The Employee Who Stands Out
Signing bonuses, work from home options, pay competition, and leaping to the next job with a higher salary—nice work if you can get it! In some industries, it’s a workers’ market for the young and skilled and the opportunities continue to arise. If that’s the only employment environment you’ve known, it’s easy to assume it will continue. But employment trends will change as they inevitably do.
If you want to capitalize on (and enjoy) the current state while simultaneously preparing for the future, start by taking a good look at who is running your company. It’s likely they are a generation or two older than you. Pay attention to their work values because that’s how they’ll determine who falls into the high potential category: those younger workers whom they consider worthy of opportunities and mentoring. Naturally, skill is part of it, but two people who are equally qualified won’t necessarily receive the same favorable offers. How you show up on a daily basis (what is referred to as work ethic) can make the difference.
The following is a primer on what you can do to stand out from the pack.
Maintain basic work hygiene. Be on time, don’t fudge on breaks or depart early. If virtual, make sure no one can hear your kids or pets in the background. Put on suitable clothes unless the norm in your group is that everyone (including the boss) wears workout gear. Please don’t chew and swallow on customer service calls.
Be eager about learning, ask questions, and show interest. Don’t assume you’ve mastered something after you know how to execute the steps, find out the “why” behind what you’re doing. That’s how to gain depth of knowledge and real proficiency.
Take initiative. If you’re evaluated on results and you’ve met them, ask for more if you want to be noticed. Request increased responsibility on projects or committees. If you work on-site, stay busy with what you’re there to do, not with your phone. You’re used to multitasking but being on social media or texting while working can be highly problematic when accurate results require full concentration.
Become accustomed to less feedback. The amount of commentary you received about your performance at school (or home) is not what it’s like at work. You won’t hear about how well (or poorly) you’re doing very often. That doesn’t mean you should receive no feedback. If you aren’t meeting with your manager at least weekly, request a regularly scheduled time. Hopefully you’ve been assigned a buddy as your go-to for questions, but if not, you may want to ask a colleague to be that person.
Don’t be surprised if you hear more criticism than you’re used to. Even as a high potential you’re still learning, so expect to receive guidance. Quell the defensiveness and don’t sulk. Instead, ask for specifics if you don’t understand the critique. Have them show you and then have them check to assure you’ve got it down.
Build your tenacity muscle. Mastering complex work requires trial, error, and time. If you’re frustrated, get help or look it up—but stick with it. That applies to following up if someone doesn’t get back to you. Don’t just let it go without persistence.
Investigate why things are done the way they are before offering improvements. People don’t respond well when the newbie tells them how they should be doing things better. There’s a reason for the status quo and the people who came before you weren’t ignorant. You can make suggestions, just be sensitive to those who created the current state and don’t be critical. Use judgement about the timing of your recommendations.
Be strategic about career moves. Most companies have a policy about when (and how often) people can be promoted. You’re likely to feel ready sooner than your boss does. Fair or not, employees often work at the next level for a period of time before a new title and raise are proffered. If you’re tempted to jump ship for a higher salary elsewhere, look carefully at the tradeoffs. Opportunities for advancement at your current company may be worth hanging onto if the new organization won’t be able to provide increased responsibility and potential for career growth. Pay close attention to whom would you be reporting and whether it’s a good match. Ask yourself which company has the better reputation; a prestigious organization on your resume can be very helpful.
Even if your current job is not ideal, act as if you’re in your perfect spot and don’t grumble to coworkers. Use this one for practice and build positive work habits. Don’t burn bridges because you never know when you’ll cross paths with these folks in the future. You want to be such a desirable employee that when you leave (after receiving a sterling recommendation, of course) they forever refer to you as the one who got away.
These days, the average number of career (not job) changes is between three and seven during the course of one’s work life. That means the prospects are great for staying engaged over time. And the habits you develop now will serve you well all along the way, not just in your current position.
All the best to you and keep thriving!