16 Things That Will Make You Stand Out at Work
Ed. note: Want to learn how to take your career to the next level? Our co-founders, Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr, are spilling the secrets to stepping up your professional game in a brand-new book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career. Decoding all the lessons they learned while building their own company from scratch, this rule book will put you on the fast track to achieving your career dreams, big and small.
Today, in anticipation of the book’s release on May 17, Katherine and Hillary are sharing some bonus material from the book: 16 things that will make you stand out at work. Read on to learn how to have all eyes on you in the very best way.
Whether you’re just starting out in your first job or are leading a team of your own, it’s important to remember that everyone appreciates certain qualities in their employees and colleagues. Think of these as your office commandments, the guiding principles that are certain to make you the go-to person everyone wants to work with. And while mastering these qualities, attitudes, and best practices is particularly important for entry-level employees, even those of us further along in our careers should check in on them and make sure we’re still covering all of our bases.
All of our most successful employees, from assistants to C-level executives, share a single trait: a positive attitude. They take on every task—even the most mundane and tedious—with a can-do manner, and that confidence is incredibly important. At the end of the day, would you rather be on a team with an Eeyore who is always saying no to everything or with someone who believes there’s a way to fix, solve, and improve any situation?
One of the best lessons we learned from our first bosses is how to think resourcefully. Basically we each got a crash course in getting stuff done. This should be a college class, but sadly it is not. The key to being resourceful is looking at all the ways you can solve a problem—a skill set that will serve you in any situation.
If you’re an entry-level employee or an assistant…
When you’re starting out, you might find yourself tasked with smaller responsibilities that may not feel important, like making lunch or dinner reservations for your boss or the department. It’s easy to think this type of request isn’t a big deal, but it can actually teach you a lot, especially about how to become more resourceful.
Let’s say you try to make a reservation online but everything is booked. Don’t just report that information back to your boss or the team and call it a day. Try calling the restaurant; many hold back some of their tables from the online reservation services to fill the spaces themselves. (Just make sure to call early in the evening before rush hour starts, because no one will want to help you if they’re slammed seating customers.) If that doesn’t work, there are now digital reservation apps that will help you book a table for a small transactional fee. You can keep trying the restaurant each day to see if there have been cancellations or to get on a waiting list. Just think about what you would do if you really wanted that reservation. Is there something you can leverage on your boss’s behalf? Sometimes just a thoughtfully worded e-mail will help your cause. When in doubt, always have a backup plan to present. Other restaurants of a similar vibe are good alternatives. The point is to try every option before you give up. The experience will teach you to come up with other ways of getting what you want and need. Being able to think this way will help you problem-solve all kinds of future work issues.
If you’re a mid- or senior-level employee…
As your career progresses, you take on larger problems, but that problem-solving skill set—learning to pivot and tackle a problem from another angle—is essential. Every project you work on will have some sort of roadblock: Maybe you don’t have enough resources to get things finished on a certain timeline, or maybe your client doesn’t like the first 15 ideas you’ve presented and you still have to come up with more. This is when tapping into your resourceful side is so valuable, because it allows you to think of new and fresh ways to solve a problem. Being able to think of creative solutions or alternative options is also wildly necessary when you’re starting your own company. If you aren’t resourceful and able to do a lot with a little, it’s going to be a rough road, to put it mildly.
No one likes chasing information, whether it’s your boss asking about a task she’s delegated or your peers needing the latest news on a project you’re working on together. Do everyone a favor and update them early and often. People often think they should communicate only when a task is finished or they’re certain about specific information. That’s actually a huge (though completely understandable) mistake. You might think, “Why waste everyone’s time by reporting that there’s no news?” The thing is, you’re not wasting their time; you’re helping them manage their own workload and saving them from wondering whether they need to follow up with you. That is why we always espouse sending a simple status update to the relevant parties, complete with a quickly rehashed plan about your next steps: This gives everyone peace of mind.
When you’re an assistant or the most junior member of your team, the ability to anticipate your boss’s needs—like knowing that she always sends a particular client Champagne after a project closes, and suggesting it before she asks—is priceless. Being able to think one step ahead of everyone else will serve you well throughout your career. What it comes down to is paying attention to the people and problems you’re dealing with and noticing patterns or potential pitfalls.
When you’re a mid- or senior-level employee, this attentiveness will help you manage everything from people to projects. You might, for example, notice that a person on your team requires a certain amount of positive feedback to be happy and productive and give them the verbal recognition they need. Or, if you can see that a particular aspect of a project will be more time-consuming than anticipated, you can preemptively shift the schedule to accommodate the extra time before you miss a deadline. The best part is that all you have to do is pay attention. People are so busy that they sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. With a little focus, you can see both.
