Don’t Rely on Your Work Alone
Since career paths are anything but linear these days, the traditional model of putting your head down and simply doing your job won't be enough to help you stand out. After speaking with HR professionals, bosses, and career experts, we've gleaned top tips on how you can get noticed, put your best foot forward, and rise in the ranks.
While not all of the following 11 tips will apply to your particular job or industry, all of them should at the very least inspire you to discover new ways to shine.
You have to separate yourself from the pack, says workplace expert Lindsey Pollak, author of Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders.
"While leaders today need many skills, it can be helpful to have a few areas where you really excel,” she says. “This is what gets you noticed and what gets you continually promoted. Ask yourself: What are you known for? What can you offer that other people can’t?"
One way to differentiate yourself is to become an expert in some area or skill that can benefit your team or office. "Become known as the Word, Excel, or Outlook maven who assists co-workers to use technology to increase productivity," suggests Maureen Nelson, assistant administrator at America's Job Center of California, Contra Costa County. "For example, I spent Sunday in the office learning the ins and outs of Tasks in Outlook and then I taught my boss and peers a few things on Monday."
"Consistency regularly ranks as one of the most desired qualities of a strong boss or leader," Pollak says, which is why it pays to practice this skill well before you land that coveted promotion. "The consistency of your style sets the tone for your team to be consistent. If you are consistently optimistic and reliable, your team will — under most circumstances — be consistently optimistic and reliable. If you are moody and unpredictable, your team will become moody and unpredictable, too."
To determine how consistent you are, Pollak suggests asking yourself the following: Can people depend on you to behave in a similar way across a variety of circumstances? Do you treat people equally? Does your social media image reflect your in-person persona? Showing that you are even-keeled and dependable will go a long way toward getting you noticed — and being known as a valuable team player.
Ask About Your Manager's Deliverables
Show your boss that you're interested in what he or she is responsible for, says executive career coach Tim Toterhi, founder of Plotline Leadership, a company that helps people craft their career success stories.
"Find out what he or she is on the hook for with their boss and then offer to help," he says. "Then, circle back with a plan for how you can help on the project — and get the growth, development, or exposure you want — without missing needed deliverables in your role." This really helps your manager, and you'll also show him or her that you're interested in the overall success of the company and its broader goals.
Tackle Projects Outside Your Job Description
If you're not able to help your boss directly with his or her deliverables, ask to take on different types of projects, or (even better) offer to do the dirty work no one else wants to do. "Not only does this allow you to change up your typical day-to-day work, but it also shows your flexibility for future projects and promotions," says career expert Noelle Cipollini of Kavaliro, a staffing agency headquartered in Orlando, FL. "Management might not have ever thought of you for certain tasks, but if you expand your background to new areas, this allows for more career growth."
Be sure, however, that going above and beyond doesn't impact your existing tasks, warns Dana Kaye, owner of Kaye Publicity, who regularly speaks across the country about building your brand and jump-starting your career. "Many employees try and impress their bosses by doing things he or she didn't ask them to do, but they do it in lieu of the actual work they're assigned," she explains.
So if you want to amaze your manager by restructuring a system or researching a new opportunity, do it when you're off the clock, if needed.
Check In With Your Boss Regularly
If you don't have great visibility with your boss — perhaps he or she spends most days in meetings or travels regularly — send him or her short note at the end of each week to check in, suggests career expert and speaker Barry Maher, author of Filling the Glass.
"Keep him or her apprised of everything you did during that week,” he says. "Come evaluation time, the boss may well use those notes to help write the evaluation. And at the very least you'll have all that ammunition when it's time to talk about that next promotion or raise."
Stay on Top of Your Industry
Kayce White, founder of Haven, a company that makes sustainable home goods, says that being the boss — and an entrepreneur — has helped her understand essential qualities she needs in her hires. One of these is passion, which she says is critical to the health and growth of a startup.
"There is nothing that impresses me more than an employee who uses time outside of work to better themselves and their knowledge of the industry," she explains. "Natural product manufacturing requires a lot of attention to detail and plenty of know-how, so when I see my production manager coming to the table with inventive ideas and useful new information, it grows the trust I have in him and my faith in his ability to have a long-term, irreplaceable role at the company."
