Professional networking and mentorship are important strategies to achieve professional success. Workers should also consider asking for new responsibilities, hiring a career coach, and negotiating for higher salaries, according to our survey of 501 full-time U.S. employees. Employees are more likely to do fulfilling work at a competitive salary if they strategize for professional success.
For American workers, the past year has been difficult.
Rising unemployment, the shift to remote work, concerns about getting sick, and the challenges of caring for children have tested workers across the country.
Despite these challenges, 86% of employees say they feel professionally successful.
Being professionally successful means doing interesting, fulfilling work while gradually earning more responsibility and a higher salary.
Most employees feel successful, but women in the workforce are more likely to feel professionally dissatisfied.
Twice as many women (17%) as men (8%) feel slightly or not at all satisfied with their careers.
How have employees maintained and improved their professional success during such a challenging year? How can people who don’t feel professionally satisfied improve their careers?
The Manifest surveyed 501 employees to learn what professional success strategies they use. We found that employees particularly value networking and mentorship. We also found that more employees should ask for different work responsibilities, negotiate a higher salary, or hire a career coach.
Professional Success Tips
- Practice professional networking
- Engage in mentorship
- Request different work responsibilities
- Negotiate a higher salary
- Hire a career coach
1. Practice Professional Networking
Professionals who develop a fulfilling career engage in networking.
In the past year, workers were more likely to network with other professionals (23%) than pursue any other kind of professional success strategy.
Professional networking helps employees make worthwhile connections and improve “soft skills,” such as making conversation, that are necessary to work with a team.
Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of Cheek’d, a dating app that connects people who are within 30 feet of each other, says starting a business that works to eliminate “missed connections” made her reconsider her approach to networking.
“The most important lesson I've learned about networking – which I wish I'd known years ago – is to take every advantage possible to meet new people,” Cheek said. “You never know who you're talking to, who they might know or how they'd be able to contribute [to your career].”
The most important lesson I've learned about networking is to take every advantage possible to meet new people.
Even those who aren’t operating their own business benefit from an active networking strategy.
J. Kelly Hoey, the author of Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World, believes networking contributes to professional success because:
- Networking introduces workers to people with interesting jobs
- Networking unlocks career opportunities by forging personal relationships
- Networking and social networks improve emotional health
According to Hoey, the benefits of networking are most accessible to people who do it regularly.
“Approach [networking] as a routine part of your day, versus a schmoozy activity only to be undertaken in times of career desperation,” Hoey said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced in-person activities, but employees don’t need handshakes and business cards to make networking part of their routine.
Cheek recommends that workers attend virtual networking events on social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Eventbrite.
She also believes that workers should also consider hosting their own small, virtual networking events.
Mostly, Cheek reminds workers that even in a pandemic, other professionals still crave community and connection.
“Networking can feel really scary and hard right now, especially if the only person you’ve talked to in-person this week is yourself,” Cheek said. “But just because large networking events aren’t happening, that doesn’t mean relationship building has stopped.”
2. Engage in Mentorship
Mentoring boosts the professional success of both mentors and mentees.
Fifteen percent of employees (15%) have been mentored in the past year, and experts believe that being mentored by an accomplished professional provides serious benefits.
“The benefits of having a mentor are priceless,” said Luke Smith, founder of We Buy Property in Kentucky, a real estate company that buys, flips, and manages real estate companies.
The benefits of having a mentor are priceless.
Smith believes having a mentor is especially valuable when the mentor has held similar jobs and responsibilities in the past. This way, a mentor can serve as a living road map for career success.
Irina Chernenko, recruitment manager at Django Stars, a Python development services company, says that employees with a mentor tend to move through the onboarding process more quickly and effectively.
Mentorship is a two-way street that benefits mentors as well as mentees. Being a mentor provides exposure to new ideas, an opportunity to think critically about how to succeed at work, and the job satisfaction that comes with helping somebody else.
Plenty of employees are reaping those rewards: one in five employees (20%) have mentored a colleague in the past year.
In particular, being a mentor can help employees learn how to listen.
“Mentoring enables employees to give something back and gain more valuable experiences than recognition or money,” said Dorota Lysienia, community manager at LiveCareer, a professional resume service. “Mentorship teaches mentors how to actively listen and bring their workplace relationships to the next level.”
Being or having a mentor helps professionals succeed.
3. Request Different Work Responsibilities
If you assembled a random group of 10 American employees, you would encounter a combination of talents, ambitions, hometowns, races, and ages. One safe bet: at least one or two of the employees would have asked for different responsibilities at work in the past year.
In fact, 15% of employees requested new professional responsibilities in the past year.
Experts say asking for new responsibilities demonstrates that an employee has professional direction, wants to expand their skill set, and is open to contributing more to their company.
