How to Get Ahead (Hint: It's Not Networking)

How to Get Ahead (Hint: It's Not Networking)
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Why you should care

Because to get a promotion, you first have to get noticed.

OZY and JPMorgan Chase have partnered to take a deeper look at how businesses can impact society for the better. Enjoy the rest of our special series here.

Valerie Rainford knows a little bit about getting noticed at work. She was the highest-ranked African-American woman at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York when she left her role there as Senior Vice President, an accomplishment she wouldn’t have even thought to dream of while growing up in the projects. “I was a hard-working kid who didn’t really have a choice, because I had to help out my single mom,” said Rainford. She paid her own way through college before forging a career in finance. Today, Rainford works to inspire more minority talent as Head of Advancing Black Leaders & Diversity Advancement Strategies at JPMorgan Chase. But whoever you are and wherever you’re from, if you’ve got big ambitions and big dreams, you first need to get noticed — an art Rainford teaches young professionals every day.

As the summer months signal a change in weather and wardrobe, it also invites a shift in outlook. The sun’s out, the days are bright, and it’s a good time to absorb the optimism of the season. What better time, then, to set the wheels in motion for your next big promotion? Here, Rainford tells us how to stand out to the people who can help you move up that ladder.

Do: Prep one-pagers

“To many, I’m known as the queen of the one-pager,” Rainford laughs, on the phone from her office in Manhattan. “I believe that every employee, no matter their level, needs to be able to articulate their value, progress and accomplishments for a given time period on one single page.” Rainford prepares one-pagers for every month of her work. In addition to being a useful document for meetings, she says, “The other value is you become more skilled in the elevator pitch; when you bump into someone and they ask what you’re working on, it will come quickly to you. It’s good discipline to know what your contribution has been, even if you don’t use it in every meeting.”

Don’t: Go out networking

A lot of experts tout the importance of networking. According to a 2016 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

Workers who got jobs through networking earned on average 6 percent more than other employees.

Rainford, however, has developed her own formula for success:

Success = Excellence + Exposure

Exposure means that, in addition to doing good work, you make sure the right people know you’re doing it. But, Rainford says, “A lot of people think about building relationships the wrong way. They think about it as ‘networking,’ about how to meet people over a drink.” Instead, she advises, “I think about it as, ‘how do you get to know the people who benefit from what you do?’ Find out who these people are, and establish a relationship with them around work.”

Do: Ask for feedback

To get a real sense of how you’re performing, you need an honest environment. “It takes the right rapport and the right feedback,” Rainford shares, calling this the “secret sauce” in the success equation. However, for feedback to be useful, you need to be able to handle it. “Enter all relationships as if you welcome feedback,” she urges, admitting, “that can be hard. You have to be thankful for it and positive in receiving it; you have to teach yourself not to be defensive. Your first response should always be, ‘Thank you for that.’”

Don’t: Forget to reflect

Rainford blocks off periods of her calendar for reflection every single day. She calls these windows “wrap-ups” explaining: “That’s when I try to get my head around what I didn’t get to do today and what I need to do tomorrow.” On Fridays, that window of time extends so she can get a handle on both the week that has gone by as well as the week ahead. “You have to figure out what did I do, what was I supposed to do, what do I have to do?” she adds. If you don’t know where you are, you’re less equipped to figure out where to go next.

In case you’re wondering why all of this is necessary, Rainford has an explanation at hand. “A lot of people think someone’s going to come along and make them successful,” she says. “They think, if I come in and do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll get recognized.” But, according to this voice of experience, that’s not how it works. Her final thought: “It takes a combination of strong performance and the right relationships — not just any relationships — to progress.” Don’t wait to get discovered, because you’ll likely keep waiting. Be the CEO of your own career.

This story has been updated since it was first published on January 18, 2018.