Five Steps for Revealing Hidden Career Opportunities

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Some people have all the career luck. You know the ones I’m talking about: they get to attend all the special the conferences, give the important presentations and land the high profile assignments. And they never have to look for jobs – the best jobs seem to find them. Their new hiring manager has already written up the announcement and welcomed them to their awesome new position before anyone else even knew the job existed.

How the heck do they do it? And what steps can you take to get the inside track on these hidden opportunities?

I once spoke with a woman who had taken a big step down in her career, walking away from a lot of responsibility to go to work for a company where she hoped there were more opportunities for long-term career growth. Not surprisingly, less than one year into her new role, she was feeling bored and underutilized, but still couldn’t identify any new roles where she might get back to leading a team and architecting a turnaround. She seemed destined to stay stuck where she was.

I asked whether her leaders knew this very specific goal, and she could not honestly answer that they did. So I challenged her to have five conversations with leaders in the next two weeks, and clarify her intentions during each one.

Later that day, one of her senior leaders stopped by to check in on what kind of progress she might be making with her current project. Just as he was about to leave she said, “Wait. There’s one more thing. I believe I have mastered by current role, and what I am interested in moving back into a role where I can supervise another turnaround.” She was slightly disappointed when he turned to go as if the message had not really sunk in.

But 15 minutes later he returned and said, “I think I may have just the opportunity for you.”

While it might seem like a lucky break, there’s actually a lot you can do to uncover hidden opportunities like this one. In fact, let’s break down the five steps you can take to take to reveal career opportunities that may be hiding in plain sight:

1. Go where the growth is 

If you want to capture new leadership opportunities, then go where your work matters the most.

For instance, if you’re working in a business or industry that is stagnating, shrinking or about to be disrupted, it might not matter how good you are. The budget for your career development will be limited. Career path options will be, too. So be honest with yourself: does your current situation lend itself to career growth opportunities?

Like the woman in my story, you may need to hatch a plan to maneuver into a business division or company that’s in a growth phase, even if it means leaving your current position.

2. Enlist mentors who have inside access to opportunities

Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. The fact is, it’s really helpful to talk to people who have inside information about where the business is headed.

Get to know rainmakers, those sales people who close the really big deals, as they know what’s coming in the pipeline. Also, get to know visionaries, such as the vice president of corporate strategy, or the rock-star principal engineer who’s leading development of your company’s next-generation product.

Finally, get to know the sponsors, those senior executives who have a track record of developing talent and throwing people into stretch assignments. Show an interest in what they’re doing. Ask about what they’re working on, what they foresee as the areas of growth, and how you can get involved and contribute.

More specifically, ask questions like:

• Where is our business headed?

• What will we, as a company, be doing differently a year or two from today?

• What can I do to prepare myself to add value?

• What new skills must I develop in order to be ready?

• Who else should I speak to?

• Are there any task forces, conferences or volunteer assignments where I can get involved and learn more?

Too many of us feel like it’s a weakness to ask, get involved or network, but those are exactly the strategies that all good leaders use to pinpoint opportunity. So why not use them yourself?

3. Become an asset

Rainmakers, visionaries and sponsors are busy people, but they’re also leaders who understand that their success depends on leveraging the strengths of others. So, how do you get them to notice you?

“Find out who are some of the best people in your field, follow what they do, and find an opportunity for them to get to know you,” says Sandra Veszi Einhorn, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Broward County, Inc. “One of the best things you can do for yourself is to be an asset to someone you aspire to be like.”

Volunteering to help out a sponsor, rainmaker or visionary is a great way to build “career equity” with them. Ask if there’s anything you can do to assist, and keep an eye out for ways to graciously and enthusiastically help them be successful.

4. Set small, medium and large goals

Based on the information you’ve been gathering, come up with some large, medium and small goals that would be wins for your career, but also for your company. For instance, a large goal might be to land a new job working in your company’s most dynamic division. A medium-sized goal could be getting funding to attend an industry conference.

Boldly go after the big opportunities, but in case they aren’t possible, have some more reasonable requests to fall back on, like having your company pay for your membership in a professional association or taking the lead role in delivering a presentation.

5. Don’t keep your goals a secret

Finally, don’t be shy! After you’ve gotten to know these forward-thinking leaders and built their trust, share your goals with them. Leaders are rated on their ability to be good talent scouts and asset developers, and often have to make critical talent decisions rapidly.

If they need to quickly staff up a new team or project, pick attendees for a high-profile industry event or make recommendations to a hiring manager and you’ve shown enthusiasm, you’ll be top of mind, especially if you have shared clear goals that align with their interests and are a win-win for your company.

In the end, it’s rarely “luck” that finds good leaders in top positions. Instead, these are folks who’ve mastered these five steps for revealing hidden career opportunities. Now it’s your turn!

This article was first published at The Muse.

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of BeLeaderly.com. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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