How To Manage Your Career Successfully

lady in black clothes holding a mug that says "like a boss"

by Alan Matthews

A subject that often comes up when I’m talking to people I’m training (often in informal conversations as it’s not usually the focus of the training) is how best to manage your career.

Sometimes people ask because they feel their careers have stalled in some way, sometimes it’s just that they’re starting out and want to know what to do to get on as quickly as they can.

Thinking back over my own experience and from watching other people progress in the various organisations I’ve worked in, I’ve come up with these points.

I have to admit, I didn’t do all these things myself. To be honest, even at the time I knew I should do some of these things but decided, for various reasons, not to. I can look back now and see that not doing them actually held me back in my own career.

But, to some extent, that was my own choice. And it’s your choice as well. Being aware of these factors will help you, but it’s up to you whether you want to act on them.

1. Ask for feedback.

Most people avoid feedback because they see it as criticism. See feedback as a guidance system, it tells you if you’re on track. If you’re not, it’s best to know so you can do something about it.

If you’re looking to get promoted at some point, why not be open and ask someone, “What do I need to be good at to get that job? Where am I falling short at the moment and what do I need to do?”

Simply showing this openness and willingness to listen and learn will make you stand out.

2. Show a willingness to take on new work.

Be the first one to put your hand up when new work comes in. Look for opportunities to learn and develop and to expand your experience.

3. Get a name for being good at something.

Make yourself stand out in some way – be really good at something and get known for it. If someone asks what you value you add to the organisation, it should be really easy for them to see the answer.

4. Strive for excellence.

Don’t be satisfied with doing an OK job, aim to be outstanding. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. Plenty of people are happy to be mediocre and to make a moderate amount of effort, being just good enough. Get a name as someone who produces excellent work every time.

5. Be accountable.

Do what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it. Be reliable and hold yourself accountable for producing the results you say you’ll produce. Don’t give yourself excuses for not delivering, don’t blame other people, take responsibility for your own performance.

6. Be adaptable and embrace change.

Nothing stays the same, things always change. That’s a fact of life in any organisation. The skills you learned years ago won’t be enough now. The things you used to be good at won’t get you much further. You need to constantly adapt and learn. Keep moving, don’t expect to stand still (or your career certainly will).

7. Have a positive attitude, don’t be a complainer.

Workplaces are full of moaners and whiners. I’m not being cruel, it’s just true. There are always people you can find who spend their time criticising and complaining. Don’t be one of them.

Of course, you live in the real world, there will be things you’re not happy about and there will be people who drive you mad. But keep your criticisms to yourself and try to maintain a positive attitude, whatever the temptation.

8. Build relationships with people who can support you.

Get to know, and be known by, people who can support you in your aim to progress.

This doesn’t mean you have to be manipulative or go around sucking up to the boss. But, at some point, someone will have to make a decision about your future, whether to keep you on or let you go, whether to promote you or leave you where you are. At that point, you need people on your side who will stand up for you because they know what you bring to the organisation.

9. Find a mentor.

Find someone you trust and respect and ask their advice. It may not be your direct line manager (in fact, it’s probably best if it isn’t), but someone who knows their way around the organisation and whose opinion you value. Someone you can be open and honest with.

10. Take responsibility for your own career.

Accept that it’s up to you to look after your own career. Progress in any organisation isn’t like an escalator, where you just step on and get carried along until you get to where you want to go. It’s like several flights of stairs. You can use them to get where you want, but you have to decide where you want to go and then you have to make the effort to get yourself there.

I’ve never worked in any organisation, in the public or private sector, where senior people came round the office looking for people who did good work, sought them out and said, “Hey, I’m sure you’re doing a really good job here, how would you like to be promoted?”

It’s up to you to make things happen, don’t rely on others. Everyone else is busy with their own work and their own plans, they can’t be looking out for you as well. You need to put yourself in front of them, bring yourself to their attention by doing the things I’ve listed above.

I’m sure this isn’t a comprehensive list, but I do know that all of these things will help you to get where you want to go. Where that might be is up to you.

About the author

Alan Matthews has written The Book Of 100 Management Tips, which is available free from It contains tips to help you become an effective leader, including how to give feedback, how to deal with conflict, how to make meetings more productive, how to manage your time, how to… oh, far too much to mention here. Go and get your copy now!