The Tough Career Advice No One Will Tell You: Do the Messy Work.

My colleague Alison Elworthy is the Vice President of Operations at HubSpot, overseeing our international strategy and day to day operations excellence. She is one of the most talented people I know and has one of the coolest jobs at HubSpot.

People talk a lot about her accomplishments (deservedly so) but often overlook what accelerated her career path at HubSpot–her willingness to take on a job no one else wanted.

Three years back we were a pre-IPO company and needed to overhaul a significant portion of our sales operations plan. Everyone had an opinion on this and wanted to be consulted, no one wanted to own the hard work, decision management, and analysis that would go into it. It involved dealing with countless stakeholders and was the ultimate example of “herding cats”—it also transpired at a pivotal moment in the organization’s history.

Alison volunteered to take on this messy work and came up with a plan that was so significant to our business that, three years later, we still refer to it simply as—“The Elworthy Plan.” With the rollout and subsequent success of this program, her profile and career skyrocketed.

Many of you will spend the quiet week leading up to the New Year thinking about your career, here’s my #1 piece of advice…

…Volunteer for the hard stuff

Not sure what the hard stuff is? Ask yourself what keeps your boss, department leader, or CEO up at night. What could you do to address those issues?

If you’re still not sure what you could do, focus on getting shit done. If you’re the kind of person that eliminates excuses, is willing to break a sweat, and takes on the messy work your teammates don’t want—you’ll eventually find yourself in the conversations about those higher profile projects.

People who volunteer for the projects everyone else wants are a dime a dozen. So if you’re interested in accelerating your career and really challenging yourself to grow and learn, raise your hand for the sticky, unglamorous stuff that moves the needle on your business—your resume and leadership opportunities will thank you for it.

Decide what’s really important to you

You want more money? A bigger title? More time? Higher profile projects? Get in line—so does everyone else. You’ll have far better luck getting what you want if you decide what really matters to you and focus your asks and attention accordingly.

If you don’t know what really matters to you and makes you happy with your work, try this: think about the last time you experienced joy at work. Not just amusement or a good day—true, unadulterated joy.

Don’t stop yet…you’re just getting started.

Try to recall what happened that day.

You’ll likely recall an event: a big presentation, a note of appreciation from a customer, or a breakthrough moment with a direct report. You’ll likely also recall an action: you got dedicated time to write, you tried something different from your usual routine, you left work earlier than usual and got quality time with your family.

Events get lots of attention as people think about their work history, but it’s actions that are often the most predictive of what will fulfill you in the year to come. Let’s say for example you received a company-wide award last year for your work on a major initiative. It’s easy to focus on the recognition as the reason you were energized by the project, but ask yourself what actions preceded that award?—?was it more group work than usual? More analytical work? More space to think strategically?

Identifying the levers that drive your career happiness is far more useful than simply revisiting milestones. Don’t just take the time to recall big moments, invest the time to think about what drove that impact.

Another way to identify what is most important to you is to analyze what energizes you. Take a plain piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of it. Make the left side column “things that give me energy” and the right side “things that zap my energy.”

Do not overthink, overengineer, or overplan this exercise—just be honest with yourself and let your thoughts flow.

Make your goal for the month of January to move one item from the right side off your list of daily tasks at work and to ensure you’re doing more of one of the left side columns.

Don’t wish for a job that makes you happier, actively work on creating space for the things that are most important to you, the rest will follow.

Tell people what you want

I’m fortunate to meet a lot of people interested in career changes. In 2016, of the roughly 250 people I’ve talked to about their personal and professional ambitions, more than half haven’t told anyone they work with or for what they truly want to do with their lives.

That’s astounding!

How can your mentor, boss, or colleague help you navigate a path to your goal if they have no idea you’re even considering it?

No one can help you find your dream job if they don’t know what your dream is. Once you have an ambitious goal for the year, tell a handful of people what it is and solicit their advice for how to get there.

There will be scenarios where telling your current boss will jeopardize your career or current role, so use good judgement here. But in my experience these scenarios are more rare than we think, most of us are just too afraid to have that conversation.

Show people what you want

Executives, thought leaders, and experts are far more likely to take meetings with and risks on people who don’t just talk about what they want, they do it.

Let’s say you’ve always wanted to become a published author. You could spend your entire year setting up informational interviews or you could just start writing (Medium will do nicely) to show people how good you are.

Want to be an event planner? Take on two events for free for the experience.

Waiting for other people to choose you is a good way to get left in the dust. Show people you’re qualified by doing the work.

Ask 3 people you respect for some tough love

I’m highly excitable at work, which can be a great asset…sometimes. But a few years back, my boss pulled me into a room to tell me that my enthusiasm was hurting the team.

In my quest to express excitement for people’s ideas and the opportunity ahead for our team, I was not leaving enough time for folks who were more introverted to speak up and share their input. As a result, our team and product weren’t as high-functioning as they could be.

I thought about his feedback for an hour and realized he was right. To this day, I try to send notes out before a meeting to help folks brainstorm ideas before their arrival and to ensure that I ask questions before jumping to suggestions or next steps. My boss’s feedback felt harsh at the time, but gave me some much-needed motivation to reflect and grow.

I was lucky to work with someone willing to provide this type of radical candor. If you don’t think your manager is comfortable giving this type of feedback, be proactive in getting it. Ask three people you worked with closely in the past year to share with you one thing you could do to significantly boost your career in the year ahead.

Ideally, you should have this discussion in person. Turn off your defensive brain, and listen. You are collecting data on you, it’s not personal. Ask questions, ask for examples, take notes. Then give it 24 hours to soak in and come up with a plan on how you will use this feedback to improve.

Performance reviews, pats on the back, and promotions make you feel great, but it’s what people say about you when you’re not around that likely has the biggest impact on your career.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions, start off the year with a hearty helping.

Talk to people you admire

Informational interviews and meetings are the default solution most people look to as they think about their career plans for the upcoming year.

The good news: the vast majority of human beings, no matter how busy, are very willing to help great and kind people achieve their career goals.

The bad news: most of the people you want to meet with have been burned by countless people who no-show, don’t prep, or don’t make the most of informational interviews.

This is another opportunity to show your ambition and drive rather than just talk about it. Set actionable goals for every meeting, draft specific asks for each individual, and keep track of who you have reached out to and via what channels (HubSpot’s free CRM can help you with this).

Immediately after you leave each meeting, reserve 15 minutes for follow-ups. This should include a personalized thank you note to the person you met with along with any articles you discussed, resume or career material you promised to send their way, and notes to yourself on key learnings and insights to apply to your daily routine.

Networking for career growth should be strategic, targeted, organized, and thoughtful?—?your networking counterparts will appreciate it and return the favor by introducing you to people they admire and trust.

Here’s to a successful 2017!

Whether you want to learn a new skill, secure a promotion, make a career switch, land your first deal, or ship your first design, chances are you’re thinking about what’s on tap for you professionally in 2017. The most successful and inspiring people I know followed the actions above to accelerate their personal and professional growth in meaningful ways.

Know what your ideal career looks like.

Get shit done.

And always be the first person in line to take on that messy, high-profile project no one else is willing to touch.

Who knows, in three years you might be looking back remembering 2017 as the year you unleashed your own “Elworthy Plan” into the world. I look forward to toasting your success.


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