machine, at the water-cooler, or in the lift on the way up, colleagues often mull over issues amongst themselves before sitting down for a formal meeting.

“You need to try and get into those pre-meetings,” she said. “So that when you’re in there, you can say, ‘Oh, when we were talking about this the other day, Roger, you said, x, y, z, …’ That way you’re demonstrating your expertise, that you’ve listened, and that you actually have something serious to say.”

Spend 20 minutes a day on your online presence. It’s vital to show that you’re engaged in the world — that you’re interested and interesting. One simple way to do that is to engage with people in your industry online by connecting, commenting, and sharing articles. At the same time, it’s important to demonstrate that you have something to say as a thought leader by publishing articles, being interviewed as an expert, and posting relevant content.

“I build into my day, at least 15 minutes looking on LinkedIn, liking, and commenting, because it’s important to show that you’re involved and engaged in the world you work,” Foster said. “It’s such a simple thing to do, but it’s really important.”

Always be learning something new. Learning the latest technology in your field and forcing yourself to be as technologically knowledgeable as the youngest person in the office is a good way to demonstrate your drive and relevance, according to Whitaker.

Maybe you sign up for a course after work that in six months is going to have you certified in an area that is relevant to the career you want. Once you start making these small good decisions, you may find yourself on what Whitaker calls a “decision streak”.

“A decision streak is like a hitting streak in baseball,” he said. “When you start making good decisions, they pick up momentum and build on each other. Just as good financial decisions over time slowly build into a nest egg, decision streaks will gradually result in the career you want.”

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at