In the typical office, you can get away with a lot of goofing off: frequent coffee breaks, sneaking in a little late, surfing the Internet, etc. And even people who goof off can (and often do) get ahead in their career. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the advice I’m doling out applies only to those individuals who show up on time, work hard, and care about their job.
You might say to yourself: “I bust my ass every day for this company and no one ever notices.” If so, that’s your fault. It’s up to you to stand out. In this economy it’s every man for himself, so you can be damn sure no one’s going to help you. Many of these tips might seem like advice on being a better salesperson. And in a way, that’s what you need to do. You are not going to get a promotion or receive guaranteed career advancement if you don’t sell yourself.
- Get some facetime with the boss
This one is easier than it sounds. Identify a flawed process, come up with an idea for improving that process, then schedule a brief 30-minute meeting with your boss to discuss. If you just aren’t that creative, then volunteer to help one of your coworkers who is already making this kind of effort.
- Contribute something to the conversation
Whenever you are in a meeting, add something to the discussion. It doesn’t have to be mindblowingly impressive. Just something to let everyone know you are participating. This is particularly important when your boss is in the room.
- Don’t say anything stupid
So now you’re contributing. That’s great. Just don’t overdo it. Don’t interrupt when others are speaking, and don’t talk too much. And above all, don’t say anything that makes you look like a moron. No emotions, no whining, no backtalk! Think before you speak.
- Show up early
This one’s difficult, I know. You already put in 40 hours like everyone else. Why should you get there early? Because the next guy isn’t going to and it’s an easy way to make a good impression. Show up 15 minutes early and park close to the building. If 15 minutes isn’t early enough to make a difference, try 30 minutes. If your office is small enough, your boss knows what kind of car you drive and will notice. If you work in a big office, make sure to send or reply to an email right when you get there. At least someone will know you were there early. Bosses will know you care and coworkers will think you care more than they do. If you get a promotion, everyone will think you deserve it.
- Learn everyone’s name and role
Here’s where some of the salesmanship really takes over. You want people to like you. Even if you really don’t care about them, it will help your career path. Say hello to everyone you see. And say their name. “Good morning, Tom.” And then keep moving. You don’t want to get caught up bullshitting about the weekend. You’re just letting them know that you know who they are.
- Laugh, but not too much
This is the next step in getting to know your coworkers. When you’re in the kitchen grabbing a cup of coffee, joke around a little. Laugh and have fun. But always cut it short. Any more than a minute or two and you’re goofing off. This might sound severe, but think about your boss’ perception. the last thing you want is for them to think you’re always standing around chatting. And you certainly don’t want your coworkers to think you’re a tight ass. So laugh – just not too much.
- Dress like you give a shit
Even if your office has a relaxed dress code, please do this one thing: Dress better than your peers. The cliche is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Great idea, but you don’t necessarily have to wear a suit to work for your boss to think you have leadership potential. And you might look like a douchebag if all your peers are wearing jeans. So at least dress nicer than the next guy. Khakis instead of jeans. Tucked in button-up instead of an untucked polo. Maybe not even every day. Just make an effort.
- Walk fast and carry something
This might seem duplicitous. So what – it works. Don’t slowly stride through the office corridors empty handed. It looks like you’re going on break. If you are going to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee, bring a notepad with you and walk briskly. It’ll look like you’re headed to a meeting. If someone asks, don’t lie. Say you’re going to get coffee. Whatever. Most of the time people will simply have the impression that your time is too important for wandering around the office. You have places to be and you don’t want to be late.
- Send emails during off hours
Think back to my opening statement here. I’m not suggesting you pretend to be a hard worker. Whether it’s walking quickly or sending after hours emails, these things only really help you if you are in fact a dedicated worker. When you are starting to wind down at the end of the day and you have a couple more emails to send, you could either stay late or wait until the next morning. Either of those solutions is fine as long as you send the email after the normal closing time or before the normal start time. And if you can send it from home later that evening – even better. I’m not at all suggesting you put off work to make it look like you’re busy when you aren’t. I’m just saying that if you have a few minutes of work to do at night – do it.
- Tell them what you want
So now you’re making a good impression. You’re an intelligent hard worker who goes above and beyond. That’s great, except no one really knows why you are doing all this. Tell someone. Anyone who is above you on the food chain who will listen. Formality is your friend in this case. Schedule a 30 minute meeting with your superior to discuss you career path and your goals. If your company has all this mapped out for you and you are worried that this kind of conversation might be too much, then simply say you are asking for advice. Your boss wants you to succeed. Help them help you.