Start charting your path to the corner office right now. It doesn’t matter how young or inexperienced you are.
Though you know you one day want a C-suite title, you realize it’ll take some time to get there. No one puts the recent grad or entry-level associate in the corner office off the bat.
So should you hang back and wait awhile before stepping up? Of course not! You should chart your path to the top right this very minute. As an aspiring executive, you need to develop your plan for a robust career now. You need to develop right skills, find the right connections and learn how to be in the right place.
Get started with these six actions and you’ll be well on your way to that corner office. (Click here to tweet this list.)
1. Grow your LinkedIn network strategically
Connect with as many of your coworkers and former colleagues on LinkedIn as you can. As you move along in your career, it will be even harder to track down the key people from your past jobs.
This will help you keep in touch with your network both actively and passively, build and foster relationships and help align future references for your executive position.
Connect not only with your peers, but also with leaders you’ve interacted with one level or more above your position. Additionally, do not shy away from reaching out to those lower on the totem pole than you. You never know where they’ll go, and you have no idea if a subordinate may rise faster than you.
Once you make the connection, stay connected on a regular basis to stay relevant, be helpful and remain top of mind. LinkedIn makes it easy for you to stay in touch and showcase your expertise through updates and activities.
The more ongoing social proof you have behind you, the stronger your overall executive presence will be. So get connecting!
2. Join college alumni networking groups
You spent all of those tuition dollars. Now it’s time to get a return on your investment. Joining your college alumni networks — both online groups and offline chapters in your city — can help expand your network and build your reputation.
These communities already have a built-in sense of inclusiveness. You have the opportunity to meet professionals at every level who have shared experiences with you and are willing to help another alumni succeed.
3. Find internal and external mentors
Mentors not only shine a light on your true potential, but also help guide you to the top through advice, support and advocacy.
You should have at least two professional mentors – one at the company where you work and one who works elsewhere.
Your mentor at work will help you navigate the corporate structure and gain sponsorship to move up along your career path. You want to build this relationship into an advocacy for you. Leverage this mentorship to get insider office politics information, understand who the key players are and hone in on areas of opportunity.
Your external mentor will help you grow in your field and expand your network of connections. Rely on them to help guide your long-term path, share trending industry information and become a known entity outside of your job.
4. Invest in your skills
No one cares more about your career than you do. Be sure to invest in your own personal growth and development.
Your focus needs to be two fold: Hard skills that are relevant to your industry and soft skills that help shape you as a leader.
Be sure to stay current on industry trends and emerging technologies as well as leadership techniques and best practices. The better-rounded of a candidate you are, the easier it is for you to be supported at the executive level.
5. Get involved in associations and charities
When you look at the boards and participants of many associations and charities, they’re filled with executives from different companies and functions. Associations and charities are a great way to get involved with an issue or organization that’s important to you — while at the same time mining networking gold.
You must be genuinely interested in the association or charity you choose for relationships to take root. It will take some extra work and time for you, but the lasting impact and connections are well worth it for aspiring executives.
6. Stop eating at your desk
Eating alone at your desk can be a career killer.
Most people think if they eat at their desk, they’ll be viewed as an industrious employee. While some corporate cultures may view that positively, failing to connect with fellow professionals outside of work can be detrimental to your career. Breaking bread with co-workers and professional friends is an effective way to do nurture your network before you need it.
Consistently leveraging these six actions throughout your career will help you stand out among other candidates. Keep doing these over and over, and you’ll make your aspiring executive dreams a reality.
Lisa Rangel of ChameleonResumes.com, is a former recruiter, LinkedIn job seeker group moderator and a leading resume writer. She authored the “DIY Branded Resume eBook” and “99 Free Job Search Tips from an Executive Recruiter.”