For those who haven’t yet cracked the seemingly arbitrary $100,000 salary threshold, it can be mysterious as to why some employees, leaders and executives possess the golden touch: the ability to get hired and stay hired at a high level compared to that of their peers and fellow employees. To the jealous outsider, they may seem “lucky,” “fortunate,” or “smarter than most.” But when I talk to healthy and humble executives, the real way to reach the six-figure compensation club and stay there isn’t as difficult as you might think. Career success leaves a trail of secrets along the way.
I wouldn’t be the first to say career success can’t be measured solely by money or compensation. We all know teachers, social workers and others who probably deserve much more than what we, society, pay them. We also know aggressive, self-centered people who seem to lay claim to career success by cutting corners and climbing on the backs of others. But in this article, I am focused on healthy, forward-focused career performers who do it the right way. What are their habits and why do they achieve and exceed the $100,000 mark?
Whether you think it’s an artificial barrier or not, executive and professional career success comes down to controllable, repeatable factors. Here’s what I have learned from my successful executive clients.
1. They don’t just do what they’re told.
Simply put, six-figure employees do more than what’s expected and know with clarity that their role is to drive revenue and reduce costs. They regard a job description as a playbook to master, not a list of checkboxes to stay within.
Like a great quarterback, they first master the fundamentals of the job description, then ensure their employer (their team, so to speak) receives maximum value. In essence, they stand out by outworking and outperforming others.
Healthy six-figure employees don’t view the status quo as something to ignore. They embrace and exceed expectations but never view core expectations as a stopping point. They find ways to defeat their competition by bringing others along — fulfilling, then passing expectations.
Some habits of my most successful clients include creating mentoring programs, signing on to write articles for the company newsletter, speaking at conferences on behalf of the company, and becoming an adjunct to a group outside of their expertise. The list goes on, but all successful employees view themselves as team leaders.
2. They don’t hide from the bottom line.
Boiled down to its lowest common denominator, six-figure careerists realize employment comes down to a financial equation. For example, successful salespeople understand that if they sell $1 million with bonuses, they make $110,000. Once they approach their set goal, they also know what it will take to make more.
Even without a sales formula, successful employees understand what the value of their work is and exceed those expectations. On their way up, they ask, “What will it take to earn more than $100,000?”
One client of mine, a technology department leader, asked himself this question. When his bosses asked him for help in winning a big account, instead of replying with, “I’m not in sales,” he said, “I guess we’re all in sales.” So, he added himself to the sales cycle and helped close large accounts for the company as the technology lead, a title he invented and that the company relied on for expert guidance.
3. During times of uncertainty, they innovate, share and reinvent.
The most common misperception of successful careerists and north-of-six-figure employees is that they got there by cheating or by favor. The truth? They attract fellow employees, their bosses and their companies to their cause.
One of my dear clients and friends works at one of the top three technology companies in the world. She reinvented her career at least five times, with new titles, responsibilities and bosses. During a company restructuring, she won entry into worldwide conferences, then shared what she learned. She created a following at her company because of her sheer fearlessness to pursue new thoughts and ideas during times of change.
On the other hand, her peers hunkered down. They tried to keep their jobs. They didn’t dare change. They held on to what they had and stopped innovating. She passionately communicated and worked on new ideas, new things and never viewed change as a setback. I asked her once in private, “Was it hard to be different like this during that time?” She smiled, “Yes, but it’s worth it.”
Instead of trying to fit into a form, a box or another person’s shoes, successful employees gently flaunt their differences without climbing on the backs of others. Healthy, successful six-figure careerists come up with new ideas while fully executing what they are asked and expected to do. They don’t go rogue, they earn the freedom to solve other problems and provide value by outperforming their expectations.
Embrace change, and in the face of it, boldly and aggressively obtain new skills, invest in yourself and be the first to share new ideas and positive thoughts.