In addition to reading about your industry and staying abreast of the latest news and tech, Nelson suggests asking to go to conferences or outside trainings (then sharing PowerPoints or other materials with your coworkers), mentoring or being mentored, and writing up success stories to contribute to the company newsletter as additional ways to better your team — and get yourself some positive attention.
Being trustworthy and genuine goes a long way toward long-term career success, Pollak says. "Ask yourself: Are you genuine in your image and your outreach to people? Are you comfortable in your leadership skin? In no way should you interpret personal branding as the need to put on a persona or be fake in any way," she explains. "While you certainly want to own your authority and power, you can do so in a way that feels natural and comfortable to you. Maintain your personal integrity always."
This includes admitting when you're wrong. Chris Ruisi, a former HR executive and professional speaker, says, "When you make a mistake, acknowledge it — it shows you're human and that you don't make excuses. Employees of every level should follow this standard process when mistakes are made: Own it, fix it, learn from it, and move on."
Be Candid About Expectations
Another way to maintain integrity is to manage realistic expectations with your boss and team. One way to do this is to under-promise and over-deliver. Rather than tell your boss you can get something done in a day, tell her it will take two. That way, if you finish "early," you're exceeding the expectations you set (and if you have a setback, you'll still deliver on time).
Elene Cafasso, founder and president of Enerpace, Inc. Executive Coaching agrees that setting expectations is key for professional growth. "Nobody else can manage what's on your desk except you. When you update your boss, manage her expectations about what won't be getting done and which de-prioritized things will be attended to later," she says. "If the boss has a problem with one of the revised deadlines, talk about which of your top three or four priorities should be back-burnered to make room for this other item, or talk about getting what you need from a resource perspective to get it all done."
And if you can't get something done or you have bad news about a deliverable, make sure your boss hears it from you first. "Help your boss to look good — and achieve her top goals — and she will be more likely to include and support you in other key initiatives," Cafasso says.
Actively Participate in Meetings
Meetings are not most people’s favorite part of the workday (understatement of the year), but they're unavoidable for most. Make them work for you by making meaningful contributions, Cipollini advises. "Don't speak because you want yourself heard. Speak because your input will add value to the issue at hand," she says.
How to do this? Try Ruisi's formula for offering constructive ideas during meetings: "First, identify what role you will play for a particular meeting and don't shrink away from it. After looking over the agenda, pick one item that you will speak on and prepare a few statements around it. When the meeting progresses to the agenda item of your choice, don't hesitate and wait for others to speak — step up and be the first."
If you're in a bigger meeting where contributing isn't possible or if you've already said your part, still remain an active participant, White advises. That means never, ever, ever whip out your smartphone thinking no one will notice.
"For me, an employee who can't stay off their phone long enough to get through a team meeting uninterrupted isn't worth their salt," she says. "It's so important to show your boss that you care about your job, and the easiest way to do that is to give a task or person your undivided attention. It feels disrespectful to be talking to your team and all you can concentrate on is the face of an employee glowing from the light of their iPhone. It seems simple but those small, respectful customs of business are critical in the business world we live in."
Learn to Collaborate
Over the course of a long-term career path, you'll need to learn how to work as a team — rarely, if ever, will you remain as an individual contributor forever, says David Barrett, founder and CEO of Expensify.
"The most important skills you will ever develop involve collaborating with those around you to achieve more as a team than the sum of what you can each achieve alone," he explains. "Master the art of being able to argue both sides of the topic to the satisfaction of all involved, demonstrating you are making a real effort to remain objective in your recommendations. And speak up for the silent majority whenever you see a vocal minority hijacking the discussion or taking it in unproductive directions. Your boss will definitely notice."
Neutralize Crises Effectively
"When everybody else is dramatically melting down around you in the heat of the moment, be the one who absorbs and neutralizes the anxiety of your peers rather than reflecting and magnifying it," Barrett advises. "Separate the smoke from the fire and get everybody calmly focused on proactive, realistic solutions."
He explains that, for most bosses, workplace drama and crises can be extremely worrisome and a major source of stress. When you’re willing to step in and manage them with grace, your higher up will appreciate it greatly.