Over the course of my work as a career coach, I’ve had some exceptional clients. While I typically help eager job hunters get more clarity and job offers, I felt inspired to work with a young woman named Amy, who didn’t fit my usual profile.
Amy wasn’t concerned about landing a job, she was becoming increasingly concerned about getting ahead in her job. In her words, she’d been doing “everything” that was asked of her, but no one was acknowledging her efforts, let alone rewarding them.
Meanwhile, other entry-level employees were flying past her with promotions and raises.
… Sound familiar?
We immediately got down to the specifics, assessing the culture and mission of Amy’s company. I learned that it was a small company with a very casual vibe, yet Amy couldn’t even get up the nerve to speak to the CEO when she saw her in the lunchroom. When I pointed out that her hesitation to communicate was hurting her chances of promotion, Amy was bewildered.
“It’s about results, right?” Amy asked.
“It’s about results… And likeability,” I shared.
How could Amy ever going to convince her colleagues that she cared about the business if she wouldn’t make any effort to engage with the people in it?
The truth is that the people who get promoted are doing more than just getting the work done. Studies show that how we value an employee’s competence changes according to how much we like or dislike that person.
In other words, being really good at your job isn’t enough.
For an employee to stand out, being likeable is a huge indicator for career success. The good news is that the biggest hindrance to likeability is apathy… This means you can change how others perceive you simply by making the choice to care.
There are steps you can take right now, regardless of your circumstances that will put you back on the promotion path, where you belong:
1. Take initiative. Are there any tasks that have been lingering on your boss’ to-do list for a few weeks? Have the office plants been calling out for water that everyone’s been too lazy to give them? A great way to get noticed is by taking on a project that no one wants to tackle, but that has to get done. I’ll never forget my last corporate job before becoming a career coach. One of my employees went out of her way to make a chart of the deliverables, and it just made my heart surge. It was a job that needed to be done but I hadn’t set aside any time for it, so when she took the initiative and presented it to me, it felt like Christmas morning!
When you want to stand out at work use your job description as a starting point, not an end point.
2. Build rapport, everywhere. People who get big things done are people who know people, but the Amy’s of the world have a tendency to think that inter-office relationship building is too time-consuming and draining to be worthwhile. I teach hundreds of job hunters around the world the networking skills they need to create contacts out of thin air, and the truth is that it’s less complicated than people make it out to be. Start with a gesture: If you’re running out for Starbucks, offer to pick up a latte for your coworker.
Networking is about kindness, mutual support and growth… Who’s in?
Every aspect of your professional life will improve if you get to know your colleagues and making them feel comfortable getting to know you. Once you’ve broken the ice, you won’t feel nearly as uncomfortable about initiating a conversation in the elevator.
3. Participate in the office’s extracurricular activities. Needless to say, I recommend minimizing the vodka cranberry cocktails during office happy hours, but know that the boundaries of good behavior don’t end with your sobriety. Back in my corporate life, I’ll never forget my company’s Halloween costume party, where a younger member of the team proudly showed up in an elaborately overdone get-up that was so tone-deaf and inappropriate. It distracted everyone else from enjoying the evening, and the mortified CEO “joked” that he’d never be able to take the employee seriously again.
The bottom line: When it comes to office events, never put more effort into your social persona than you’re putting into your professional persona, and when in doubt, always err on the side of maturity.
My colleague’s bad costume decision is undoubtedly going to show up in his bank account.
4. Do business development. Every organization has a bottom line, and if you’re bringing in new business opportunities, you will always be seen as an asset. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been hired for marketing; it’s all about contributing in a bigger way. This doesn’t mean you need to be a walking billboard for your employer, but you should maintain a keen awareness of the opportunities that surround you, whether you’re in a coffee line or a board meeting.
5. Be a team player. Sometimes you’re the star of the show, and sometimes you’re in the chorus. Being alert to your coworkers’ needs, and offering to help when their workload is overwhelming, is the best way to establish yourself as a team player.
You don’t need to be a martyr of self-sacrifice by staying late every single night to do someone else’s work, but stepping up without expecting any personal benefit will never go unnoticed or unappreciated.
6. Never talk smack. That’s the number one way to get noticed…and get fired. Your critiques may be spot-on and your impersonation of the boss might be the best in show, but don’t resort to gossip as a way of gaining popularity in the office.
It’s a universal truth that the person doing the trash talking always looks worse than the person who’s being trashed, even when the criticism is deserved. Stay above the fray at all costs.
7. Speak up. At 23 years old, I was hired to run a program for the Pentagon, and I’ll never forget my fear of speaking up as I sat in a sea of military leaders. The biggest shift in my career came when I took a quantum leap out of my comfort zone and started sharing my thoughts in staff meetings.
One day, they were trying to come up with a new approach for the program’s curriculum, and I sat there, mentally poking holes in all of their ideas. After they’d exhausted their options, I finally just let loose with my suggestions.
My input transformed the work we were doing, and my role on the team became more significant overnight.
It can be terrifying to put yourself out there, but the employee who’s still coming up with ideas long after the creativity fountain runs dry is a huge asset to any organization.
Over the course of a few months, Amy started to realize that having a voice in the workforce is like a muscle that grows stronger with frequent use. With each step forward, her self-consciousness loosened its grip and she became confident about seizing opportunities. She felt empowered to step up, regardless of whether it was to run a meeting or fix the copy machine.
The standout employees are the ones who behave like leaders, even when their title is Intern. The irony is that when you’re more focused on the results than the promotion, your title will change faster than you can even imagine.
If you don’t believe me, guess who’s now managing her company’s brand new office in London?
That would be—you guessed it—Amy.