What are you doing to shine? 5 ways to stand out in tough times

shine.jpgI was struck by the last line of a recent article in BusinessWeek about career strategies for a recession. The line comes from an executive coach who says:

“If you can shine at this moment, you’ll shine forever.”

That’s a pretty strong statement. I’m not sure if any one time period can define an entire 40- to 50- year career, but I agree with the coach that your actions right now are crucial. If you want to stay employed and even advance in tough times, you have to go the extra mile. Here are some tips for how young professionals can shine in an economic downturn:

1. Be solution-focused. Now more than ever, it’s important to bring your boss and clients solutions rather than problems. Instead of saying, “Bad news. The printer has just raised his rates and we don’t have the budget to do our monthly mailer,” shine by saying, “The printer has raised his rates. I’ve researched three other possible printers that are less expensive. Here are my recommendations for how to move forward.”

2. Spend time on highest-priority projects. Now is not the time for busywork. Ask your manager what projects are most important right now and spend most of your time and energy on those. Check in regularly to make sure your work is always as relevant as possible.

3. Be visible. Getting your work done is very important, but it’s meaningless if no one knows what you’re accomplishing.  Do not — I repeat, do not — fall into the trap of keeping your head down and hoping that your work will speak for itself. Send positive updates to your manager, speak up at meetings and get up and walk around a few times a day. (To avoid looking like you’re not busy, use your walkabouts to discuss current projects and ask colleagues if there’s anything you can do to support them.)

4. Be a resource. Another way to shine is to be the go-to person in a particular area — industry news, company policies, trend research, a complex financial model, sentence structure, whatever is important in your company (hint: it won’t be helpful to be the go-to person on the best local happy hours).  If your expertise is valuable to your colleagues and you’re generous about sharing what you know, you’ll help to make yourself indispensable.

5. Study other stars. Finally, pay close attention to the professionals in your company who are thriving in tough times. Who is getting promoted? Who is landing plum assignments? Who is everybody talking about? There’s no escaping office politics, especially in bad times when everyone is feeling a bit more competitive. As a young professional, you can learn a lot by studying and emulating the actions, attitudes and relationships of your company’s most popular people.

What are your strategies for shining in dark times? Please share!

8 Responses to “What are you doing to shine? 5 ways to stand out in tough times”

  1. Jun Loayza

    Great advice Lindsey! Being a star at your current place of work is a great way to progress through this economic downturn and make sure that you don’t get laid-off.

    I think your advice can be applied in good and bad economic times. Something that I would like to add is that young professionals should constantly be looking for a way to progress their careers outside of the current place of employment. Start a startup company on the side, join a non-profit as a volunteer, or become deeply involved in the social media community to promote your brand.

    Work may be 9-5, but that doesn’t mean that your personal development has to stop there.

    Jun Loayza

  2. Lindsey Pollak

    @Jun – Thanks so much for the comment. Great advice to pursue activities outside of the office!


  3. The current job market, job searching, or refocusing…you choose at SocialMediaCampus

    […] this summer. Her blog is both inspirational and informative. Recently Lindsey wrote a post about 5 ways to stand out in tough times. While reading through the 5 points I realized most of the suggestions made perfect sense, but I […]

  4. Paul Lubic

    Lindsey, I couldn’t agree more. Watch the organization’s stars. I would also suggest a couple of tips to avoid being on the layoff list:
    1. Form a relationship with the stars; ask them how they’ve succeeded in this particular organization; ask “what is it that has made you successful?”; and
    2. Besides working harder than everyone else, it’s important, as you point out, that the value that you add is visible to the management team. All the management team, because there is a rating process, some more formal than others, where the layoff list is formed. It should be no surprise that the least valuable employees are put at the top of the list and the most valuable at the bottom or not at all.
    This process usually works such that each supervisor ranks his/her employees and then all supervisors bring their list to a session where the final list is negotiated. This involves supervisors recommending their best employees to be ranked high (most valuable) and therefore left off the list. What usually happens is that a supervisor’s recommendations usually require the support of another supervisor. This is why an employee should form relationships with other supervisors and make their contributions known to all management if possible.

    Paul Lubic

  5. Lindsey Pollak

    @Paul – Thanks for this great insider info – very helpful for those hoping to avoid a layoff. I appreciate the comment!


  6. Dano

    Right on Paul! I actually came across this article a while back and thought many of the same thoughts. Re: #3 – absolutely. Now, if any time is appropriate, is NOT the time to slip back into the shadows and just ‘do the job’. If you think about the stars in your office, these are not the people just getting the job done, but those that are leading the charge. Stand up and be counted…and your job will still be there in the morning.

  7. Lindsey Pollak

    @Dano – Thanks for commenting. Visibility and going the extra mile(s) are crucial right now. No one can afford to coast right now.


  8. Mark McClure Coaching

    @Paul Lubic – I think this is sound advice and even if you do that and still get canned, the habits and attitude you bring to the next gig (job search, new company, self-employment) will be invaluable.

    However, that being said, there is alas sometimes no escape even for stellar performers if they stand out on a total compensation spreadsheet. This happened recently to a friend of mine – he was “too expensive to keep” (employer’s words).

    From what I can see the very best “performers” not only have contacts within the organization but actively cultivate (with give as well as take) business/career relationships outside too.


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