How to Be Successful at Work: 10 Top Tips

The habits and strategies that will help you excel in your career.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

How to be successful at work

Some people look at Elon Musk and his staggering fortune and think, “that’s who I want to be.” Others look at their local coffee shop owner, with her pleasant humility and positive attitude, and aspire to be just like her.

Much like happiness, success has no clear-cut definition. What’s desirable to one person may be unwished for by another.

No matter what your personal aspirations are, there are many things you can do to watch them materialize. Read our advice below on how to become more successful at work, regardless of what you do for a living.

How do you define career success?

As we mentioned, if you ask a dozen people what career success means, you might get as many different answers. These responses may be influenced by various factors, like personality, age, needs, and beliefs.

To be successful, or, in other words, accomplish your goals, you must first look at your priorities. For example, a working parent may value work-life balance more than a recent graduate who is just entering the job market.

Ultimately, there is no universal definition of success, and professional goals can vary over the course of people’s lifetimes. However, people can generally agree that professional success includes at least some of the following elements:

  • Being passionate about the field you work in
  • Earning a great salary
  • Continuously growing as a professional
  • Working for a company that inspires you
  • Receiving recognition for your work
  • Achieving a healthy work-life balance

Tips for being successful at work

Success requires setting clear goals and dedicating yourself to realizing them. The more realistic your aims and the more consistent your efforts, the greater the chance of a positive outcome.

In this section, you’ll find a list of ten tips on reaching your full potential as a professional.

1. Set clear career goals

Setting clear, realistic goals is the first step in becoming successful at work. To do this, ask yourself some questions, like what your priorities are at this stage in life.

In order for this to work, you must pick your questions wisely. For example, if you’re only just finding your feet after graduating, considering your immediate future is better than trying to envision your life in a decade’s time.

Maybe there are certain hard skills you’d like to develop, or additional responsibilities you’d like to take on at work. Coming up with a manageable next step will help you stay motivated.

2. Develop your interpersonal skills

No man is an island. Though your career success does depend on your efforts, it also relies on your relationships with other people. Whether you’re at the beginning or peak of your career, or utilizing years of experience to start your own business, you need others to arrive at where you’re going.

So, no matter your aspirations, enhancing your people skills is a must.


Taking a public speaking class will help you perfect both your verbal and non-verbal communication skills. It can also boost your confidence and critical thinking ability, all of which can propel your career forward.

3. Understand what’s expected of you

There’s a famous saying, attributed by some to Albert Einstein, that goes: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Though you don’t have gills and your job likely doesn’t entail climbing, there’s no way to succeed in a career that’s not right for you. So, before you tell yourself that you’re lacking professionally, make sure that what’s being asked of you matches your skillset.

Likewise, even if your career choice is informed, you won’t be able to do a great job of your tasks unless you understand them fully.

4. Take ownership

“Owning” your work is a great way to show your boss that you’re dependable and driven. This is because it highlights your ability to take initiative and hold yourself accountable.

If you’re not sure how to get started with this one, you can break it down into components. For example, building your confidence and saying no to distractions, like social media, is a great way to perform better and pick up the pace at work.

5. Keep on learning

Setting development goals is essential to thriving professionally, regardless of your industry. However, not all employers create development plans for their team members, suffering the consequences instead: lack of career growth is a top reason behind voluntary resignation.

If your employer hasn’t provided you with an action plan, it’s a good idea to devise your own. Consider your short-term career goals and set some achievable objectives for the near future. Perhaps you could read the latest bestseller on project management or take an online course on coding. No matter what it is you’d like to learn, don’t wait for your employer alone to facilitate your career advancement.

6. Improve your time management

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an art teacher or a certified public accountant, time management is necessary if you want to do well in your career. This transferable skill will help you juggle your various responsibilities with more ease, keeping stress to more tolerable levels.

The more methodically you work, the likelier you are to perform well in your role and receive recognition for your contributions to the company.

7. Learn to negotiate

If, to you, career success means earning a good salary or landing a leadership position, then you have to learn to negotiate. If it means setting boundaries and getting off work on time, the same holds true.

Negotiating your salary, job title, benefits or hours shouldn’t be reserved for the job offer stage; throughout your career, you have to instigate the change you want to see.

8. Prioritize your work-life balance

Even if you don’t really mind it, working long hours will eventually catch up with you. Insufficient time for rest, exercise, and socializing can translate into an array of problems, from anxiety disorders to high blood pressure.

The better care you take of yourself outside of work, the better you’ll be able to focus and perform on the job.

9. Make peace with failure

Whether we like it or not, failure is a frequented stop on the road to success. The sooner we embrace this fact and develop a growth mindset, the better. Even Jeff Bezos has said that “all overnight success takes about 10 years”; imagine how many mistakes a person must overcome in that time!

Viewing shortcomings as opportunities to learn rather than a direct reflection of our ability is key in succeeding professionally.

10. Practice gratitude

In a fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in wanting more, more, more. Though having an action plan is important, success is also about mindset. If you’re too busy setting goals to notice all the things you’ve already accomplished, then what good are your achievements?

Since gratitude can lead to greater happiness when expressed frequently, remember to pause and notice how far you’ve come. A positive, can-do attitude will pay off in terms of work success, too.

Key takeaways

Professional success doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. It takes thought, planning, and commitment — and overcoming obstacle after obstacle.

Before you start brainstorming ways to reach new highs in your career, here’s what you need to remember:

  • Consider both your short-term and long-term career goals when coming up with your own definition of success
  • People skills, such as communication, persuasion and teamwork, are fundamental in succeeding professionally regardless of industry
  • Your career goals can (and probably will) change over time. Remember to be flexible and adjust to your current circumstances and needs
  • Your personal definitions for both success and failure will determine how you view yourself professionally —and, possibly, how far you get

What types of career goals are you setting to become more successful at work? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Originally published January 10, 2019.