I was promoted to VP at Amazon despite doing a poor job managing my career. I wish I had used these 7 strategies sooner.

I made it to vice president at Amazon after eight years at the company despite doing a poor job managing my career. My advancement came from hard work and luck, but I had no real plan.

Formal education trains us in functional skills like law, design, and engineering, but students aren’t trained in navigating corporate careers. This means we need to learn how to excel inside companies on our own.

Here are seven career-advancing strategies I now know and wish I had used sooner to actively manage my career.

1. Work on longer, bigger projects to master handling complexity

Big goals require big efforts, which in turn bring big problems. To rise in your career, you’ll need to be good at navigating intricate schedules, cross-team dependencies, and other challenges of scale.

The sooner you start practicing handling complex projects, the better. Seek out complex challenges and break them down rather than sticking to “your part.”

2. Work with people of all specialties — not just those in your field

Early in your career, it may be enough to be an expert in your craft, but to rise through the ranks, you need to be able to bring people together to accomplish big goals.

Most innovations require not just “makers” like engineers, scientists, or artists but also finance and sales experts, lawyers, project managers, and more. Leveling up will require you to understand how others can collaborate effectively. An expert in only one field is often viewed as a valuable resource but not an executive leader.

3. Work on large, global teams

Businesses today have complex, distributed workforces. In larger companies, most teams are global, so learn to work effectively across time zones, cultures, and with people on other teams.

At a smaller company, include partners or customers in your definition of team to practice working across organizations. The better you are at working with a variety of different people, the faster you’ll progress.

4. Learn about career progression intentionally: titles, performance reviews, and promotions

When I started my first job at a small public technology startup, I didn’t realize there were job levels, pay ranges, or titles beyond software engineer. I couldn’t plan for a progression I didn’t even understand existed.

Since even the smallest companies have career tracks and a promotion process, learning about these structures and how to navigate them will always matter. It’s the difference between following a map and driving blindly.

5. Build social skills: practice influence, emotional intelligence, and public speaking

Succeeding in the workplace depends on soft skills more than the functional disciplines you learned in school. With AI poised to automate more skill-based tasks, the emphasis on interpersonal skills will likely increase. Good soft skills position you for the next step in your career through relationship building.

Strong social skills come from finding something you like and investing time in it — mentoring, teaching, working with customers, or something else.

Once you identify a human interaction you enjoy, study your own skill and watch others you admire. I learned better speaking from watching many speakers and borrowing what worked from each for my own approach.

6. Invest in relationships: network and manage up

Many strong workers avoid networking. Some may be introverts and want to avoid social interactions, while others feel that intentionally building relationships is political and disingenuous. I’m an introvert, and I used to associate networking with walking up to strangers at cocktail parties and trying to sell people life insurance policies they don’t want.

Networking for your career really means getting to know your colleagues better and showing interest in them beyond the bare minimum needed to finish the project. You don’t need to sell them life insurance; just be friendly and treat them as individuals rather than resources.

Your manager may have good intentions to notice your work, but they’ll often miss things in their rush to handle their own to-do list. By intentionally building relationships and funneling information to your manager, you ensure your work gets the notice it deserves.

Most managers hate surprises and appreciate being kept informed. Ask your manager how they prefer to get information, such as in person, chat, or over email, and watch what they like and dislike as they interact with others. Others will likely not do this, so you’ll stand out by comparison.

7. Determine what kind of culture, manager, and work sets you up for success

While it’s important to build soft skills, develop relationships, and become skilled at working with all kinds of people, constantly adapting one’s natural style can be exhausting.

If you’re a direct person like me, you’ll likely always struggle in a slow, consensus-based workplace. If you prefer extensive discussion and collaboration, you’ll struggle in a culture emphasizing quick decisions and following directions.

Figure out what style works best for you, and then seek the people and places where this is a natural fit. This way, you can put your energy into your work, not into adapting to incompatible norms.

Hope is not a strategy

I left Amazon in 2020 and am now a career coach. When I speak to my clients, they often work hard and hope for a promotion, but hope is not a strategy.

I tell them they must work hard and optimize their career management to maximize success. The secret to this is treating career planning and management as just as important as the hard work they do in their jobs.

There are many hardworking, talented people in the workforce. If you want to stand out, you have to be smart and intentional about managing your career.

If I had known this when I started out, I would’ve gone much further, much faster.

Ethan Evans is a retired Amazon vice president with over 23 years of experience as a business executive.

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Ethan Evans