How to succeed at work

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How, as a woman, do you actually get ahead at work? Style journalist Alice Olins, who, together with friend and career consultant Phanella Mayall Fine, is currently researching her first book on the subject, tells us how. Read, learn and get promoted. 

1. Love your job

If you enjoy your work, you will succeed. That is a fact. Research shows that successful women love their jobs, so if you dread going into the office, you need to make a change. To clarify, that doesn’t necessarily mean a big ominous move. Reignite the passion for your current role by honing in on the areas that interest you and making them your priority. Perhaps you are great at management, but get bogged down in admin? Or is it that you don’t like your job altogether? If this is the case, you need to take a leap and go elsewhere because career satisfaction = career progression.

2. Work smarter not harder 

Rejoice! Those who clock fewer work hours do better than those who work themselves into obscurity. Put down that laptop! Hide your Blackberry! Hey, why not book the rest of your annual leave as a holiday in the Maldives! Take care of yourself and you will be a more focused, more productive and in time, more successful employee. Because working too many hours does a disservice to your mental and physical wellbeing. So if you are reading this before 1pm, take a proper lunch break. Otherwise, clock off early and enjoy some technology-free peace.

3. Talk yourself up

Women who self-promote get ahead. The problem is the majority of us are too darn British about the whole thing. We’d rather keep quiet and let our work do the talking than publicise our achievements. Bad move. If you don’t do a little personal PR then no one will know you’re any good. If you want to know the back-story, then this hesitance-problem started at school. Because while our male peers got gold stars for being vocal go-getters, boasting was an absolute no-no for us girls; this, experts believe, has a direct impact on our ability to self-promote later in life. But better late than never, so in your next team meeting, try saying ‘I did that’ or ‘My hard work won us that pitch.’ If the thought of being so brazen makes you wince, you aren’t alone. Just remember, the more you talk yourself up, the more others will believe it.

4. Wear it right 

How you look impacts on how you are perceived. If you are unsure whether you are doing yourself a disservice with those pleat-front trousers you bought in 1998, then stand in front of a mirror and take an objective look at yourself. Or better, get a friend over, run through a few work outfits, and see what she says. Then identify a more senior (read: more successful) woman in your company who you think really looks then part, and methodically breakdown what she wears. Here are three areas to focus on: neckline (is it too low?), hair (is it too long/dirty/Mohican?), and shoes (too lady-of-the-night/too construction worker?) When in doubt, look sleek and simple. And take off those chandelier earrings.

5. We are the champions 

A champion, for those not in the know, is someone at work, someone higher up the ladder who can fight your corner when opportunities arise. Perhaps you’ve befriended a line-manager in a different department, or do you share the same hobbies as the CFO? If so, befriend that person. Ask them for coffee, talk them through your career objectives and watch the relationship grow. After some time, you might even want to ask that person if they’ll become your sponsor, because sponsors have a lot of power and can help you ascend to the top.

6. Let's make a plan 

Conscious. Career. Planning. It might a bit sound a bit Gwyneth Paltrow, but a proven way to progress at work, is to sit down and write a plan of attack. Your seniors haven’t just found themselves where they are; they’ve identified the positions they want to fill and knowingly worked to that end. Start by setting goals for the next month. Once those are sorted, do your next year and then, your next five years. When your timeline is sorted, identify the skills you’ll need to get those jobs. Learn them and then watch yourself ascend.

7. Manage down 

If you have a team, treat them well. Because according to research, effective downward management accelerates performances, which in turn improves results, which consequently makes you look fabulous. Learn to help your team achieve their goals and you will enjoy the reflected glory. Not to mention, a contented bunch of work mates. If you need guidance on how to boost the team, try removing barriers from their career paths, encouraging collective work projects and crucially, acknowledge their individual achievements. If you get your downward management right and your career will soar.

8. Make confidence crucial 

Feel as though you are bad at your job? Well, if you give off that vibe, then those around you will sense it. A lack of confidence, is a career killer. Which is why you need to learn how to appear self-assured, even if you’re shuddering inside. Confidence is an aura. It is an aura that says, ‘I am great at my job.’ And happily, it is an aura that you can learn. To begin with you’ll probably need to fake it: stand tall, use stronger language (try dropping those maybes), make eye contact and speak up. In time, these traits will become instinctive and you’ll find that you actually feel as confident as everyone else believes you are. Result. 

By Alice Olins