As an emerging leader or high-achiever, you already know the importance of working hard and delivering results. But to put it bluntly, hard work and results aren’t always enough to stand out in today’s fast-paced and competitive job market. Instead, professional differentiation means going beyond the basics and developing an approach that showcases your unique strengths and value proposition.
Fortunately, by approaching your career with an intentional mindset, you can gain a significant advantage and accelerate your progress toward your goals. In this post, we'll explore five strategies that will help you stand out, develop your professional reputation, and take your career to the next level.
1. Save Your Receipts
Carefully document your accomplishments at work, big or small. When it’s time to ask for a raise or performance reviews or job interviews, you’ll be able to clearly and tangibly demonstrate your value through a clear record of accomplishments.
Whenever possible, tie your accomplishments to specific goals and outcomes. If you launched a new product or service, for example, estimate the total annual revenue the new service will likely introduce based on current projections (if you can already measure your results directly, even better). If you reduced an inefficiency in your team’s workflow, estimate the cost savings of the extra productivity. And if your leadership or HR initiative boosted team morale, circulate regular employee happiness surveys so you can quantitatively track the results.
That said, your cache of accomplishments doesn’t just have to include hard numbers. Make a folder on your personal desktop or in a personal drive like Google Docs so you can save emails, messages, and screenshots of praise you receive from your coworkers, supervisors, clients, customers, or company leadership. These snippets and soundbites will come in handy for roles that prioritize soft skills, like management positions, and they make for great testimonials if you’re starting your own venture. (Bonus tip: revisit this folder the next time you need an extra boost of motivation!)
Ultimately, documenting your accomplishments is about ensuring the next step – advocating for yourself – goes way more smoothly.
2. Advocate for Yourself
As much as your colleagues might respect and appreciate you, it’s not realistic to expect other people to do your advocating for you; everyone is busy with their own priorities. So, take ownership over your goals and don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Do you need a raise to offset the pangs of inflation? Ask for one. Have you taken on extra responsibilities that may warrant a title change? Make your case. Are you on a mission to rise to a particular position within your organization? Speak to your immediate supervisor early so the two of you can put together a growth plan.
The key to making any ask, of course, is to: a) come prepared with receipts; and b) consider the timing of your ask. It may not be a good idea to ask for a raise or promotion directly after a round of lay-offs, but a successful quarter or project milestone could provide the perfect window for you to make your case.
Advocating for yourself isn’t about being pushy or arrogant. It's simply about taking a proactive approach to your career growth and communicating your value to the organization.
On that note, one easy way to advocate for yourself is to schedule regular check-ins with your manager to discuss your career goals and progress. Use these meetings as an opportunity to share your accomplishments, ask for feedback, and discuss any challenges or concerns you may have. Be clear and specific about what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there.
3. Expand Your Professional Network
Look for opportunities to connect with other folks in your field. Building these relationships can open doors and help you gain exposure to new opportunities.
Not really a networker? You might be surprised. Networking doesn’t have to involve forced small-talk with strangers at forced industry happy hours. Hackathons, volunteer work, and relevant courses (like, ahem, any of our courses at Uplimit) are also great places to build your network.
You can also connect with industry players on Twitter or LinkedIn to expand your network – just make sure to contribute to conversations in a thoughtful way. Be genuine and authentic, focusing on building long-term connections rather than just seeking immediate benefits.
If you have a particular job or company in mind, it never hurts to reach out to someone who works there to get a lay of the land. And if your target company throws events or hosts webinars, attend them. You can email relevant players later with follow-up questions as it’s appropriate. If nothing else, these events and webinars make for great icebreaker topics in the event that you land an interview with your target company.
4. Build Strong Relationships
Whether you love outreach-style networking or find it painful, let’s not forget the obvious: your colleagues, supervisors, and/or direct reports are also a critical part of your professional network. People tend to cycle through jobs pretty quickly in the tech field, so today’s colleague can easily become tomorrow’s inside connection to your dream job. What’s more, the people you work with are the ones who see you in action day in and day out, so their impressions of you will naturally be stronger – for better or worse – than casual industry connections.
So, how can you build strong relationships with your colleagues? Start by making clear, proactive communication a priority. Don’t wait for people to hand you work; reach out and ask. And if you’re likely to miss a deadline or your project has encountered some unexpected bumps, reach out to the project stakeholders as early as possible to communicate the issue and outline your plan for resolving it.
Proactive communication also means taking the initiative to reach out to colleagues and ask for their input or feedback. Listen actively to their responses, showing genuine interest in their perspectives. Not only will this help you build trust and rapport with your colleagues, but the feedback can also help you gain valuable insights about what might improve your work.
Remember that building strong relationships takes time and effort. It requires a willingness to invest in others, to pitch in and do favors, and to be open to feedback and new perspectives. Don’t approach your relationships expecting reciprocity 100% of the time; just trust that the more people you impact in a positive way, the more likely you are to encounter open doors and unexpected opportunities.
5. Be a Key Influencer
People with influence have a strong personal brand, are respected for their knowledge and expertise, and are seen as valuable contributors. This is true whether you want to be an influencer in your industry at large, or simply within your own organization.
If you’re aiming to be an influencer in your organization, look for ways to drive organizational change and add value to your team. Volunteer for cross-functional projects or initiatives and collaborate with colleagues to solve problems. For example, if you have expertise in marketing, offer to lead a training session for your colleagues to share your knowledge and help them improve their skills.
Another way to become an organizational influencer is to be a mentor or coach to others. Consider formalizing a mentorship program or informally providing guidance and support to people who are newer. Lead by example, modeling the behaviors and attitudes that you want to see in others.
If you’re more interested in becoming an influencer in your industry at large, many of the same rules apply. Stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices so you can provide commentary and participate in conversations on social media. Keep a blog on Medium or substack, or write guest posts for industry publications. And whenever possible, lean into the work you actually enjoy doing, whether that’s hosting podcasts, sharing tutorial videos, or contributing to Github.
Ready to Stand Out In All the Right Ways?
Then you know what to do: sign up for How to Stand Out and Advance in Your Career today. This empowering course will provide you hard-hitting career advice you can instantly put into practice using personal brand audits, career roadmaps, relationship trackers, and other hands-on projects. Whether you’re pursuing an entrepreneurial path, entering a new field, or hoping to stand out as a respected player in your company, this course will give you the tools you’ll need to level up.
This three-week long course starts on May 8. We’ll see you there!