A colleague recently asked me, "How should I ensure that my work and my contributions get visibility within the company? What new skills do I need to move ahead?" Put another way, how can one stand out and advance his or her career in an increasingly competitive economy?
There was a time when doing your job and working hard were enough to get ahead. But in today's economy, managers and employees are increasingly mobile, and the support fabric that traditionally identified and promoted candidates is starting to fray. The market for talent is also much more competitive. Top talent demands and often gets an increasingly large portion of available wages, leaving the rest of us to fight for the scraps.
So what can you do to stand out, to get noticed and get ahead? I've compiled my and other's best advice on the subject. I hope you find some of these useful in your quest.
1. Be a marketer
No matter what line of work you're in, you need to promote yourself and your work. The laws of marketing apply as much to your personal brand as your professional one. It's a crowded marketplace, and you need to be different enough to break out of the standard mold.
But if you're like me, you have a distaste for self-promotion. It feels like a cross between a greasy used car salesman and an insufferable know-it-all. So how can you self-promote without being a jerk? Well, there's a book by just that title written by Bruce Kasanoff. He provides invaluable tips on how to get ahead while maintaining your integrity.
2. Be self- and other-aware
A little bit of "Emotional Intelligence" (or EQ), or awareness and management of your own feelings as well as interactions with others, goes a long way. Most people, especially in highly specialized roles, lack some basic self-awareness and social prowess skills. You can stand out by being more perceptive and in touch with your state of mind.
There's no better source for EQ than the book by the same title: Emotional Intelligence 2.0. You can also check out the original Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Also, you can check out this article on bolstering EQ and team effectiveness by my good friend and mentor, Mike Sweeney.
3. Have a good attitude
I'm sorry, but there's not just an excuse for a bad attitude, snark, grumpiness, whatever you call it. Everyone gets in a funk from time to time, and we all lose our cool. But as a general rule, people are much more willing to take notice and promote you if you're pleasant to work with.
That doesn't mean you need to be phony or overly bubbly. Some of the best people I've worked with had a bit of an edge to them, but you always knew they had their heart in the right place and would do anything to help others out.
I wrote previously about the most common self-sabotaging items and suggest you check it out as well. In the end, assume good intent with others, and doors will start opening for you.
4. Focus on outcomes
Most people focus on showing how busy they are, how many hours they work. That may work in some organizations and for some bosses, but the higher and more enlightened you go in an organization, the less they worry about effort. What matters are results.
This blog post digs into the world of outcomes and why you should work smarter, not harder.
5. Broaden your context
In the end, doing your job well won't get you noticed. It's table stakes, and in today's competitive market, you need to do more than what's asked. The best way to do this is broaden your context, which I discuss in this blog post.
The goal is to understand what things are most strategic for where your organization is heading, then go do those things. You may need to ask forgiveness rather than permission, but people will remember what you accomplish, not that you stepped outside a bureaucratic process.
Taking a step back, ask yourself: why are you focused on getting noticed and getting ahead? What's your true north, your end game?
Is it because you're in it for money, for fame? Or because you are looking to make the largest impact possible? Or even better, is it because you love what you do, and you want to do more and more of that? The joy of it?
Understand what drives you and what makes you truly happy, and pursue that. Riches and accolades may come, but if you're chasing monetary gain, you'll ultimately end up unhappy. Take it from those who have gone down that path before and regretted it, and head their warning.
I've distilled over 20 years of lessons into bite-sized actionable articles for you.