How to look impressive at my job
May 17, 2024 2:39 AM   Subscribe

I feel a tension at my new workplace between being effective and appearing effective. I am a good worker with a fair bit of experience, thoughtful and detail-oriented, but there is a separate matter of being impressive where I feel like I am lacking.

I've been at my new workplace for c. 6 months and have picked up on aspects of the organisational culture in that time.

One thing I find challenging is that there is a real focus on how you come across. This has been the case in my previous organisations too but working in those places for a long time I knew pretty much what I was meant to be doing and what was expected of me in terms of how I was supposed to behave.

At this role, I haven't really cracked it. I sense that colleagues are expected to be confident, outgoing, warm, dynamic and ambitious. I am only a couple of these things, and not to the degree that I suspect is valued at my workplace. I have a realistic view of my own capabilities. I am outgoing but not overly so. I am older than a lot of my colleagues, and I suspect that my job holds a different place in my life than theirs does. I have an elderly family to care for, and a lot of things outside the workplace that take up my time and attention. Most of my colleagues are 'hungry' and ambitious in a way that I really am not. They are also far more outgoing and talkative than I am, and very into the social aspects of working in an office.

I am in a senior role. My job is one that requires a lot of planning and strategising. Actual progress is slow. There is no such thing as a quick win, and about 6 months I have no big wins to report, though my work is picking up momentum and I am working on some really interesting things. It is not glamorous or dynamic; there is a focus on detail and accuracy if you're going to be effective. A lot of my colleagues' work tends to be more 'big picture'. Their work tends to be more relationship-focused and the 'wins' tend to be frequent and visible. I feel like there is a lot of emphasis made in team meetings on talking about all the work you've accomplished, when often from week to week the only progress I'll have made on things will be quite small and unsexy.

I've made some good relationships in the role and am well-liked. No red flags yet but I'm conscious of the difference between how I come across versus how many of my colleagues do.

How can I ensure longevity and a good reputation in an organisation which values qualities I don't have? It's a great workplace in many ways, an interesting job and the benefits package is good. I'm also not at a point in my life where I want to be job hopping.
posted by unicorn chaser to Work & Money (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pause. Pause and listen. You're in a senior role.

Most of my colleagues are 'hungry' and ambitious in a way that I really am not. They are also far more outgoing and talkative than I am

That's fine. Great for them; also for you. Talkative people like to be listened to. That's why they're talking after all, right? It's okay to listen, appreciated. There's even a book you can read.
posted by HearHere at 2:50 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


I'm in a similar situation, in that I prefer quietly excelling in my role rather than shouting about how great I am, but I have plenty of coworkers who are hungry and ambitious in the way you describe.

Behaviours I see from them, or that other colleagues have highlighted as contributing to the perception that they're hungry and high-performing:

- Visibly and regularly sharing insights from industry- or function- specific resources (books, articles, conference sessions)

- Sharing shout-outs and appreciation for their team members and other junior people on our internal platforms (gives the sense that they care about the success of the whole team, not just their own success)

- Over-sharing on progress updates and successes (stuff I wouldn't ever think to mention, but it does contribute to the perception that they're highly engaged, thriving/succeeding, and developing their careers)

- Talking openly and regularly about their career ambitions (for various reasons that are more about me than about them, I find this so gross and refuse to do it even if that comes at the expense of career opportunities)

At the same time, these people aren't universally liked. I'm not the only coworker who thinks these behaviours come across as A Lot/trying too hard. When I think of the coworker who does these behaviours the most (someone who I have an unfortunate habit of comparing myself to inside my head on bad days), multiple people have seen her huge level of drive and productivity, thought "sure, but what's she using those behaviours to run away from?", and expressed that thought out loud. If you only spoke to her, you'd think everyone thought she was great, but there are definitely folks within our organisation who are much more lukewarm on the value and/or impact of these behaviours.

