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Advance in your career by going beyond expectations

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on October 15, 2023.

Some of us don’t advance in our careers as fast as we would like. Others get more frequent promotions and advance much faster. Why the difference?

Harvard career coach Gorick Ng describes his “unwritten rules” for career success. In his podcast, Ng says, “How is it that people really get promoted? I was always told that it’s all about putting my head down, doing the hard work and letting my hard work speak for itself. It didn’t occur to me that doing the hard work is part of the equation, but its not going to be enough to get ahead. It’s about meeting/exceeding the … expectations that your manager never tells you about. It’s about the unspoken rules that are not in your job description.” 

Based on my own experience, these are the unspoken rules and unstated expectations. 

Demonstrate your value proposition

Be proactive and demonstrate initiative to solve problems faced by the company. Employers hire people who see possibilities and abundance, not those who see limitations and scarcity. Problems are opportunities. They are barriers to overcome. Demonstrating initiative is part of your value proposition.

Be customer/client-focused

The Holy Grail of every business is to be the preferred provider to its market—the company that is the first choice of customers/clients from which to purchase products or services. How have you provided a great customer/client experience?

If you are in a staff position, your job is to help other staff and line units within your company be successful in achieving their goals. If you are in a line position, your job is to help your company’s customers/clients be successful in their businesses. Have you done so?

Show commitment to continuous improvement

If you felt there was a more effective approach to accomplishing your organization’s goals, did you challenge paradigms, which are the accepted ways of doing things? Challenging the status quo shows initiative and desire to improve the company’s operation. Develop and demonstrate ownership in what you do.

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Build your personal brand

Develop a reputation within your company as a facilitator who brings people together to find common ground.

Become a thought leader in your field of expertise. Write articles on LinkedIn and other platforms. Volunteer to speak in front of groups. Help others be successful.

Be an influencer

How have you influenced the direction of your organization? People who are in sales aren’t the only ones who sell. Everyone is selling their ideas to their boss, their peers, the teams they serve on and their direct reports. This requires good presentation skills. It also requires good listening skills, not only to address objections, but to be open to other ideas.

Get out of your comfort zone

Employers want to hire people who embrace challenges and are not afraid of taking on new assignments outside of their comfort zone. It’s the best way to acquire experience, knowledge and new skills. 

Demonstrate emotional intelligence

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan, looks for people with EQ—emotional intelligence. Dimon says, “Humility, openness, fairness [and] being authentic are most important—not [being] the smartest person in the room or the hardest working person in the room.”

What are other elements of emotional intelligence? Show empathy. Recognize how others perceive you. Don’t communicate with others in a way that puts them on the defensive. Take the blame if it’s your fault. Give credit where credit is due. Don’t self-aggrandize. Treat people with respect. Remember, IQ gets you the job. EQ gets you promoted. 

Build relationships

Network with those within and outside your organization. Take the opportunity to make presentations at meetings where decision makers will be present. Demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. Become known as a problem solver. When a position opens up in another organization within or outside your company, you want to be considered as a candidate.

Be trustworthy

Without trust, little gets accomplished. If coworkers don’t trust you, they wonder what your hidden agenda is. They spend time putting defense mechanisms in place rather than running and growing the business.

Too often, toxic individuals get hired into a position and wreak havoc. At some point in your career, you might work for a toxic boss. Learn how to deal with that individual. 

Learn how to survive in a political work environment

Meet your commitments to others. Develop alliances. Keep your adversaries close. Build political capital. Most importantly, do your job and achieve results.

Follow these 10 rules and you will differentiate yourself from your peers to compete for that next promotion.

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at

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