When looking for a new opportunity in the workplace, the natural tendency is to buckle down, work hard and hope that everything will work out for the best. In today’s environment that formula doesn’t automatically equal a raise, a promotion or a top spot on a leadership team. Professionals with dazzling credentials, but dim prospects, need to think differently about how to get up the ladder, whether you are a service or manufacturing worker or middle management rock star looking for the next move. I took the case to our experts and they all agree that opportunities still exist for women who are alert and assertive enough to make the right moves.

The Tools
1. A razor-sharp résumé. “A woman should have at least two résumés: a chronological one that shows career progression and a functional one that shows a range of skills,” says Anita Davis-DeFoe, Ph.D., chief visionary and CEO of the Afia Planning and Development Corp. and author of Follow Her Lead: Leadership Lessons for Women as They Journey From the Backroom to the Boardroom (Lightning Source). Be sure to quantify everything you’ve done: If you were the number one sales leader, shaved 20 percent off the bottom line, or spearheaded the company’s new cost-saving green initiative, put it in writing. And update your résumé at least every six months, especially if you’ve completed new projects or key assignments, says Davis-DeFoe.

2. Strategically aligned skills. As companies retool their mission, make sure your skills are in alignment. “Most skills are transferable. You just have to learn how to sell them,” says Dee Marshall, career and business coach and owner of Raise the Bar, LLC, a career coaching, training and development company. When discussing your last role, specify how you improved the business and how taking advantage of your skill set would help the company meet its goals, says Marshall.

3. An A-team. Mentors are those who can advise you on your career path, and sponsors can tell you of the right opportunity. To excel in your career, you will need both. African-American women tend to be very private at work; however, in order “to build relationships, it is essential to divulge some information,” says Katherine Giscombe, Ph.D., vice-president of Women of Color Research at Catalyst. “We advise African-American women to build a corporate image of themselves, which could include, for example, talking about their community activities that demonstrate leadership skills.” As your relationships progress, integrate your personal and professional life, seek feedback, and always give without the expectation of getting.

4. A personal plan. It does not have to be long, but it has to be detailed. “The key to having one is to understand what your needs are, where you want to be, and what experience you will need to get you to that vision,” explains Ella L.J. Edmonson Bell, Ph.D., associate professor of business administration at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “Recognize that your plan is going to change, particularly in this economic environment. Don’t think that moving up is the end-all. Look for good lateral positions, where you’re gaining new wisdom and new experience, and where you’re not only learning about the company but also the industry.”

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