Getting Ahead in Hard Times
By Greg Melville
Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of success is showing up. But he’s old. And he doesn’t have to sit in a cubicle every day with the threat of layoffs hanging over his head like a dim fluorescent bulb.
Success during The Great Recession means you need to boost your performance, outshine your co-workers, and more important, let your bosses know what kind of butt you’re kicking without looking like you’re kissing theirs. Here’s some advice from real job experts -- not some crotchety moviemaker -- on how to get it done.
1. Jump ahead a few years
Our economy will never return to the good ol’ days -- and, most likely, neither will your company’s boom times. To survive long-term, you’ll need to think about how your industry is likely to evolve and the ways you can stay ahead of the curve as it does. “You should be setting yourself up now for what your job will be like a few years from now,” says Penelope Trunk, CEO of the employment advice Web site BrazenCareerist. “This doesn’t mean working harder; it means setting personal goals for growth and getting on the right projects for the right experience -- so the right people notice you.”
2. Don’t be a jerk
A startling number of folks at the office have been sent to the unemployment line recently, and your responsibilities seem like they’ve doubled. The urge to let your boss know exactly how hard you’re working -- to get a little credit and to just vent -- is almost too great to resist. Resist anyway and be an enthusiastic team player now more than ever. If you need to complain, do it to your girlfriend, not your co-workers. “You’d be hard-pressed to find an annoying person in the office who’s not getting laid off right now,” says Trunk. “Being kind and gracious, exchanging information and ideas, reaching out to people -- if you do these things, you’ll do better in your career.”
3. Know exactly what doing a good job means
These days, the corporate bean counters are quick to cut any worker who’s not operating at 100 percent efficiency -- and your opinion of what’s efficient may be completely different than your boss’s. Career coach Marie G. McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, uses the example of an old client: a quality assurance manager who was so obsessed with perfection on the assembly line that he disrupted production. “He thought he was a high performer,” she says. “Management thought he was an obstacle. You never want to be seen as an obstacle or hard to manage. That’s an absolute career killer.” Ask your boss for occasional feedback, whether you like it or not, and even set up a quick monthly meeting to ensure you’re both on the same page. You shouldn’t need an annual review -- or a pink slip -- to discover your flaws.
4. Self-promote without sucking up
You’re not just another anonymous entry on a “clean out your desk” list if the company bigwigs know you and what a great job you’re doing. The trick is standing out without sucking up. “People can tell if you’re insincere,” says McIntyre, “but you need to do something to get out of that cloak of invisibility.” Find ways to strike up conversations with the bigwigs under casual circumstances -- like maybe in the lunch line or the elevator, or at the company softball game. Over time, drop subtle information that modestly tells them what you’re working on and shows that you’re well-plugged into the job. Adds McIntyre: “You shouldn’t have an agenda with every conversation, but you do need to manage relationships to achieve your goals.”
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Greg Melville is a former Men's Journal editor who has written for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Men's Health magazine and other publications.