One of the weirder lessons to learn about being an assistant is that you are privy to an insane amount of information about your boss’s life. Even if your job doesn’t require you to do much personal assisting, you still end up knowing loads of intimate details, like how often your boss gets highlights or goes to the gynecologist, which friendly get-togethers/meetings can be canceled at the last second, and the intricacies of their latest diet/lunch order.
But that intimacy is a one-way street. While your boss might want to discuss the finer points of two presents they’re considering giving their significant other, reciprocity is not expected. Be careful about how much you share, and in this case, keep your own present debating to yourself. (Sad, maybe, but that’s what friends are for!) Of course this all depends on the person you work for—some people like knowing all the ins and outs of their team’s lives—but generally speaking, you’ll never regret undersharing. It makes it easier to separate work from the rest of your life, which leads to less stress and a less sentimental attachment to your job—two very good things.
As a mid-level employee, it’s even more imperative that you don’t overshare, for a variety of reasons. You might have super-competitive colleagues who would use the information that you’re hungover at work or that you missed a meeting because you were fighting with your significant other as ammunition with which to potentially wreck your career. Also, you never know which of your colleagues might be your boss someday, and if she remembers you bragging about padding your expenses or cycling through six boyfriends in three months, she might not want to hire you. Not because there’s anything wrong with your dating choices—you do you—but she may feel you’re not very discreet.
Finally, when you’re in a senior-level position or are running the show, never forget that you are responsible for setting the tone for how much people share or do not share, so use your power wisely! While you may feel you should be able to say or do whatever you want, be considerate of your team, and remember that they might not want to hear the details of your life. (TMI is a thing!)
No matter where you are in your career path, always be proactive and get ahead of opportunities, problems, and projects, rather just reacting to them after the fact. As an assistant or entry-level employee, that might mean doing something as simple as asking how you can help rather than just waiting for an assignment. Even better, look around at what needs fixing in your office (we’re talking organizational systems or the way interns are hired, not broken lamps!) and make that project your own. Later in your career, when you’re a mid- or senior-level employee, being proactive means identifying and tackling new business opportunities, such as a partnership or potential revenue stream that would be valuable to the company. The point is to have an entrepreneurial problem-solving-before-it’s-a-problem mentality and just be useful. Whenever we see someone being proactive in our office, it is noted, appreciated, and often leads to promotions.
You know how people say there are no stupid questions? We regret to inform you that at work, that’s not entirely true. The situation isn’t dire; you can ask just about anything. Just be sure you’ve A.) done your homework before asking, and B.) written down the answer so you won't need to ask more than once.
If you’re an entry-level employee, you’re probably getting used to lots of procedures and protocols, so now more than ever, it’s natural to have questions. Our suggestion is to keep a notebook or an organizational app on hand at all times and store all the office-applicable information in a single place. It will make your life so much easier! We promise.
For mid- and senior-level employees, the key is to ask the right questions, and the easiest way to do that is to be prepared. By familiarizing yourself with the subject of an upcoming meeting and thoroughly reading the documents and e-mails people send in advance of these meetings (something people rarely do), you’ll be informed, which in turn will allow you to be insightful. When you’re not playing catch-up, your mind is free to look at the bigger picture and ask the important questions about a project or strategy. And that is always a good thing!
When you’re writing a research paper, you have to footnote your work, both to give credit where credit is due and to allow your teacher or professor to check said research. This skill set is still relevant in the workplace. When compiling research of any sort, be sure to include details about where you got your information. Someone—whether it’s a colleague, client, or even your boss—will ask you questions; you want to be able to answer quickly and correctly.
What’s the one thing we tell everyone on our team—from entry-level to senior-level employees—on a regular basis? Don’t be afraid of “no.” You’re going to hear “no” a lot throughout your career, and that’s okay. “No” doesn’t mean that your idea is terrible, just that it’s not quite right at this moment. It could be right in a few months or a year, or maybe it just needs to be tweaked. Sometimes, when you get a “no,” you can refine your idea into something workable. Our point is that you can’t be afraid of being vulnerable if your idea gets shot down; it’s not a big deal. Speaking up is essential. Ideas are a business’s most important asset—without them, nothing gets done. Figuring out which ones work best in which scenarios is a puzzle you’ll be tackling your entire career. And here’s the thing: We, as the co-founders of our company, get told “no” all the time! If one (or both) of us has an idea that’s not truly feasible, our team will tell us, and we listen to them!
