Most people want to feel valued, appreciated and respected at work. There are countless sad stories that can attest to how miserable it can get on the job when someone feels undervalued or unappreciated. We all want our boss and co-workers to know how good we are at what we do. So how do you get all that without making it look like you’re trying too hard or feel like you’re a brown-noser? Especially in tough economic times like these, how do you make a name for yourself and get ahead at work?
Ask people this question and they will offer up vague quips, some filled with buzzwords, like, “Just be technically stronger that the people around you,” or “Be in the right place at the right time,” or even “Network. Network. Network. It ain’t what you know, it’s who you know.” While these solutions for getting ahead all have a truthful element to them, and can’t be ignored in what is an increasingly competitive job market, they don’t provide much actionable advice, especially for those who are new to their profession, their job, or both.
The following is a no-nonsense, practical approach to getting ahead at work. These steps can be helpful to those who are seasoned pros or just starting their career, for those who are very connected in their industry or those who can barely remember the way from their cubicle to the executive lunchroom (and don’t know if they’d be allowed in, even if they could find their way!).
“Half of the Job Is Just Showing Up”
How to showcase your strengths and value-add in the workplace? The first thing is to be there. Be there in the morning, in the evening, and on Friday afternoons before a big holiday, when everyone else has left the office at lunchtime. Don’t deprive yourself of a vacation when you need it, and don’t work yourself to the point of diminishing returns, but do a little extra when others might not. Somehow, somewhere, someone will notice.
“My Girl Friday”
Be the one that your boss knows he or she can rely on to execute and get things done. Anyone who has ever been a manager knows how valuable it is to have an employee who can ask the right questions, cut through the fluff, and make things happen. You want to be this person for your boss. If your boss can’t stand calling in to the Paris office and having to deal with his counterpart there, offer to take the next conference call for him. Your manager often gets flustered having to claw through legal contracts? Get a head start on the contracts and come prepared for the next meeting ready to lead him through it. Most people tend not to forget when someone helps them with something they find tedious or difficult and most good managers will reward and maybe even promote employees who consistently go out of their way to help them.
“Party Like It’s 1999 (Well, Maybe Not That Hard…)”
Third, and this may sound ridiculous to some, socialize. Try not to miss social events where your co-workers, boss or boss’s boss will be there. Some people say that the work they do in the office should be the only thing that matters, but the rest of us know how important it is to make a connection with the people you work with, in and outside of the office. This is often where people let their guards down and show you who they truly are. Not only can you show your co-workers who you are when you let your “hair down,” but you can get to know them better as well. People who get ahead at work are those who can show that they are genuine, real persons, and capable of swigging a beer or downing a glass of Chardonnay every now and then.
“Lead with Action”
Fourth, be a leader. It’s OK to joke around at work and even occasionally share in water-cooler banter, but when things start to get too silly, or the joking goes to a place where you’d be embarrassed to have your division manager or CEO overhear, then stop. Just walk away and go back to work. Show that you can walk away when it’s time to get back to reality and that you won’t follow the crowd. Also, lead in the ideas that you have. Make suggestions to your manager about a process or project that could be improved and volunteer to do the legwork. Leaders get ahead at work. Followers do to, but arguably not as fast.
“Keep Your Couth”
Finally, try to never lose your professional composure at work. Maintain composure in your attitude, communication style and the way you present yourself. If the dress code is business casual at work, don’t push it to the ‘is this casual, or is this business casual?’ level; instead, dress just a notch below traditional business formal. If you get pulled into a high-level meeting without notice, you’ll be prepared. If not, then you’ll just look good and what can be bad about that?
Professional composure is also about how you treat others. When the inevitable happens and a co-worker questions your analysis in a meeting or appears to be trying to make you look bad, don’t lose your cool and say all the things you’ve heard other people say about him or her. Instead, be gracious and offer to ‘help’ him or her understand your argument, analysis, or whatever, right then and there, or at another time if a more in-depth discussion is called for. In this instance, like all the others, someone, somewhere will notice your professionalism.
by Melanie Haniph