It might be that these behaviours are so beneficial in the culture of your workplace that there's value in holding your nose and doing at least some of them. It might also be that the behaviours that mark someone as hungry and ambitious are different in your organisation compared to mine! Personally, I've spent the past few years re-evaluating my actual level of career ambition compared to the assumptions I made going into my career, and I've realised I don't actually want a bigger job enough to do all of this stuff, so my strategy is to continue quietly excelling rather than loudly yelling and see where that takes me. Parts of my brain still don't 100% believe this is a valid choice, but it seems like the saner of the two options for my situation right now.
posted by terretu at 3:19 AM on May 17 [8 favorites]


My job is one that requires a lot of planning and strategising. Actual progress is slow. There is no such thing as a quick win, and about 6 months I have no big wins to report, though my work is picking up momentum and I am working on some really interesting things. [...] I feel like there is a lot of emphasis made in team meetings on talking about all the work you've accomplished, when often from week to week the only progress I'll have made on things will be quite small and unsexy.

Is the big picture of what you're slowly making progress on sexy, though? Is everyone fully aware of what it is, what you're moving towards, what it will mean for them or the company in general, and what the challenges are? Do they understand why it's interesting? I wonder if it's possible to frame the work you're doing in a way that actually will sound more engaging. If the small, unsexy steps connect to a more interesting big picture, then focusing on that might help both in terms of sounding more impressive and, maybe more importantly, actually helping people understand the overall role your work plays.
posted by trig at 3:28 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


I stumbled on a possible solution almost by accident in my career. I used to work my butt off to produce, produce, produce, and it never seemed to get me anywhere. So I started taking a more laid-back approach, while also maintaining the appearance of being busy (I was still busy, just less so). It seems that the more laid-back my approach to work is, the more people take me seriously. I'm not sure I can explain it entirely, but it might be that I have more energy to spend on how I present myself and more time to make sure what I produce is polished. I also have more flexibility so when something is needed quickly I have the time to jump right in and get it done.

So counterintuitively you might do better to be a little less productive (in a narrow sense of productive) and save more time and energy for appearance. In a way, appearance is a form of productivity, as much as some of us wish it weren't.
posted by Tehhund at 5:55 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


I’ve worked in a similar environment, and in that case, it wasn’t so much that everyone else had constant big wins, but that they were good enough at storytelling to make small wins sound really impressive. I had to learn to do the same in order to be successful there.
posted by okayokayigive at 6:21 AM on May 17 [6 favorites]


Just want to push back a little... is your supervisor also one who is outgoing and bragging? What about others who do a similar job as yours? If you're trying to impress lower-level outgoing sales-type people, maybe that's not where you need to focus your attention.
posted by hydra77 at 7:33 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I am in a senior role. My job is one that requires a lot of planning and strategising. Actual progress is slow. There is no such thing as a quick win, and about 6 months I have no big wins to report, though my work is picking up momentum and I am working on some really interesting things.

Wow, this sounds so much like my job!

I don't think this is so much about being ambitious or appearing impressive. I think that it is your responsibility, in a senior role, to make sure you are building rapport and confidence with your colleagues and junior staff following your lead - to share some of your excitement and confidence about the momentum that's picking up and the interesting things you are working on.

Are there opportunities in team meetings, or more casual spaces like lunch time shares, where you could talk about what you are doing to bring value to the organization? Do that. Even if you do work that's less sexy / more backend, its important and your colleagues should hear about it.
posted by RajahKing at 7:46 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


You probably have to provide status updates in some form. Work on storytelling there so that with each update you are communicating the value the overall project will add and the value your incremental work made to the project.

Another suggestion that was sort of made earlier... Compliment other people! It seems backwards if you want to draw attention to yourself, but for those of us who don't like drawing attention, it's a way to speak up and participate without the attention being on us.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:43 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


Thirding the replies to work on communicating what you’re working on well - senior level, big picture planning stuff is often hard to communicate succinctly without being unhelpfully vague, but being as transparent as you can about what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it (both from the POV of it benefiting the company, and your personal motivations for taking on that kind of work) can really help engage people.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:16 PM on May 17


I am working on some really interesting things

I think conveying your own enthusiasm goes a long way. “It may not sound glamorous but to me, this was really great to learn because of X and how it will position our decisions for Y big initiative.)

And as you’re in a senior role, your love of accuracy conveyed adds to a culture of accuracy.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:52 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


« Older Slipped disc, effective treatment vs liver strain   |   Sundowning Mom Terrified of Caretaking Dad Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments