How to Stand Out at Work (According to 10 CEOs)
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Once you’ve gotten a callback, aced your interview, and received a job offer, it can feel like the pressure is off. But your performance now serves as an extended interview for the job you’ll want next year or even five or ten years.
Not all companies are cut-throat, but in some way, you’ll usually be competing with your coworkers, whether for a promotion, a raise, or choice assignments.
To make sure you’re at the top of your boss’s list for those, you want to stand out at work. Although some people naturally stand out, it’s not always for their best qualities. You want to be known for the good work you do, but it can be difficult to know what supervisors are looking for in a quality employee.
10 Ways to Stand Out at Work
How do you strike a balance of wanting to do your best while not coming across as a suck-up? Here’s advice from ten CEOs about how to stand out at work, and in a good way.
1. Take time to understand the office culture.
What’s fun at one job may be considered inappropriate at another. If you move from a comedy writer’s room to an accounting firm, chances are your wardrobe, attitude, and vocabulary are going to need some adjustments. Not every move is that extreme, but even among the same jobs, cultures vary.
“You might have been a rockstar in your previous workplace, but the rules of earning respect will be different in your new company,” said Will Ward, CEO of Assistive Listening HQ. “Once you understand how the place works, then you can see how to fit in.”
It may take some time to figure out the culture, but once you do, it’ll make a huge difference in your ability to connect with your coworkers and supervisors. This, in turn, will help improve your job performance and help you stand out.
2. Start strong right away.
You don’t have to know exactly what you’re doing when you first start, but you should show a sense of ownership and responsibility. Demonstrate that you’re there to work by actively taking notes and learning.
“Many people begin new jobs with the idea that for the first few months they’ll be shown the ropes and not much will be expected of them (or given),” said Stefan Chekanov, co-founder and CEO of Brosix Instant Messenger. “By instead embracing new challenges, volunteering to take on assignments, and generally demonstrating a sense of responsibility for your work, you’ll easily stand out from the crowd.”
Make sure you follow up with colleagues after meetings, show a willingness to learn, and help out when needed.
3. Ask questions.
Although it may feel uncomfortable or awkward, asking questions is a great way to make yourself stand out at work.
Madison Campbell, CEO of Leda Health Company, agrees. “By asking questions,” she says, “you are displaying your commitment to learning more about the company and how you can better excel in your position. Asking questions creates conversations that may not have happened otherwise.”
Additionally, it lets those above you know that you genuinely care. You’ll seem interested, engaged, and willing to take in information before you make suggestions. It also demonstrates that, rather than pretending to know everything, you have the confidence to ask for help where you need it.
4. Offer advice on improving processes.
Sometimes a company is so accustomed to their old processes and ways of doing things, it takes a new employee to point out how it can be done more efficiently. If you notice an area for improvement, suggest it to your boss.
“One of the true signs of a leader is somebody who goes out of their way to identify which processes are due to be optimized,” said Jacob Dayan, CEO and co-founder of Community Tax.
He says that those who can provide useful feedback up the ladder (and not just down it) demonstrate a fundamental understanding of the importance of feedback. In addition, it shows that they can spot inefficiencies.
“That’s a skill that’s difficult to teach, so it always stands out to those in leadership positions,” says Jacob.
5. Increase your value by increasing your skills.
If you learn something new and get faster and better at what you do, you increase your value. Take the time to research and seek out training and other opportunities to improve your skills.
“Don’t wait for your organization to send you to training or to give you development opportunities,” said Halelly Azulay, Founder & CEO of TalentGrow LLC and author of Employee Development on a Shoestring. “It’s really great if they do,” she says, “but it is not their job only to take responsibility for the product of you. It is your job. And by upping your value, you become more indispensable.”
Increasing your skills and value also provides support when you ask for that raise. It shows you’re worth it.
6. Help others.
If you only offer help to those higher in the organizational chart, your coworkers might gossip about you behind your back. But if you’re known for helping everyone, it will earn you respect.
“That way, you naturally become the go-to person anytime there is an issue that needs solving,” says Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVoIP.
For example, if you master a skill like Excel formulas and you see a coworker struggling, offer to help them. They won’t forget how you gave some of your time to make their life easier, and it won’t seem weird if you do it for the boss as well.
7. Don’t be afraid to argue productively.
Arguments and disagreements at work are bound to happen. But how you handle them is what’ll get you noticed. Participating productively and helpfully in these conversations can position you as an up-and-coming leader in the company
“Early in my career, I shied away from disagreements at work because I saw it as confrontational,” said Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding. “Over time, I realized that disagreement can actually fuel career progression.”
This is because strong managers and leaders are used to giving direction and having it followed, but great leaders know their perspective is limited. When you respectfully challenge a status quo, you add value to the leadership team. You can help a leader reflect on questions they might not have thought about, or show problem areas in their plan before they have to experience issues.
8. Be a connector.
How well you get along with your coworkers is something else leaders tend to notice. You don’t have to be the most social, but if you miss every birthday celebration or company outing, you could be missing out on valuable face time.
Andrew Roderick, CEO of Credit Repair Companies, says, “Getting everyone involved is a great way to be noticed and stand out straight off the bat at a new job.”
He suggests organizing events or meetings to meet your coworkers. You’ll be seen as someone outgoing and be associated with fun. If you’re introverted, try to do a one-on-one coffee once a week instead of a group event.
Both create opportunities to bond with those who might help you advance in your company. At the very least, you’ll be seen as someone who gets along with coworkers and makes an effort to get to know everyone.
9. Don’t wait to be told what to do.
If you have a light week, tell your boss you’re ready for more responsibility. If you’re bored with your work, tell your boss you want to learn more by experiencing different tasks.
“I love hearing that from someone and they will always be the one that comes to mind when I need to hire someone at a higher level,” said Chanda Torrey, CEO of Gifter World. “It shows drive, ambition, and the willingness to do what needs to be done.”
If you’re worried about your coworkers perceiving you as a kiss-up because you’re asking for more work, don’t be. You know what your goals are at work, and if this will help you accomplish them, what others think of you shouldn’t matter.
10. Be a servant leader.
You don’t have to be a manager or an executive to practice servant leadership. Even as a new employee, you can work to help others.
“Our servant leaders in the firm do not follow the traditional leadership styles that are built upon a culture of intimidation and threat,” said Michael Hammelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group. “Instead, they serve others, who in turn are more inspired to serve the entire organization at large.”
The people who stand out at work as servant leaders also focus on not only setting themselves up for success but everyone around them as well. Servant leaders make sure everyone else’s needs are met before their own, encourage collaboration instead of competition, and keep the attitude positive on the team.
It Takes Effort to Stand Out From Colleagues
While it’s easy to come to work, meet the minimum standards required for your job, and go home, it won’t make you stand out. And if your goal is to get a raise, a promotion, or become CEO one day, being mediocre and lazy won’t get you there.
Fortunately, you don’t need to do anything extraordinary to flourish at work. You simply need to do your job well, ask questions when needed, communicate with your coworkers and supervisors, and support the people around you.
If you do those, your bosses will take notice.