Office politics #1

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You're young, bright, and ambitious. You've been in your present job for a while. Now it's time to move on. Trouble is, the way companies are going these days there are no clear career paths, and flatter structures mean that promotions are few and far between. It's not just you, everyone's in the same boat. So how are you going to make sure that you get the job you want?

Know what you want

Gone are the days when it was OK to flit from one job to another, or to sit tight and just wait for the next move up. In today's business world, landing the right job requires real effort. Get it wrong, and you could find yourself stuck for many years in a dead-end job. So you can't leave it to chance. If you're thinking about moving on, make sure you understand what you really want from work. Think about the jobs you've done in the past and write down everything you enjoyed and got satisfaction from. Then list the things you didn't like and would ideally avoid in the future. Find out about possible new jobs, preferably asking people who have done them before. Compare this with your list and decide which fit the bill. Which of these do you have a realistic chance of getting?

Know what you need

With luck, you have the basic skills and qualifications you need for the job you've identified as your next move. If you don't, you'll need to get them. But it's important to remember that these are just basic entry requirements: most people interviewed will also have them. So you need somehow to differentiate yourself. Do you have other characteristics, experience - or even hobbies - that could set you aside from the rest? Be creative; don't limit your thinking to the obvious. Also, think long and hard about the job, visualise the ideal person for it, be really clear about what they're like. Then make sure you fit the bill. Not only will this set you up for a good interview, it will boost your confidence if you conclude that you really are the right person for the role.

Know who you need to know!

You may have everything you need for the job, but it's a sad truth that friends of friends, the chairman's daughter, or a trusted temp, are often selected over better-qualified people. A helping hand never goes amiss. Think through who you know. Could any of them help you out? Be bold, but not reckless. List the possible downsides of enlisting their support. At any stage of the game - whether it's a telephone conversation, a letter, or a meeting - be clear about what your objective is: what do I want to achieve here, and what's the best way of making sure I get it? Be prepared: don't just launch straight in. Getting the right job needs a careful strategy.

If at first you don't succeed ...

Remember, many people land jobs after initially failing to make the short- list. If you really want it, pick up the phone or write, outlining why it would be a big mistake for them not to see you. Have good reasons, and make it easy for them to give you what you want.

John Nicholson and Jane Clarke are directors of Nicholson McBride Ltd, the business psychology consultancy.