Dear Joan,

I would like some information on how NOT to get stuck in a job. I have focused on my current position only to become bored, frustrated and miserable. I need to be challenged and interested, and I need to go forward. What skills will I need to:

1. Stay in the inner circle with the manager, so I know what is happening and recognize the KEY people.

2. Get promotions and know when is the best time to move out of my present position.

3. Know when the promotions are available, where to get the information for these positions, and who are the key people to contact.

4. Know how to juggle a heavy work load and still be aware of opportunities.

5. Know how to juggle a heavy work load and work on special projects.

6. Know how to get credit for working on special projects and recognition for a job well done.

7. Know how to put out fires started by people with less authority who have gone over me and caused trouble with my immediate management.

The questions you ask can't be answered with a simple reply. They require some insight that can only be gained by reading relevant career articles and books, seeking out mentors to help you and, most important, discovering who you are and what you want.

I think you would benefit from creating your own "board of directors." A career board is a small group of people with wisdom and experience, with whom you "click" on a personal level. These chosen few must care about you enough to give you career advice on an ongoing basis.

Here are some tips to get you started on your journey:

1. Regarding the skills you need, get some career counseling. This will help you to sort through your aptitudes and interests. Consider the money an investment in your future which will prevent lost years and more frustration.

Before you take your next job, spend enough time interviewing your new manager to determine if he or she is likely to develop you and challenge you. Ask to meet future co-workers to determine if this is the right environment for you. Ask which skills are rewarded, what kinds of career development opportunities there are and how often you will be able to meet with your manager to discuss your career development. Your career development is your responsibility so you will need to be assertive about getting feedback and pursuing development goals, but you will have a big advantage if your boss is willing to help you grow.

2. Regarding political savvy, the best way to stay in the inner circle is to pay as much attention to your interpersonal relationships as you do your business results. Make sure that you chat with your boss and peers on an informal basis, since that is where your relationships will form. But do more listening than talking. Always be willing to lend an ear and a hand.

Develop a reputation as someone who is utterly reliable, ethical and results-oriented. That means get it done, do it well and don't complain about it. In addition, you must be easy to get along with or all the hard work in the world won't save you.

The KEY people are those people who are in a position to notice your results and do something about your future. Seek political counsel from your manager and others with influence. Ask your manager who you need to meet and how to get visibility for your work. Keep in mind, however, that your work won't see the light of day unless it is well executed.

3. Regarding advancement, sit down with your manager and ask him or her which specific skills are required to advance in different jobs within and outside the department. Share your career interests. Ask where the gaps are between where you are now and some potential next steps.

Come up with a game plan for the year ahead. Start watching job postings at work and want ads. Study the requirements and measure yourself against them. If you need a degree, go get one. If you need different experience, try to find a way to get it either on your current job or in a volunteer capacity.

Don't expect other people to know which job openings are right for you. That's your job. At the very least, identify two or three areas of interest and begin networking with people in those jobs to see if they match your expectations and abilities.

4. Regarding how to keep one eye on opportunities when your workload is heavy, take every opportunity to use your projects to meet people around the company and outside it. Call people who can give you advice on some aspect of your project. Go visit key decision-makers to find out their expectations on the project. Use the project to open networking doors. And while you're at it, make sure you tell little mini-stories about how well the project is going or how you overcame a challenge. Subtly drop into the conversation some good examples of your results.

To simplify it, your success depends on three things: 1) a sense of the direction you want to take in your career and a willingness to do what it takes; 2) your ability to hone your skills and develop new ones as you need them; and 3) your ability to get along with those around you and get things done with and through other people. The answers are in the journey.

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