How to Stand Out at Work

When you're newer to the workforce, especially at a medium to large organization with layers of people, it's easy to get lost in the daily grind of projects, people, and politics.  When I started my first job in consulting, there were 11 other new hires at my regional training and hundreds more at national training.  I felt like I was one of 2,000 suits all competing for attention and credit from the senior staff.  A few overly-ambitious newbies barely slept so they could self-promote at the evening networking sessions (that ran well past midnight) and put extra effort into our group project we were presenting at the end of the week.  On the other hand, my focus was on finishing the group project and building good relationships with a few people who were staffed in the industries I wanted to be staffed in or people who I admired and thought could learn from.  

Working 22 hours a day will result in attention - probably the medical kind at some point.  While hard work and recognition are important, there are ways to provide a favorable impression of yourself that doesn't involve obnoxious self-promotion or burnout.  Here are a few that worked for me.

Be proactive.  Proactive people start with the end in mind and work backwards, create backup plans for risk or potential issues, and avoid "fire drills" by providing others with plenty of advance notice if their assistance is needed.  They are observant and notice trends and patterns quickly.  For example, if your boss asks you to print and bind her monthly presentation for the leadership team every month, you can safely conclude that she will need this every month and schedule a reminder for yourself so you can proactively print it for her, unprompted.

Recognize others.  I realize that recognizing others and their accomplishments may seem counterintuitive, but teamwork, trust, and humility are important in the work environment.  When you notice someone doing a great job or going above and beyond, give them credit for it publicly.  If you receive praise for work someone else did, highlight their role rather than yours.  Not only will this show that you're collaborative, it will help you build relationships with other people in your office as they will see you as someone who advocates for them and who they can trust.  Furthermore, it will also start to position you as a leader.  People who take the time to recognize the contributions of the team rather than advocating for themselves stand out as leaders.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  That isn't to say that you have to drop $5,000 on designer suits, but do think about how what you wear impacts other's perceptions of you.  If you want to be a Vice President someday and every VP at your company wears suits, start wearing suits now.  Let your image work in your favor.  If people see you as polished and professional on the outside, they will assume (until proven otherwise) that your work is as well.  

Build relationships.  Your success at work is likely dependent on working effectively with other people.  Many organizations today work in a matrix, where you have to influence and work with people who aren't on your team, do not report to you, and who have 50 other priorities.  Take the time to invest and build genuine, trusted, offline relationships with people.

Ask for feedback.  And once you've asked: listen, accept it gracefully, and implement the feedback.  Not many people actively ask for feedback on their performance, and even fewer accept it and make changes.  In most cases, your boss cares about you as a person and shares feedback with you to help you be successful, not as a way to bully or hurt you.

Smile.  A genuine smile and positive attitude go a long way.  I have a gentleman on my team who always has a positive attitude and is willing to do anything - with a smile.  I cannot tell you how many people comment about him and his positive attitude, and it's been a reason he is selected for special projects and opportunities.

Take ownership of your work.  Be responsible for meeting deadlines, own the tasks that are assigned to you, and consistently produce high-quality work.  Ask questions - lots of questions - even if you think you know something.  Triple-check your work and have someone else review it for you as well.  Be early - for work, meetings, and assignments.  These qualities are all important, but there isn't a substitute to standing out for being great at your job. 

Posted on August 15, 2015 and filed under Career Insights.