So recently I interviewed at my own company for a promotion. While I think I did well in the interview overall, one of the areas where my supervisors hinted that I would need more work before I could be seriously considered for a leadership position is my visibility on the team. A couple of days before the interview, my direct supervisor brought up the same issue. He said that I seemed too quiet for the role and wondered how I would be able to handle managing a team.
I won't lie. I was a little surprised by the critique. While I know I'm an introvert, and on a personal level I can be shy sometimes, in all my previous positions I have had to be a strong communicator, personable and up-front. After all, my last job was being a flight attendant. But I've also worked as an RA in the dorms, as an Orientation Advisor for the University of Texas' super-massive new student orientation program (which my year saw nearly 10,000 new students in the course of a summer), and a whole host of other customer service positions. And at my last web developing job as a student developer at UT, within a year I had quickly been picked out as a leader among my coworkers and was quietly being positioned by management to take on a full-time role and possibly take over the entire team of student developers that I was a part of. This is the first time I've ever received the criticism that I fail to stand out among my colleagues, and more specifically that I fail to stand out as a leader and a strong voice, in a professional setting.
Since the interview, I've felt pretty disappointed in myself and have been trying to figure out some new ways to improve my visibility at work. The first thing I did was to try to understand why I had failed in this area where previously I have always been successful. One of the ways my current job differs completely from all the previous jobs I've had is that, whereas at my old positions team work, communication and visibility were almost unavoidable, at my current job I really have to go out of my way to get to know my co-workers. If I'm not careful, I can easily go a whole week without speaking (or even seeing) any of my co-workers, outside of the handful I work with directly and my cube mate. So while my introversion in previous positions was easily overcome because it had to be to get the job done, here there is nothing to keep my introversion in check. I need to be more conscious of the amount of time I spend in my cube and the amount of time I avoid (consciously or unconsciously) my co-workers.
Beyond that, though, I think I always assumed that high-quality work and strong performance would be enough to get me noticed. While this might be true with a smaller company or group, at my current company, I can do the best work in the world...but if no one knows my name, no one will know about the work I do at all. I know there are other people on my team whose names I don't know and whose work I am not familiar with. If I can be so in the dark about the work they do, I know they must be equally unaware of the work I do.
Now that I know my problem, what do I do next?
- Speak up. Contribute more in meetings. If there's a project I'm interested in, let the supervisors (all of them) know I am interested. Talk more with my other team members. Don't be shy about letting people know what I'm working on and what I would like to work on. Most importantly, when I do speak up, be sure that I am articulate, knowledgeable and professional.
- Get involved. Join special teams and projects. Lead a brown bag lunch session. Keep an eye out for growth opportunities, and let the managers and other team mates know about any ideas I have.
- Be an expert. Increase my knowledge about the company and my skillset so when the supervisors need an expert on a given topic to give advice, to advocate for the team, etc., I can be a person they go to. Make my skills known so that when others need information or help, they know they can use me as a resource.
- Do more than just my job. Always remember to take the work to the next level whenever possible. Anticipate needs and problems. While good work alone won't get me noticed, I will need to continue to do this if I want the notice taken of me to be good.
- Network outside of work. Going to conferences, attending meet-ups and keeping up with the outside world will not only increase my knowledge about my field and my knowledge about the future of the work I do, I can also help recruit new team members as well as improve my team's reputation outside of work. Also, if I'm known outside of my company, it's entirely likely word will get back to people on my own team about the kind of work I do.
- Have fun. If there's anything I've learned in all my years of customer service, it's that people like to be around someone who is happy and seems to be having fun...yes, even at work. I will do more to become noticed just by being friendly and positive than I probably would by doing all the work in the world. Plus...if I'm going to have to push myself out of my comfort zone, I might as well try to enjoy myself while I'm at it, right?
This is my personal road map for how to become more visible at work (and how to convince my supervisors and coworkers that I'm really not some shrinking violet!) so that hopefully in the future, I won't be passed over for new opportunities. Although, really, I think this can help anyone who struggles to get noticed at work. The hardest part will definitely be getting out of my cube more often. Hopefully, though, once I take the first step, the rest of it will get much easier with time.