This article originally appeared on Quora: What are some counterintuitive pieces of career advice that have helped people become successful?
As a headhunter, I’ve seen some candidates massively outperform their counterparts. Top performers are undoubtedly different and follow counterintuitive career strategies that propel them above the rest.
Here are their secrets to reach success quickly:
#1. Be selfish. Top performers work to please themselves above all else. They have financial and career goals in mind. They’ll work the extra hours they need to reach success faster, they’ll brown-nose as they please without fear of judgement, they’ll argue for raises as often as they feel necessary. They don’t do things to please you, they work to please themselves.
In essence, they don’t care what you or management thinks; their single-minded objective is MORE for themselves. They are chameleons and will always work to their best self-interest. Ego, while important, does not drive them. They can switch on or off as they need to.
Instead of always being a “team player”, keeping quiet by floating on the bureaucratic boat, or behaving like sheep, top performers ask for what they want and forcefully acquire what they need.
Top performers are as “team-oriented” as they need to be in order to get what they want. They will never offer their time, effort, or achievements as a sacrificial lamb for others to reap the rewards of.
They are never passive. You’ll never catch them acting like victims. If they feel underpaid, they get other offers to force their company’s hand. They don’t complain about why they feel undervalued. They recognize a problem, they act, and they move on. For better or worse.
#2. Jump around. As part of their selfish desires to achieve more money or career success, top performers will leave their current employers every 3–5 years*. They’ll maneuver deftly for the best position and compensation possible at every stage of their career. That’s why they’ll progress faster with higher titles and more salary bumps.
*Every 1–2 years is too frequent; top performers have to achieve success anywhere they go. 1–2 years is not enough to make an actual impact. They will wait for the most opportune “deal” to move on from their existing employer.
Because they’re always in control, they will refuse job offers and dictate interview terms as they feel ready and comfortable. They will not tolerate manhandling or threatening by headhunters, employers, or external factors. Upon making a decision, they will use people accordingly to achieve their career goals of moving for the best opportunity they can negotiate.
#3. Although you can move companies often, focus on a key skill which becomes a monopoly that you supply. Many professionals want to market themselves as flexible, malleable, teachable, and jack-of-all-trades. Instead of going deep, they choose to go superficially wide. These type of professionals suffer from a lack of true competitive expertise.
If you don’t have a special skill that differentiates you from the competition, then your market and economic value will decrease based on the ease of substitution for someone with your level of rudimentary exposure. To truly succeed in a career, you must reach an expert level of being the best at what you do in order to count. You must make yourself special. This relates to my next point:
#4. Pick a career you actually love and are good at. Don’t ignore the importance of career satisfaction and competence! This is not idealism; this is a maximization of taking the easiest career route by leveraging your strengths! It’s borderline impossible to be an expert and a passionate leader of a job function you despise.
Passion has an economic, emotional, and professional value. If you lack motivation or true care in what you do, people around you will notice and negatively perceive you compared to someone else who happens to love what they do. The toll it takes to fake it will overwhelm you; doing a job you hate is unsustainable in the short, medium, and long-term.
#5. Constantly learn people, sales, and networking skills. The rapid advancement of industry and technological trends today outpaces your ability to accumulate certifications or formalized education. In fact, the current education model is a depreciating asset because you’re learning old news less relevant to become a valuable employee in today’s terms.
In today’s world, learning is best achieved on-the-job, in real time.
MBAs are longer as useful or affordable as they used to be. Many people who invest in graduate education suffer from delayed work experience, higher debt, time wasted, and morale depreciation as reality doesn’t reward degree accumulation.
Professionals today need to network and learn outside of institutionalized education to get ahead. Instead of wasting time on theory, invest in your people skills by taking part-time or full-time jobs while studying, interacting with a variety of customers from old to young, rich to poor, blue collar and white. If you know how to work the people system, you’ll be unbeatable in any career. Hack people = hack the system.
There are plenty of ways to succeed in your career. Most people get by just fine by being middle-of-the-road, 50% percentile of their industry, role, or level. However, if you truly want to achieve the maximum level of success quickly, these points will help you assemble and deliver a different type of strategy.
On your journey, you’ll need confidence, perseverance, bravery, and dedication to go against the grain and follow your vision. The rewards that follow these counterintuitive career strategies outweigh the effort it will take to change your behaviors.
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As a top-billing headhunter on roles from CEO to Associate level, Dandan Zhu coached candidates how to best represent themselves during the job search process to any hiring decision-maker. Dandan is also a Quora contributor. You can follow Quora on Twitter,Facebook, and Google+