Your guide to getting ahead at work - and fast

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Traditional business thinking is that there’s a strict chronology to success, but what if you aren’t prepared to spend the next five years doing donkey work in a cramped cubicle on the off-chance that you might eventually be promoted to a corner office (and even then not the one with the best view)?

Here’s how to fast track your career…

Choose the right company

There’s no point in getting to the top quickly if the top of your particular company isn’t much in the first place. And, if you rationalise taking a job at a below-par company by saying ‘I’m just using this as a stepping stone’, keep this in mind: "weak or failing" companies can have good employees, but would you… rather hire them or someone from a successful company?

"Most often the latter candidate wins," says Mireille Guiliano, former CEO Clicquot, Inc. (LVMH) and author of Women, Working & the Art of Savoir Faire.

Your CV speaks before you do, so make sure it shows a good employment history: Guiliano suggests getting a local or global brand name in your profile during the first half of your career.

Sell yourself, smartly

"Now is not the time to be a shrinking violet," says Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions. "You are your own brand and you need to promote yourself to your employers."

This doesn’t mean being obnoxious and drawing attention to yourself – it’s about choosing the right moments to show your boss how much others value you. And don’t just use the moments they expect (performance reviews or formal meetings), but also casual opportunities such as taking the lift together.

Align yourself with the right person

"Hook your star to a talented and dynamic leader," suggests Guiliano. A good place to look for this leader is in the position you’re aiming for. And don’t hide that fact from them – tell them that you want their advice because you’d like to reach their level of success. Flattery is a great tool – use it.

Get out of the office

"Managers and handbooks tell you the official policies around promotion, but there are often unwritten requirements for advancement, such as high visibility, that are communicated only through informal networks," says Nancy Carter, vice president for research at Catalyst, an NPO working to expand opportunities for women in business.

By becoming a part of these informal networks you’ll have access to information not always conveyed by e-mail, and you’ll get the chance to let the people who matter know what your career aims and goals are in a less threatening and more equal environment.

Take risks

You’ve become part of these informal networks and have just heard – before any official announcement – that the job you’ve been gunning for (but which should technically only come your way in a few years) is opening up.

What to do? Don’t suddenly become modest – speak to the decision-makers and ask for an interview. Let them know why you’re the right person for the job, and if you’ve already proved this with a stellar performance in the office and savvy networking out of it, then half the battle is won.

But keep in mind the right time to make your move: there’s getting ahead fast and then there’s being so focused that you ignore the signs that it’s the wrong time to ask for a raise or promotion.

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