If you’re looking to make progress in your career, it’s no longer just about being the best at what you do. You have to have more than that -- you have to be a well-rounded contributor.
An engineer is expected to understand business and marketing concepts. A lawyer is expected to understand commercial markets. A doctor is expected to understand management philosophy. In this competitive world, making progress in your career is about seeking out dynamic roles that will give you new, essential responsibilities. You’ll become indispensable in the process.
Pro-tip to get started: Try to do an opposite role at work
As an engineer myself, I volunteered to be the deputy to the office manager. The work had little to do with my responsibilities as an engineer, but it gave me an appreciation for the larger business operation.
I had to work with suppliers who didn’t conform to engineering principles or service level agreements. I had to learn about costs and budgeting for services. Suddenly, I was involved in making sure our office got maximum bang for our buck, and that’s definitely not what I do day to day.
For engineers like myself, taking up non-engineering projects at work can be a great way to get out of our comfort zone and develop managerial skills. I wouldn’t have experienced any of this anytime soon had I stuck to my engineering role.
The impact won’t always be instant
To make progress with your career, you need to think long term and take a holistic view of your development. That one outside project as an office manager’s deputy won’t make me the next project lead. But the experience gave me a different perspective and one that lets me do my job better, opening up future opportunities to show off my understanding.
Whether it's opportunities to manage or to sit between teams in a cross-functional, critical role, having a more well-developed understanding of every part of the business is the key to career progress.
Sure, being the best marketer can make you the lead marketer on a team, and that might be enough for this period in your career. But the eventual VP of Marketing might have a business background that allows her to better utilize resources. The Partnerships guy might be a former developer who understands integrations. Don't lose out on a C-level position to an external hire just because people see you as one-dimensional. Stay dynamic.
Some musts along the way
Optimize on productivity
Whether in your role or while volunteering for another, always make sure you’re adding value. No one wants to see the salesperson miss their quota because they were learning about HTML and CSS. Either find a way to directly contribute or make sure what you’re learning can be directly applied to your day-to-day function.
Don't surprise your manager
Most managers won’t mind cross-function experiments or education when they’re well informed. But they definitely won’t want to walk out of their office to see you’ve been spending most of your time with another department. Talk to your manager about your objectives and plan with them.
And always think about your career, because no one else will.