Rolf Box is chief HR officer at Resume.io, a resume builder and career help service. He says that asking for new work responsibilities:
- Increases the chances of receiving a raise
- Makes a worker more marketable should he or she look for another job
- Prevents “plateauing,” or a sense of professional stagnation
- Provides exciting new challenges and skills
Some employees might be concerned that asking for new projects at work could make them seem ungrateful or unhappy. Box doubts many business leaders think that way, and believes that requesting new responsibilities is a crucial part of career success for two reasons:
- Requesting new work responsibilities signals to supervisors and managers that an employee wants to be a more valuable asset to their organization.
- Mastering new work responsibilities allows an employee to become a well-rounded, essential contributor to their company’s success.
Requesting new responsibilities helps employees demonstrate that they care about their company’s success. Then, when employees actually learn and perform their new responsibilities, they become more valuable and respected teammates.
The 15% of American employees who ask for new work responsibilities are following a useful strategy for professional growth and success.
4. Negotiate a Higher Salary
Traditionally, the amount of money someone makes indicates their professional success. Negotiating a higher salary, rather than waiting for a raise, is another strategy for achieving professional success.
Currently, fewer than 1 in 10 workers (8%) negotiate for more pay.
According to experts, fear of conflict prevents more employees from negotiating for a higher salary.
“Conflict is hard. Any situation where you are arguing against someone else is uncomfortable,” said Donato Callahan, founder and operator of Stepping Stone Houses, a real estate company. “But negotiating for a higher salary actually shows determination, confidence, and an awareness of one’s worth – in addition to the possibility of a pay raise.”
Callahan says that an employee who negotiates for a higher salary is probably confident in their ability to execute at work, which managers appreciate.
A request for a salary or pay increase is more likely to be successful when an employee is able to clearly explain why he or she deserves it.
“People who negotiate in good faith, professionally, and with clear and reasonable parameters, will often get most, if not all, of [the salary increase] they want,” said Michael Sherlock, who runs Shock Your Potential, an employee performance consultancy.
Sherlock has experience managing large teams, and says she was surprised by the number of sales professionals who failed to negotiate their offer package or salary.
Once, one of Sherlock’s managers scheduled a meeting to argue for a higher salary.
The manager arrived prepared with a compelling, specific case about why she merited a raise. The manager also asked for additional training and mentoring to help meet her goal. Her case was strong and Sherlock agreed to the raise.
“Besides the fact that she ended up with the raise, her process proved to me that her sales leadership skills were solid,” Sherlock said. “Her career trajectory changed that day.”
The woman who successfully negotiated with Sherlock for a raise did so despite traditional workplace behavior. In fact, women are four times less likely than men to ask for a higher salary.
Sherlock’s perspective suggests that women, like all employees, should consider regular, respectful, and well-prepared salary negotiations an important strategy for professional success.
5. Hire a Career Coach
The best athletes on earth rely on coaches to develop their skills and help them succeed. Some employees are no different. They meet with a career coach to determine their professional path and identify the skills necessary to be successful.
In the past year, only 4% of employees met with a career coach, though experts believe it is likely to become more common.
Career coaches are different than mentors or managers:
- Mentors serve in an informal or formal capacity to provide specific career advice and guidance.
- Managers are responsible for helping employees succeed at their current job.
- Career coaches are paid professionals who offer career services ranging from resume polishing to assistance with salary negotiations.
Career coaches help their clients strategize for overall career success.
“Oftentimes, employees are so focused on their day-to-day challenges that it blurs out the desire for future plans,” said Bradley Keys, marketing director at PatchMD, which produces vitamin patches. “With a career coach, I was able to realize what my dreams are in the long haul.”
With a career coach, I was able to realize what my dreams are in the long haul.
Keys hired a career coach three years ago, and says that his coach has helped him to:
- Identify jobs he is interested in
- Learn how to build his network
- Discover his professional strengths
- Market himself as a professional
Keys now feels much more comfortable developing what he and his coach refer to as his personal brand.
Executives and other professional leaders hire executive coaches who specialize in management and strategic thinking.
Jessica Bedenbaugh is an executive coach and the owner of Call it Moxie, a consulting firm that specializes in women’s professional development.
She’s worked with women leaders who are deciding whether to switch industries or put in for a promotion.
Her coaching focuses on preparing clients for interviews and salary negotiations. This way, her clients will have a better chance of landing an exciting job with a good salary.
For employees who want to pursue the highest level of professional performance, hiring a career coach can be a worthy investment.
Make a Plan for Professional Success
The current business climate can make achieving professional success seem difficult, especially for women.
Still, employees can lead fulfilling and successful careers if they:
- Network with other professionals
- Engage in mentorship
- Ask for different responsibilities at work
- Negotiate a higher salary
- Hire a career coach
Employees who engage in some or all of these practices are more likely to feel professionally successful.