Why Being Selfish is the Best Way to Get Ahead in Your Career

Jan 17, 2013 -
Who cares the most about your career: you or your boss? Who cares whether you’re getting paid fairly: you or Human Resources? Who cares whether you’re learning new skills that will guarantee job security in three years: you or a career counselor? Welcome to You Enterprises. Sure, your boss, HR and career advisors play critical roles in your work life, but they aren’t the driving force of your career. They expect you to take control of your own professional life, and you should see things that way, too. Being a team player is great and an important skill in the workplace. But for a few key issues, forget everyone else—you’ve got to be selfish if you want to see changes. That because at the end of the day, no one’s going to look out for you the way you look out for yourself. Here are the three things you need to be the most selfish about:

1. The work you do on a daily basis

How often have you done a job that wasn’t part of your job description? Were you performing that job for more than a few months? Did that help or hurt your long-term career? In most cases, this “different” job hurt your chances of getting a promotion in your core job, because you were spending your time doing something else that another manager requested. Pitching in is necessary, but sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself and say NO. Be nice, but give a good reason why you can’t do it. Managers are always trying to create the best team possible, even if it’s not in the long-term interests of their team members. In other words, their job is to do what’s best for them or best for their team—and that’s not necessarily what’s best for you. A lot of this has to do with personal branding. If you are known for doing X and you are doing Y, then you’ve got a serious issue to address.

2. How much you get paid

When was the last time someone from Human Resources came up to you and said, “You know, Jenny, I think you are being underpaid. Come to my office tomorrow morning and let’s talk about how we can adjust your pay accordingly.” If that has happened to you, great for you. But if you’re like the most of us, it probably has not happened. Unless you take an active role in how much you get paid, you will always be paid less than everyone else. There are plenty of ways to take an active role in negotiating salary. Come prepared with evidence of how much everyone else is making through services such as glassdoor.com. Often, HR or your boss will state that compensation is only discussed during your annual review. It’s a common tactic that is used over and over by employers. Yes, it’s true that there is a standard time to discuss compensation, but this does not mean it’s the only time to discuss compensation. The stronger your case, and the more the company needs you, the easier it becomes to get a pay bump before the annual review. It’s up to you to push your case and timeline.

3. Who you work for

Depending on the size of the company you work for, sometimes you have a choice of manager. The problem is that nobody ever tells you that you have a choice—and being part of a bad group or having a bad manager could seriously hurt your career long-term. Your manager will probably never tell you that a lateral move to another manager is a possibility for you. That could be because he needs you in his group, or because—as is so often the case—he has no idea he’s a terrible manager. Thinking about requesting a transfer? Could be a great move, especially if you like the company you’re working for. The best time to ask to switch groups is when a big project of yours has ended or is near completion. The easiest way for a switch is to find the group you want to work for and approach its manager. In the meantime, check out how you deal with a horrible boss. Robbie Abed is a technologist and career aficionado. His mission is to help talented people find a job through his book Fire Me, I Beg You and his personal blog.