When it comes to Career Progression, is it really a case of who you know not what you know?

Career progression can take many forms. It may be represented by a promotion or new job role. For some it will be developing an area of specialism or becoming an expert in a particular professional field.


Build your network to progress your career

Throughout our working lives, it is natural to be continually mindful and at times actively focused on our personal development. Career progression can take many forms. It may be represented by a promotion or new job role.  For some it will be developing an area of  specialism or becoming an expert in a particular professional field, whilst for others it may mean finding a new position within a new organisation that offers you the culture, environment or challenge that brings you amazing job satisfaction. In a domain such as HR where job titles, salaries and areas of responsibility can vary hugely, not only from company to company but also from one period of business activity to the next, the possible avenues for career progression may seem complex and therefore difficult to navigate.

Regardless of work context or personal objective, when you’re thinking about your next step or any element of your professional development, most of us would like to think that it is what we know that will be our greatest strength, but perhaps fear that it is who we know that will take precedence. Can developing a personal network be something that we can embrace without undermining our professional ethics or integrity and therefore not something we should fear or look to avoid? Absolutely.


The Value to a Mentor

Internal relationships are often  key to positioning yourself for new opportunities.  The value of mentors, coaches or sponsors are well documented and relatively self-evident.  It gets you expert advice and support from those who know the route to success within the context that you are working and allows you to be talked about when not in the room.  To really develop your personal brand within an organisation though, it is worth thinking more deeply and far more broadly about the value of professional relationships with colleagues, peers and senior members of your company to ensure you develop relationships with true integrity and credibility.

When forging and developing relationships with your direct manager and senior management personnel, it is key to understand what matters to your company and your team specifically at a strategic level.  What problems are you facing collectively?  What aims and objectives are you looking to achieve?  As well as ensuring great communication with your immediate line manager, read journals and articles that relate to your industry and sector, pay attention to internal reports and communications and speak to people outside of your immediate team as all of this will help you to understand the wider business context within which you work. Once you’ve understood that, you can identify what problems you can solve for the team and how you can be the greatest asset to the achievement and advancement of HR or organisational goals.  To then deliver against those, will place you perfectly to develop exciting new areas of responsibility, increase your personal influence and value to the organisation and to pursue promotion opportunities as and when they arise.

Even in a fully generalist HR role, there will be areas of focus or specialisation that will be of particular value to your organisation at any given time.  For example, your organisation may be growing or has seasonal employee requirements and so Recruitment comes to the fore. Maybe there are large organisational changes on the horizon and so change management activities or the development of new policies or procedures are forecast to be prevalent.  Equally there may be indications in the wider HR community that Reward and Recognition will be a key focus for many industry sectors over coming months and years.

Even as an HR generalist therefore, in the interests of career progression and personal development look to develop specialist knowledge and be the go to person on a topic that is in demand and strategically important. Not only will this in-itself make you really valuable to your organisation, it will demonstrate fantastic personal attributes of flexibility, adaptability and the ability to develop expert knowledge.   Further to that, it becomes an opportunity to increase engagement with colleagues across your business.  It’s an excuse to engage with others, developing your personal network. Offer to design and deliver training, create regular publications or email circulations to share information that is of value and relevant to peers and managers.  It allows you to be known, but also to self-promote in a humble and values driven way.

Relationship development and personal branding is not a case of shameless “sucking up to the boss” or distasteful self-promotion. There is far more integrity and professional credibility to it than that. It’s about understanding what matters within your organisation and becoming known as a go to person when it comes to addressing the most prevalent challenges or achieving the most important objectives that you face collectively and as individuals. It is not a case of who you know rather than what you know; but instead a matter of understanding that both can influence each other and it is the relationship between the two that really counts.