How do you distinguish yourself from the pack?
June 9, 2007 2:42 PM   Subscribe

How do you distinguish yourself from the pack?

I work for a fairly large service company, that has many employees with a similar caliber skillset to my own. I have already attempted to distinguish myself by offering improvements to company processes, developing needed tools to make other employees jobs easier, and working as hard as I can stand. However, despite my commitment I either seem to be stonewalled by other developments in the company, or I just can't gain traction. This job is fairly important to me as I have recently come into the mindset of having a career as opposed to just "a job".

What are some general guidelines or best practices to set me apart from the competition?
posted by jackofsaxons to Work & Money (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Work smarter, not harder. Do you spend so much time with your head down 'working as hard as you can' that you fail to network with your supervisors and THEIR supervisors? That you fail to have the hallway conversations and water cooler conversations that build trust between your peers, supervisors, and you don't get the privileged information that allows people to 'gain traction' and position themselves so they don't get blindsided by changes in the company? Do you have a mentor besides your boss within the organization?

Repeat after me: "It's better to be liked than to be good."
posted by SpecialK at 2:47 PM on June 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I have made many contacts within the company, at significantly high levels, and have attempted to be their "eyes and ears" in a part of the company that are unable to frequent.

Your advice rings true though. I've spent most of my life as an introvert, and have recently learned through my work experience that it's a good way to not get anywhere.

posted by jackofsaxons at 2:52 PM on June 9, 2007

I found I gained the most knowledge when I worked on cross-departmental projects. If there are anything that you can help someone out with, or a project you could volunteer for, can be well worth it. (Knowledge is largely of the "who do you ask" to get X done, and connections within the company. In my company this is valuable, but varies).

Note: cross-departmental projects tend to have some politics, stress, so you need to make sure you're extra respectful of people's time, energy, expertise.

Also, is there any professional development classes/courses/certificates? Sometimes taking a course can show your dedication to the field of knowledge.
posted by ejaned8 at 3:08 PM on June 9, 2007

I just finished reading Time Management for Systems Administrators which I found to be an interesting look at time management for people who have to do some long range projects but who are constantly getting interrupted. Oneof the things that the author points out is that a good way to "do well" at work is figure out what your boss is really trying to get out of his/her work experience and try to make that one of your priorities along with all the other things you do.

So, the example given if your boss is just trying to cruise through his last year before retirement and wants an easy year, concentrate on making your work insulate him from headaches and hassles and don't start new risky projects or ruffle feathers. If your boss is trying to get noticed by higer ups or get a promotion or whatever, try to figure out how your department can excel and look flashy in a way that lets her take some of the credit or show off some. I've never, personally, really worked someplace where these sorts of things made sense, but it rang true in a way. Another suggestion for being likeable and also functional is having some walk around time where you touch base with all the people who report to you [or perhaps who you report to] on some regular schedule so that you'll know and they'll know there will be a time to connect over whatever issues you have in common. It takes some finesse to do this right, of course, but it beats making a ton of stupid meetings that no one enjoys. If you're an introvert it may be a bit of a challenge to get this right, or to interact with people effortlessly to begin with, but with more practice you can make it part of your routine.

My last piece of advice is saying just what you said in your question "I am really looking at making this my career, what do you suggest?" for people who work above you or who have more seniority than you and maybe they can point out areas that could stand improvement.
posted by jessamyn at 3:08 PM on June 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Start smoking.

I can't find the citation just yet, but as I recall, I actually saw this linked on AskMeFi or MeFi a while back. Studies have shown that in larger companies, smokers are much more likely to know exactly who to go to to get a given task done than their non-smoking compatriots. Why? Because they get to know people from all echelons and departments within the company while gossiping and establishing camaraderie on smoke breaks. Non-smokers, on the contrary, mainly network within their own departments. The study concluded that if you want to know how to get something done in a large company, ask the smokers.
posted by limeonaire at 3:22 PM on June 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

SpecialK : Repeat after me: "It's better to be liked than to be good."

