5 Keys to Leveling Up Your Career

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: September 6, 2017

Something I’ve found to be true—whether in finance, real estate, or even in vacation planning—is that a goal can’t be attained unless it’s attacked with urgency and direction. Just as a house won’t last without a solid foundation, professional development usually is a byproduct of step-by-step planning.

Related: 10 Pieces of Career Advice for My 21-Year-Old Self​

My own career has taught me the importance of having the right attitude in the face of success or crisis. Work with gusto, stay motivated, map out a plan, and consider the most important pillars to scaling your career and evaluating new opportunities.

In Gallup’s State of the American Workplace study, 51 percent of employees say they’re actively job searching. New jobs come with new experiences, new challenges and a new set of skills, which are often hard to come by when sticking with your current gig.

Whether you’re looking to move up in your current company or jump into an entirely new field, the following five tips are imperative for leveling up your career.

1. Make barriers work for you.

Obstacles to entry can keep outsiders from easily breaking into certain industries. Without them, returns diminish and it gets harder to differentiate oneself from the pack. For example, not everyone can or wants to become a cardiac surgeon; the necessary 16 years of discipline (and the necessary brainpower) keeps outsiders from entering the practice. In the real estate business, though, there are low barriers and the possibility of high commissions, making it an extremely popular field.

But what sets the million-dollar-earning real estate agents apart from the rest is a barrier of willingness. These high-earning employees actively, decisively and brightly generate new business for at least two hours a day, every day of every week of every year. Whatever move you make, find the lengths you’re willing to go that others will not. That is what will ultimately set you apart.

2. Empower through influence.

Leverage can be defined as the power used to carry out a desired goal and can be separated into a few types: systems leverage, people leverage and financial leverage.

I used to buy and sell homes and turn them into rentals; I went from processing one to two homes a year for 15 years, to processing more than 300 in 12 months. That production spike can radically expand your world, but it can only happen when you use all three types of leverage to magnify your power and really make an impact. Figure out where your expertise is in each of those leverage areas to build a blueprint for your own growth.

3. Identify a role model.

If you want to kick your professional growth up a notch, look to the people who do what you do on a grander scale. What works best for them? What are they doing that you’re not?

When I was looking for an exceptional new client interface for my real estate syndication business, I turned to the internet to check out several websites from high-end investment firms. I didn’t rip off any of their designs; instead, I saw what worked for these top firms and determined whether any of it would work for me. A tip I’ve learned is to allow others to (sort of) invent the wheel for you. It’s OK to use someone else’s experience or knowledge to advance your own efforts.

4. Hire a coach.

Up until a few years ago, I had never even heard of someone hiring a business or life coach, and even after I did, I didn’t really understand it. But then I looked at it through the prism of sports: When two teams have equal talent but one has lesser or no coaching, it’s easy to figure out what’ll happen. Better coaching wins, always.

I think we sometimes see the idea of needing a mentor to guide us through our lives or business as childish or pathetic. But if a second-grade soccer team is worthy of coaching, why would your life goals not be?

5. Invest in your area of core competence.

People often get bored and want to move on right as they reach an apex. In fact, 10,000 hours on the job is found to be the single greatest factor in reaching outstanding success, but most of us lose interest and move on before reaching that benchmark.

Our core competence is where we produce the best results, a point where we have the greatest potential and the greatest creativity; it’s also where we might easily be deceived. Think of core competencies the same way you do barriers: They’re the above-and-beyond you’re willing to surpass that others aren’t. Always look for ways to invest in them and elevate yourself.

Success doesn’t come to you by putting off your goals and daydreaming of the moment they’ll all come true. The keys to building the life you want are centered on positivity, productivity and motivation. By breaking barriers, powering through leverage, identifying role models, and focusing on your bread and butter, you can alter the plan of action to move forward in your career—or thrive in an entirely new one.

Related: The Best Career Advice, From Successful People Who Made It to the Top

David Osborn

David Osborn is an entrepreneur, public speaker and author. He is a principal franchisee of Keller Williams, the 19th-largest real estate company in the U.S., which grossed more than $5.2 billion in sales in 2015. A firm believer in the principles of knowledge sharing and giving back, he regularly speaks and teaches on entrepreneurial accountability and contributes to causes such as cancer prevention and clean-water well building with nonprofit organizations. A father of three, David and his wife, Traci, live in Austin, Texas.