It's not always easy to distinguish yourself at work, at least in a way that's favorable. And in a style that doesn't make it look like you're puckering up to give the boss a butt hickey.
It's hard enough for newcomers to get noticed but if you've been at the job for years, there's a good chance you've become part of the woodwork. Sure, the boss knows who you are -- he may even know your name -- but are you the person he's going to think of when it comes time to name his "A" team? Or is looking to promote from within?
If you're not sure you're solidly on the radar of the Powers That Be, consider grabbing one or more of these tips to help you cover your bet in the Big Game that is your job.
1. Start A Blog
Sure, everyone and his brother blogs these days but most of them are family sites or devoted to hobbies or someone's favorite sports teams. Try starting one that offers insight and peeks behind the signs of the industry you're involved with. Use your expertise and observations to draw conclusions about what's happening in your business. Do an analysis on the movers and shakers that are front and center in your world. Use your name if it's safe to do so, or select an alias that lets people know that you know the score. Let the word get out there -- send friends and co-workers as well as other bloggers the link to your brand of savvy.
Caveat: Unless you know it's cool to use the name of the company you work for -- and your connection to it -- word to the wise is to keep that info off the web. You could be opening yourself up to legal action.
2. More Social Media
If you'd prefer to have a blog -- or Twitter account or Facebook page -- that isn't all about business, that's OK, too. Follow your passion. Be useful and clever and unique. No one cares what you're eating (unless you say so in an irresistably hilarious way) or that you can't wait for the weekend. Pick a theme and stick with it. Some Facebook/Twitter friends I appreciate: the librarian friend who posts a "this day in history" factoid Mon thru Fri; the financial adviser who posts links to useful financial planning articles she's found online; the columnist who only tweets in rhyme; the writer who doesn't say "RIP Patrick Swayze" but asks "what public figure are you surprised is still alive?"; and the music historian who always digs up and posts the absolute best hidden '60s/'70s rock/soul/blues gems on YouTube. If you're starting a blog, pick one narrow, safe-for-work topic (funniest PG-13 ads on Craigslist, favorite Spam recipes, best garage sale finds, etc) and run with it. The save caveat as above stands: Just make sure you're not ridiculing anyone in or anything about your job or industry, or you may find yourself suddenly unemployed. -- Michelle Goodman, The Anti 9-to-5 Guide
3. Speak Your Mind
In researching our book, I Hate People!, my co-author Jonathan Littman and I encountered lots of fear. Mostly fear of people speaking their minds at work. "Oh, I could never say that!" was a frequent response when asked why someone wouldn't just tell a co-worker they didn't have time for interruptions, or a boss how things were or simply express an honest opinion. When pushed, they often admitted that they had tried honesty, but they either felt intimidated or feared intimidation to the point where they simply knew better than to attempt it.
In reality, straight-forward conversation or a stated opinion aren't that risky. The reason you typically encounter such bluster against revealing your thoughts on a topic is that the boss fears revealing that he doesn't know everything, including what is best for the company, the employees...maybe even himself. If you boss has that fear, the secret is to start small. Boisterous attacks against the party line are difficult to sanction. But a question about a particular policy, intelligently couched, can often open the door to a discussion where opinions and perspectives are welcomed. Establish that kind of toehold, you'll likely be able to say more and more as time goes on.
4. Become Your Department's PR Man
Promote your peer's great ideas like you would your own. Too often, we get wrapped up in how we can promote our own great ideas. Starting blogs, talking up your accomplishments and changing careers are all great things but one of the best ways to get noticed is to get other people's ideas in front of those who are influenced by you. Not only is it a karma thing, it also means people are coming to you for great ideas, no matter if the source is you or someone else. -- Lance Haun, YourHRGuy.com
5. Change Your Game
Part of what leads to you blending into the company background is that everyone knows who you are. And they know it far too well. You dress the same, talk the same, even think the same...at least in the minds of those who believe they've seen all you've got in your arsenal. It's high time to change it up! Don't be phony about it, but start to explore some interesting new looks. Style of shirt or pant for guys, tops or dresses for women (or mix and match if you really are looking to make a statement.)
More importantly, flip the switch on your creative mode. If you normally like to hang in the back and pick 'em off from the outfield, jump out in front and rapid-fire some fastballs right down the pipe. Do some research, whether on the streets, online or even reading books. Do some private brainstorming and come to a session extra-prepared with something amazing you dredged up out of the international cool scene or maybe an insight from ancient Babylon that you've given an incredible new spin.
6. It's All About Having A Good Time
Don't be afraid to have fun -- we all tend to take ourselves way too seriously in business. One way to get noticed is just to enjoy yourself and incorporate your passions and hobbies into your job. One of the most memorable examples from my professional history was when I was asked to create the training program for HIPAA (Health Insurance training...yawn). We created a training video that looked like an episode of Cops (I'm a HUGE law enforcement geek). It definitely was noticed by everyone in the organization, and people remember the content of the video because we made it fun. Business and fun do not need to be mutually exclusive. -- Timothy L. Johnson, Carpe Factum
7. Hand Out Bonuses
Yeah, the economy sucks these days and no one's got any extra bones to throw around. But if you've got a handful of super special coworkers in your personal Ensemble at the office, scrape together fifty bucks and buy 'em each a $10 gift card from the local coffee joint. (It's not kissing butt if it's not the boss's behind you're smooching -- your guys will take it in the spirit in which it's meant.) A ten-spot won't buy a lot of java, but it will be remembered as an extra nice gesture that didn't have to be made.
8. Become The Master Of Fun
Spearhead an office initiative people will like because they're fun (soccer team, "things overheard at the color copier" blog, potluck breakfast Fridays, talent show, whatever.) -- Michelle Goodman, The Anti 9-to-5 Guide
9. Duck & Cover
Sometimes it pays to make a sacrifice play, especially when it helps you snag a potential new member for your Ensemble. Got that guy in your division who really has it on the ball but just can't seem to ever get into the office in time? He's always fifteen minutes late no matter what he tries to do. So plan ahead to get him off the hook. Offer to help cover for him being late if he throws a little of his genius at a problem that you're wrestling with. The next time the boss is looking for Mr. Tardy Pants, let him know that he just called and he's on his way. Then be sure to text your new best friend and let him know the honcho's on the warpath. Find a few similar ways to misdirect management from other misstepping officemates from time to time and you'll be hip-deep in favors owed to you.
Special thanks to my friends around the blogsphere who contributed tips to this piece: Michelle Goodman from The Anti 9-to-5 Guide, Lance Haun from YourHRGuy.com and Timothy L. Johnson from Carpe Factum!
Marc Hershon is the co-author of the new book I Hate People (Little, Brown and Company; June 2009) with Jonathan Littman. Marc is a branding expert who, through his Simmer Branding Studio, has created such memorable names as nüvi, Crackle.com and the title for Dr. Phil's book Love Smart.