These Experts Reveal Their Winning Formula for Career Advancement

how to advance your career

Sick of the same old career advice? The advice that tells you to find your passion, work hard, and hope you someday “make it”? Yeah, me too.

Olivia Gamber and Kevin Kermes, the minds behind Career Attraction, turn stale advice on its head by offering actionable, results-oriented job-hunting and career strategies.

In our interview below, I asked them all about millennials and work: how to climb the ladder when you have student loans, how to network without feeling slimy, and — yes — how to make more money.

Their answers were refreshing and astute — and you won’t want to miss them.

How to advance your career (even with student loans)

SLH: Why did you start Career Attraction?

Kermes: I started Career Attraction in 2008 because when I looked at what really made me happy, it was helping individuals navigate their job search.

We offer self-directed digital programs with a community and group coaching, as well as one-on-one private coaching with our team.

Through that, we’ve helped over 15,000 professionals find work they love.

Many of our readers would love to accelerate their careers but are burdened with student loans. Can you relate to that?

Gamber: I got my bachelor’s with no debt, but did end up taking out $20,000 in loans for my master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology.

I was able to pay that off in one year by maximizing my income growth. And that’s really the process I outline in my ebook, “The Career Upgrade Roadmap: 90 Days to a Better Job and a Better Life.”

It’s the exact framework I used to identify the role in the market that I would love and get paid what I was worth — without having all the experience and credentials.

Unlike what many of us are told, you’re still able to get compensated and make six figures without 10 years of experience. That’s how I paid off my loans so quickly.

Grad school’s a big expense. How did you make that decision?

Gamber: I’m a huge proponent of ROI (return on investment). So I talked to people who graduated from my master’s program and figured out what I could expect, income-wise.

My biggest recommendation is: Do not make an investment and go into that much debt unless you’ll earn more than you owe in a single year.

(Writer’s note: For example, if grad school is going to cost you $50,000 total, Gamber only thinks it’s worth considering if you’ll earn at least a $50,000 annual salary after graduating. Ideally, though, you’d earn much more; for example, her investment yielded a 300% return.)

Where did you work after getting your degree? How much did you earn?

Gamber: My first job out of grad school, I was an organizational development specialist.

And this is what’s interesting — I started out making $60,000, and within 11 months, I was able to get a new job that paid 70 percent more.

At the new company, my title was Manager of Organizational Development — the same job but with direct reports. When I first got there, my salary was $105,000; when I left, it was $130,000.

Um, what? How did you manage that?

Gamber: I continued to negotiate for more responsibility and compensation.

It’s about selling yourself and your value and understanding your audience — which is the executive. Getting in their head and figuring out what’s keeping them up at night and how you can position yourself.

That’s the type of stuff we teach. We’re very pragmatic in terms of looking at the market instead of focusing on yourself.

What if someone has a job, but is afraid of rocking the boat by looking for something else?

Gamber: The biggest belief that keeps people paralyzed — millennials especially — is “I’m lucky to have a job.”

That belief system keeps people from thinking anything better exists. It keeps them from even wanting to explore because they’re convinced they have no value to offer.

But what if they have debt? Then it’s way scarier to make a leap.

Kermes: Nobody is advocating that you leave your job and give up your compensation to go find something else.

You’re going to leverage the job you have now — and the success you’ve had — for a better job.

If you’re championing mediocrity on a daily basis and just kind of getting by in your current job, then you need to fix that right now. And if you feel like you don’t have enough responsibility, identify something that can be fixed — and then just fix it.

Once you produce the outcome, you have something you can leverage internally to get greater responsibility or greater compensation. Or, if your current employer won’t do it, you can take it elsewhere.

Look at the market for your own career advancement

Let’s back up. What do you mean by looking at the market?

Gamber: It’s figuring out: Who is the person I can help? What problems do they have? Where can I be most successful?

Then it’s determining if you’d like the job — and if you could get the job. That’s front-end target identification.

So let’s say you’ve identified a target: a problem to solve and a job that lets you solve it. How do you sell yourself to the employer?

Kermes: One of our frameworks is the XYZ Technique: I help X do or understand Y so that Z.

X is the person you’re going to work for, Y is the problem that’s keeping them up at night, and Z is the outcome they covet.

Instead of trying to go into interviews and give what you think are the “right” responses, figure out where your value is and what you can do exceptionally well.

How to make the right career moves and find opportunities

For finding these opportunities, you don’t recommend using job boards or recruiters. What else are people supposed to do?

Kermes: Once you figure out your message, your value, it’s sharing it with your network.

It’s getting introductions to new people and finding people who say, “That’s exactly the problem we’re dealing with right now. I’d love to talk to you more about that.”

It’s incumbent upon every individual to beat their own drum. In many cases, you can create an opportunity for yourself.

Can you break down exactly how you’d do that?

Kermes: In my first year out of the military, I devoted every day during my commute to getting on the phone and connecting with people.

I never asked for a thing — aside from if somebody was talking about someone who’d had a significant impact on their career or life, I’d say, “Hey, would you mind introducing me to them? They sound like an awesome person to connect with.”

The rest of the call would be all about them as a person — was there anything I could help with, etc. It’s about reciprocity, and quite frankly, about being a good friend.

When millennials are bogged down by so many other things — student loans, rising rents, etc. — why should they make their careers a priority? Isn’t just getting a job and paying their bills enough?

Gamber: Oh my gosh, no. If you’ve got a negative net worth, cash flow is the lifeblood of your household.

And cash flow can only be increased with a higher salary — which can only be increased with a higher-value position.

Kermes: Moreover, nobody is going to do it for you. Nobody is going to care more about your career and growing your bank account and your net worth more than you.

And I can tell you, from the ripe old age of 47, your concerns and obligations are only going to increase exponentially.

In addition to earning more money, how can you find a job that’s fulfilling?  

Gamber: The biggest mistake millennials make is focusing on “I want this” or “I want that.”

Flip that on its head and look for problems in the market that you’d be excited to solve, that you’d be really good at solving, and that also add a lot of value — a problem people care about getting solved.

Because when you become great at something that’s also valued, that’s where fulfillment comes in. When people lack fulfillment, it’s because they don’t see the impact or value of what they’re doing.

A big thanks to the experts behind Career Attraction for sharing their killer job advice with us! If you found this helpful, I recommend downloading Olivia Gamber’s free ebook, “The Career Upgrade Roadmap: 90 Days to a Better Job.”

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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