Information is power, which is why the best employees read everything and anything that relates to their work—books, magazines, blogs, and beyond. Being educated about your industry is of paramount importance. You should look at everything from trade publications and super-niche blogs to the most general sources for breaking news, insider information, and key trends. Social media is invaluable, too, so be sure to follow your career icons and your competitors wherever they’re posting. People reveal so much on social media, and you can capitalize on that information if you follow it closely enough. But don’t live online; go to every industry event you can, network, meet people, and stay in touch.
One of the things we are most proud of is the fact that our team members are actually in-real-life friends. They go to wine tastings together, have reunion dinners with their former colleagues, and celebrate birthdays, and it makes us incredibly happy. Why is this camaraderie important? First of all, no matter how much you like your job and your office, you’re going to have crazy-stressed days; it’s just inevitable. And when your presentation doesn’t go as planned, an urgent package doesn’t get delivered, or you miss a deadline and all hell breaks loose, you’re going to get through a crisis better and more quickly if you have a support system around you.
That said, work is not a sorority. You don’t need to be BFFs with every person you deal with on a day-to-day basis. In fact, it’s better if your work friends are not the center of your social life. Think of them as really great accessories rather than the go-to motorcycle jacket you wear with everything.
Your boss will be at least 75% less concerned about a problem if you present it along with at least one viable solution. Even if your solution isn’t the one that’s ultimately used, the fact that you’re thinking about how to rectify the situation is huge for your boss. Because let’s face it: Problem solvers > problem creators. Being a problem solver shows that you care, that you’re thinking strategically, and that you’re a team player—all very good things!
Put yourself in your boss’s shoes: Would you rather give more work to someone who seems calm, cool, and collected or to someone who is always having a panic attack and is perpetually overwhelmed? Obviously it’s the former, which is why it’s imperative that you figure out how to manage your workload in an organized fashion. Part of that involves setting boundaries and being realistic about taking on additional projects. You should still come from a place of yes, but being upfront about timelines and any additional help you might need is imperative. The rest comes down to your own time management.
Like employees who are generally proactive, employees who can look at the big picture, think like an entrepreneur, and innovate potential new revenue sources or cost-cutting measures are worth their weight in gold.
As an entry-level employee, this can translate into identifying ways to improve efficiency, like creating a better workflow system for daily events (how information is presented at meetings, for example) or monthly projects (how expenses are catalogued). You might create a weekly report for your department or team on a relevant topic. The idea is to identify a “pain point” around the office and then come up with a solution for it.
As a mid-level employee, you should be aggressively looking for bigger projects you can own. Ideally, these projects will contribute to something of value to your company, whether it’s a new revenue stream, a philanthropic program, or a program that garners a lot of press. Every boss values employees who identify and solve problems; by doing this, you’re fast-tracking yourself for promotions and raises.
When you have more seniority in your career, being proactive is about forecasting and identifying trends in your industry so that you can capitalize on evolving information and help position your company as a category leader. You focus on being additive in an entrepreneurial way and showing that you understand and can capitalize on opportunities that will help move the company forward.
At some point early in your career, you’ll start to identify your ideal work rhythms. Maybe you figure out that you’re a morning person and that getting into the office an hour before everyone else means you can work on a side project you adore without compromising the rest of your responsibilities. Or maybe you work best at night, after everyone’s gone and you can get into a groove with your Excel spreadsheets. Or maybe you realize that you’re not great at multitasking, so you decide to set aside a block of time in the morning and in the afternoon to answer e-mails, and otherwise stay away from it. The point is that you need to determine the way you work best and get people accustomed to it.
Katherine, for example, has back-to-back meetings scheduled most days, so she tries to set aside one day a week to work outside the office, which allows her to catch up on anything she’s missed and get ahead on future projects. By giving herself a totally uninterrupted day, she’s maximizing her own efficiency and able finding time to carve out moments for brainstorming, innovation, and strategic thinking. Another one of our senior team leaders schedules office hours so that her team knows exactly when she’s free to talk about anything, from cool new ideas to day-to-day concerns. Other team members set reoccurring monthly or bimonthly meetings with their supervisors or colleagues to check in on projects, share updates, and brainstorm. Ultimately, it’s up to you to maximally structure the time you spend in the office so that you stay on top of your work and have the ability and time to get ahead.
One of the great things about starting your own company is that you get to create your company culture from scratch. For us, that meant placing a high value on being a team player; in interviews, we always stress that ours is a very collaborative work environment. Everyone on our team is a problem solver and is willing to pitch in, whether the problem lies under their jurisdiction or not. Having our entire team feel responsible for the company’s health and success is of paramount importance to us, and by working with people who share our entrepreneurial spirit, we’ve been able to build Clique into the thriving business it is today.
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