Often, the high flyers just seem lucky – they meet opportunity everywhere and outpace their colleagues by following unconventional career paths. This apparent good luck, however, is actually career momentum: a result of setting and meeting work goals, fostering far-reaching relationships, and embracing professional development.

As Michelangelo aptly remarked, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”
As a recruiting executive, I’ve followed many talented people throughout their careers. I’ve watched some take off while others stalled. Relentless ambition and commitment, rather than luck, create career momentum.

Consider these five tips to fuel your path forward:

Define your work goals. Consider your career objectives a constant work in progress. Where do you want to be at your next performance review? In five years? In ten? Don’t wait until you are unhappy in your job to assess your career trajectory. Recalibrate your short-term plans as your long-term ambitions evolve.

Don’t get too comfortable. Maybe your current job has flexible hours, a great corporate culture, and colleagues you love. Understandably, you’re hesitant to move. Here’s the thing, though – so many people feel that way, which means that these perks are not unique. Great companies want great people, and in this competitive market, incentives are crucial to most companies’ talent acquisition practices. Focus on your career goals, and a great workplace will follow.

Maintain your professional network. Remember those recruiters, mentors, and former colleagues who helped you in your last job search? Stay in touch with them! Share your goals at work with your professional network, update mentors and colleagues on your progress, and take a collaborative approach to building career momentum: this builds accountability and turns pie-in-the-sky ambitions into real initiatives.

Say yes to opportunity. Is your company opening a new office? Searching for a candidate to work abroad? Soliciting volunteers for a committee or conference? Raise your hand. Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone, geographically or professionally. Welcoming change not only demonstrates confidence and initiative to employers, it invites opportunity.

Become a thought leader. Don’t stop learning. Make precise and timely professional development goals. Stay active and engaged on social networking sites, and follow the blogs of influential companies and individuals. Commit to reading at least one industry publication or white paper every week and to making at least one original contribution to an online conversation. Understanding industry-defining dialogue is crucial to establishing and achieving your career goals, so set your aim high.

These tasks demand steady engagement, not onerous commitment. First, decide where you want to go. Then, stay on the lookout for new ways to get there. You may be surprised to see how far open-mindedness, curiosity, and collegiality can take you.

How do you foster momentum in your career growth? Please share your stories. I’d love to follow your paths to success!