How to Advance Your Career Without Changing Jobs

Gabriel Shaoolian, CEO of New York–based Blue Fountain Media, was nervous when he learned that his 24-year-old marketing whiz planned to spend his vacation biking from New York to Florida. Nervous, but not surprised: Alhan Keser doesn't do anything half-heartedly. In three short years, Keser has risen from freelancer to intern to chief marketing officer.

How did that happen? Like many of his high-achieving peers, Keser took initiative and helped grow a business. In this case, Blue Fountain Media is an online marketing team with a staff of 25 that didn't exist when he was hired full-time in October 2008.

Searching for Holes

Keser noticed that Blue Fountain's clients were buying its web-design services, and nothing else. Blue Fountain offered no follow-up services to help clients get more from the websites they'd just bought. To Keser, that was a hole waiting to be filled.

That kind of insight makes Keser unusual. By choosing to grow with his employer rather than test the market for a new gig, he’s breaking a job-switching stereotype: workers in their 20s change employers every three years on average, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

But not Keser. He spent nights studying search engine optimization, a process for fine-tuning websites to help them rank higher in search results. He studied the masters: SEO experts who had published books or quoted in reputable media. Keser didn't just want to learn fast—he wanted to learn more.
Developing a Learning Habit

Brandon Eley, 20, a consultant with interactive marketing agency Kelsey Advertising & Design in LaGrange, Georgia, says learning has been central to his career development as well. "I'm always reading,” Eley says—a book a week—a habit he says has helped him earn double-digit-percentage raises each year. "I think it's important to keep up with industry trends," he says—and his employers seem to agree.

Such self-improvement has also helped Eley carve a niche as a writer and speaker. After co-authoring Online Marketing Inside Out in 2009, Eley was invited to speak at the 2010 South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. Eley rightly considers the invite a coup: SXSW has a history of attracting top speakers and introducing the tech world to Internet superstars like Twitter.

Low Risk, High Reward

Keser's efforts have also paid off. By the summer of 2009, his first year on the job full-time, Keser was managing two interns. By fall, his intense SEO studies convinced his boss, Shaoolian, to offer discounted marketing services to existing clients on a trial basis. It was an easy decision.

"Gabriel was already hoping to do something like this in the future," Keser says. "He's very much an entrepreneur, looking to grow his business. This was a perfect opportunity."

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