Now, that you’ve gotten yourself on the right career track, it’s time to start thinking about your journey to the C-suite.

Landing an executive position before age 40 is difficult, sure, but people do it all the time.

That said, it does take some hard work. You can’t just sit back and keep your head down. You need an in-depth knowledge of your industry, some strategic maneuvering, and a lot of proactive action.

If you’re ready to take hold of your future, here’s how to get started:

1. Work for a Company That Needs You

You should always work for an organization that benefits from your presence, a place that provides you with the most possible value. If you’re not meeting your full potential, you’re not in the right place.

By the same token, you should work for a company with a mission you believe in. You can’t rise to your potential within an organization if you don’t share its values. If you aren’t on board with what the company is doing, it probably doesn’t need you — but another company does. For example, an environmentalist architect would be more valuable in an eco-architecture firm than they would be working for a shopping mall developer.

If you’re currently looking for a job, find a company that will benefit from your skills and experience. You need to be of value to the department you land in as well as the company at large. That department will be your springboard for networking and promotion.

If you already have a job, contribute as much as possible. You want to maximize your potential. If you’re not using all of your skills and talents, ask your boss if there is more that you can do to help. Show them you care about the company and want to give all you can.

Try not to get stuck in the same position for too long. You may end up typecast in that role, and it will be hard for the company to see you moving up. If you get stuck in a rut because you’ve become indispensable in your current position, find your way out. Get on a new project that allows you to show the company you could be an even bigger asset if you were moved up the corporate ladder. If you can’t get out of that rut no matter what you try, you might need to look for another job.

2. Connect With Key Players

Networking is a crucial part of your journey to the executive level. You need people who will advocate for you when new opportunities pop up — not only within your own company, but also within your company’s customer base, your industry, and in related industries.

Identify the decision makers at your company and connect with them. Introduce yourself. Let the big players know what you do and how you help the company grow. Don’t be pushy or pitch to them. Just build rapport and prove your value.

Reach out to the CEO, if possible. Marc Benioff was working in a customer support role with Oracle when he caught the attention of CEO Larry Ellison. By the age of 26, he was a vice president of the company.

Be sure to attend events as well. There is a conference for almost everything now. If your company puts one on, find out what you can do to help. If an event hosted by another organization seems like it would benefit you, ask to attend it. If the boss says they can’t spare the money for you to go, bankroll it yourself. Meet people. Mingle. Make connections that benefit both you and your company. Come back with insights to share with your team.

3. Study Your Industry

No matter how advanced you are in your field, there is always more to learn. Keep studying up and acquiring new skills. Take courses that can help you grow in the field. Attend webinars. Read voraciously. Keep up with industry news. Connect on LinkedIn with industry influencers and read what they share.

Think about the future of the industry. Consider where it’s headed and the types of problems that may appear in the future. Think about how to solve those future problems.

The more educated you are and the harder you think about the field, the more of an asset you’ll be to the companies you work for.

4. Work on Your Leadership Skills

To become an executive, you must develop strong leadership skills. Take initiative whenever possible. Always do what you say you’re going to do. Take risks when you have the opportunity. If things go wrong, hold yourself accountable. Take responsibility instead of pointing fingers.

When an opportunity presents itself to demonstrate your leadership abilities, take advantage of it. Here are some examples:

- Volunteer for big projects and take leadership roles within them.
- Initiate big projects yourself.
- Delegate tasks when appropriate.
- Suggest new avenues for company growth and stay involved in the implementation.

Remember that the greatest leaders lead. They don’t push, backstab, or take credit when it isn’t due. That said, don’t be a shrinking violet, either. Speak up when you have a good idea. Own your successes.

5. Respect Your Peers

The journey to the top shouldn’t be cutthroat. Don’t step on anyone’s toes to get where you want to go.

Cultivate strong relationships with your peers, even if they’re competing for the same positions you are. When you respect people, that respect will come back your way. If you win the competition, don’t forget your friends. Give them opportunities to succeed as well. Remember that you’re all on the same team. There is room enough at the top for everyone. Many executives go on to launch new branches of their companies or found new companies together. Those companies are partially seeded by positive connections those executives have made in the past.

Above all else, remember that hard work is the most important factor in becoming an executive. At every step along the way, you need to show people you can bring value and help the company grow.

Remember also to have fun. You should be working in a role you’re excited about for a company you love. This is your life. Make the climb to the top enjoyable.

Kayla Cubellotti is the director of property management at Chestnut Portland.

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