How can I improve my career growth?

A little career advice from our CEO & Founder, Joseph Chou.

Last year, I helped my nephew, a recent university graduate, earn $200,000 in his first year.

Like many ambitious young people, my nephew had managed to do well at university and had secured himself a role at KPMG, which he was all set to take – until I convinced him not to.  Or more accurately, until I broadened his mind to larger possibilities.

For those of you who have come along to one of my seminars, you will know that one of my biggest passions is working with people. And more specifically, helping people build bigger dreams and then understand how to go out and achieve those dreams.

My nephew had dreams, but they were still well within the conventional scope – a global brand, a good starting salary and the ability to progress up the ranks over time.

While he is smart and ambitious, he is also young, with limited experience of working with people.

I often say that everyone needs to learn sales skills, at the very least, because you’re going to need to sell yourself at a job interview or for the next leadership role. But the truth is, having “sales skills” doesn’t have anything to do with “selling” at all, it’s actually about knowing how to communicate effectively with people.

My nephew took this advice, and instead of the KPMG role, he decided to spend a year in Australia (he lives in China) working at a retail property sales company. While I didn’t offer him a job at Ironfish – we tend not to hire family members so as to keep our company culture entirely based on merit – I did agree to be his mentor.

We met once a month, and I would give him training and career advice. The first thing I said is that it’s important to trust me. “There’s no point asking me to be your mentor if you don’t trust my experience and my judgement. So please, just follow my advice exactly, and you will get results,” I told him.

“Secondly, let’s set a goal: to earn $200,000 this year – the equivalent of RMB1,000,000.”

He worked hard, though to be honest, he probably only worked at about 70% capacity – and still, he managed to meet his goal of earning $200,000 in his first year.

Two weeks ago, my nephew returned to China with a number of job interviews already lined up. After his year in Sydney, he has not only gained so much valuable experience of working with people, he also has a great story to tell at his job interviews.

Imagine turning up to an interview along with hundreds of other graduates, except that you can say, “in my first year of work experience, I earned $200,000.” Suddenly, you stand out.

While not everyone is looking to move into sales, the underlying principles of his success are universal.

  1. Identify your career goals

Most people, when they start out in their career are looking for one of three things:


Perhaps by looking for a job at a large organisation or the government. However, job security may come at a trade off with limitations as to how far you could progress.


A Fortune 500 company or a globally recognised brand. These types of companies tend to attract very talented people. But the culture of the organisations doesn’t tend to support ‘exceptional’ growth. Many successful people might reach a bottleneck in their career, and find their dreams, income and career growth will plateau after a while.


To grow skills, responsibility and income; for this goal, a smaller organisation may be better suited. In smaller organisations you will be required to wear more hats, multi-task more and take on responsibility more quickly.

If you’re planning a new career, my first piece of advice would be to identify what your career goal is. This will help you narrow down the options of what type of company you may want to work for.

how can i progress my career

Are you looking for security, prestige or opportunity in your career? Identifying your career goal is the first step.

  1. So how important is money?

A great starting salary can be very tempting, but if you’re looking for opportunity or growth in your career, it shouldn’t be a top concern. In fact, I’d say, don’t worry about your starting salary at all. Instead, if you get to your interview, when it comes time to ask questions of your interviewer ask them these questions:

  • What is the organisation’s vision and values?

If you’re ambitious, there’s no point working for a company without a vision for its future. As we often say, if you stop dreaming you stop learning and if you stop learning you stop growing as a person. The same applies to a company. You also want to ensure that you’re going to be putting all your efforts in for an organisation that means something to you. Do you align with its values? Is it a workplace you can be proud of?

  • Is there a good working culture here?

Is it a collaborative culture, where people help to build each other up? Is it a happy place to work – consider, you’ll spend 8 hours a day at work, the workplace culture is important.

  • What kind of person is my boss – what are his or her achievements?

Does your boss have good values; can you learn from them; do they have a generous outlook and are willing to share opportunities or is it just about profits at all cost?

  • Who is in the team – who will I be working with?

Will you be going home with a smile, or bringing home negativity from work? What are your team members like? What are their achievements, what can you learn from them?

Or if you’re thinking of going into business with someone, do you have shared values and vision. If a partnership – of any kind – is formed on short term things like money or looks, it’s not going to last.

  • If I give it everything I’ve got, is there room to grow?

This is an important one: as long as the company you choose provides a platform for growth if you prove yourself, then your starting salary doesn’t matter. Consider the long-term potential instead.

  1. Adding value

I am a big believer in adding value. Imagine if you’re renovating your house, and you have a tradie come to fix the plumbing. You then discover there is an electrical issue, and your tradie has the option to say: “hey that’s not my job,” forcing you to search around and book in another tradie. Or they might say, “oh I know someone who could do that for you” and organise to get it done. Most people are very willing to pay for the service.

how can i progress in my career

Look for ways to add value to the business; have an ‘owner’s mentality’ to your work.

If you can add value to the business that is quantifiable, sooner or later people will start to recognise your value and will reward you accordingly.

I often say to people, “If you had invested $1 million of your own money into the company you work for, would you work differently?”

No doubt, the answer will always be yes. Having an ‘owner’s mentality’ will transform the way you work, and this will help you stand out.

Many people ask me, but what if I do all the above, give it everything and I still don’t get the recognition? If that’s the case, it’s still not a problem, because your time has been well spent; you’ve learned so much, you’ve grown so much, and you have results that can be replicated again at another organisation that values your contribution more!

How long should I stay? / Why should I leave?

Once you’ve been with your chosen company for some years, the next thing many people consider is whether to stay or whether to move on.

Most people will stay with a company if their needs and goals are being met. They will leave when they’re bored or they don’t like the people anymore or they didn’t get a pay rise.

The right team

Having the right team around you is essential. You’re at work for eight hours a day; you want to be with people you like, share some laughs, share the workload. You don’t want to go home with nothing left in the tank. For me, working with the right people is so important. If I don’t like the people and don’t feel confident that we’re aligned in our values, then we don’t do business with them, no matter how good the deal might be.

That said, no matter where you go, you’re going to encounter people who are difficult to work with. You could change jobs to avoid certain people but there’s no guarantee you won’t have the same experience at your new workplace. What’s better is to improve yourself – learn how to work with people. Find ways to work with people’s strengths rather than their weaknesses.

If you can understand people’s intention it can help you see beyond the behaviour and remain calm. Life is all about finding ways to solve problems.

Are you still dreaming?

If your problem is that you’re bored, then you’ve probably stopped dreaming. Everyone needs a dream in life, it makes life interesting and purposeful. It keeps us focussed and helps us to elevate our lives above an endless repetition or routine.

Every time you work, you’re creating your life story. Think about it – are you realising your full potential? This may be especially relevant to those who’ve already been working 10 – 15 years, are earning a good income, but have plateaued. Without the right mindset it’s hard to break past that.

More money?

If you decide to move companies to get a payrise, it may add an incremental amount to your income, but it’s not going to dramatically change the way you are valued in an organisation over the long term.

Instead, find ways to add value, think like an owner, approach your work as a career – not a job, improve yourself, your communication and leadership skills – ie the way you work with people – these are the fundamental factors which will drive your career success, your personal career satisfaction, and of course, your income.


Joseph Chou delivers workshops on career, mindset and investment at a range of events and seminars around the country. Many of these events are free to attend – book your seat at Joseph’s next speaking engagement here.


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