I loath this mindset. But it is not wrong.

limeonaire : Start smoking.

I know that most of the face time I got with my bosses boss came from having nicotine cravings at about the same time he did. Smoking is a terrible habit, so you may want to just make a point to go out with your co-workers on their smoke-breaks. It's what I do now that I've quit. It gives me a chance to get outside for five minutes on nice days, and chat with people I wouldn't normally speak to.
posted by quin at 3:45 PM on June 9, 2007

This may sound a bit cynical, but in my experience it's at least as much about the marketing as it is the quality of ideas.
posted by treepour at 3:50 PM on June 9, 2007

Make sure the people you deal with know your name. Don't assume. Don't rely on name badges. Don't assume they will remember your name, just because they said it once.

A couple tricks I use: After dealing with someone, I might say, "If you need anything else, ask for Darryl!" I say it with enough tongue-in-cheek so as to sound like an intentional, jokey, cliche. But it works.

Also, work your own name into a brief story. "I was talking to my boss today and he said, 'Darryl, I have a special assignment for you.'" (substitute: friend, wife, etc, and any other event of your choosing.)

Just try to sound more jokey than cocky.
posted by The Deej at 4:01 PM on June 9, 2007

Two things.

First, volunteer for every special project. Even things they don't ask you to do. Make it known you want to get as much experience as possible.

Second, follow those projects through to completion.

I see many people master the first thing, not so many manage to do the second. If you do you'll move up extremely fast.
posted by Octoparrot at 4:35 PM on June 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

get to know everyone and learn to genuinely care and like them. even (and maybe especially) those below you who can't help you climb the ladder. make others feel important and liked.

sad fact - doing your job well doesn't promise you're efforts will be recognized. and besides, the above will help you to enjoy your work a lot more as well.
posted by nihlton at 5:21 PM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Large organizations will tend to weed out outliers--and they will destroy a hard-charger with a sense of mission, or who expects organizational change and positive reinforcement. Uncontroversial, uncomplaining mediocrity is the way to progress.

Either that or become political. Your sincerity may be holding you back.

If you really want to make a difference, stay away from a large organization.

Now, for less depressing advice:

Be nice to everyone, especiallly those far below you on the org chart. This can be faked for a short time. Ultimately you'll have to mean it.

Be able to give people what they need, not just what the job description says your deliverable is. If somebody needs to look good in front of their boss, then that's your assignment. Don't be too literal or engineer-like, in determining the underlying goal--think beyond the surface. The flesh and blood creatures that decide your fate have interests that diverge from the stated goals of the organization.

Know what motivates other departments and try to help them when you can. You want them saying, "For an accountant/IT person/marketer, Jack is actually a really helpful guy."

Volunteer (as above), learn, read constantly, and keep forcing your mind outward. Learn other problem-solving approaches and stories and you'll be more useful in a crisis, which is when people can be most mobile. The guy who, when his bosses are trying to bid for a contract. pipes up: "You know, this reminds me: CBS used this great tactic when they tried to hire Letterman away from NBC"--and can apply it to the current situation-- is going a lot further than the person who is an expert on his area and has no interest beyond it.
posted by Phred182 at 6:41 PM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

What are some general guidelines or best practices to set me apart from the competition?

Keep your ears to the rail. Listen to what the company--and your co-workers in particular--are constantly griping about, asking for... then propose something to help that problem. Companies are always looking at their bottom line: if you can think of something that will save dollars or make dollars, you will get an audience. Whatever that thing is, make sure it becomes indispensable to the company's bottom-line.

Presto: job security.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:35 AM on June 10, 2007

The best way to stand-out at work is to be well "positioned".

Find a niche in your job that isn't currently being filled by your co-workers and fill it.

My job title at work is "software engineer" but I am extremely passionate about business and finance. When project managers want to staff a project with complicated business requirements I always get picked.
posted by orlick at 9:03 AM on June 13, 2007

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