5 career secrets to get ahead

Want to climb that corporate ladder faster? You’ll need soft skills, your network and plain, old hard work.

With the collapse of our economy and advances in technology, automation and globalization, the workplace has changed significantly.

Today, there’s no linear career path. A college degree won’t guarantee you a job, and the economy is so volatile that where you start will probably not be where you end up.

Things that mattered in the past—your GPA and college major—aren’t as important as your network, online presence, work ethic and the right skills. These days we’re playing by a completely different set of rules.

Here are five career secrets that will help you stand out, create new opportunities and get ahead at work:

1. Think inside the box.

The average millennial worker will stay at his first employer for a mere two years before moving on. If millennials don’t see opportunities to move up, they may move out.

But there’s more than one way to advance and gain new experiences and skills. You can make a lateral move by switching to a different department or applying for a new position internally. When everyone is looking to move out, searching from within makes you stand out.

A lot of managers say they want to promote those who have experience working in different departments and business functions. This experience gives the employee a broader perspective on how the company operates, thus making him more valuable.

Thinking inside the box will open new opportunities you didn’t think were possible.

2. Be more than your job description.

Just doing your job isn’t enough to get ahead. If all you do is what’s written in your job description, your company can easily replace you with someone who will go above and beyond expectations. Once you’ve proven yourself, become dependable and shown your value, you can ask for additional responsibilities.

The more responsibilities you take on, the easier it will be for your manager to get ahead and eventually promote you into her position. Always keep your eyes open for new opportunities, and network as much as possible so you can expand your knowledge base, connections and value.

3. Focus on soft skills.

Managers are looking for soft skills rather than hard skills. It’s easy for companies to find professionals with the right hard skills, but finding someone who’s a good communicator, has emotional intelligence and is able to prioritize work is more challenging.

Put yourself in as many social situations as possible, learn to read people, get feedback from your manager and co-workers and work to develop your soft skills. As you move up in an organization, soft skills become more valuable because you’ll be managing people and leading them to accomplish goals.

4. Maintain your digital presence.

The Internet is the global talent pool. To receive new opportunities, you have to be part of it. The best way to do that is to have your own website and profiles on social networks-especially LinkedIn. If people can’t find you, you won’t get offers. More than 90 percent of companies use social networks to recruit these days.

But creating these profiles isn’t enough; you must optimize them by linking them together, peppering them with keywords that reflect the job you want and marketing them through guest articles, comments on blog posts and PR for yourself. Constantly manage your online presence. What other people say about you online is how the world will see you.

5. Acquire knowledge through connections.

While many people are trying to learn as much as possible to stay relevant, the best way to gather insights and get ahead is through networking. We’ve moved from an information economy to a social one that requires you to be in the know and rely on people to connect you with information and opportunities.

The size and strength of your network will determine how far you go in your career. Make sure you meet at least one new person each day.

Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career and workplace expert, the founder of Millennial Branding and author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.” A version of this article originally appeared on Brazen Life, a career blog for young professionals.

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