Climbing the ladder in any company requires one thing: Visibility. But employees tend to buy into several myths about what it takes to get ahead, instead of looking to practical advice, Aimee Cardwell, vice president of engineering and consumer product development at American Express, said during a Wednesday session at the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston.
These myths include the idea that if you do your job well, you will be "discovered" by upper management, Cardwell said. People also tend to falsely believe that their work will speak for itself, or that getting ahead is all about relationships, or all about what you deliver.
In reality, "doing your job is table stakes," Cardwell said. "What you need is to be seen doing what you do best."
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Here are 10 tips for how to become more visible to your boss, and ultimately gain a promotion, according to Cardwell.
1. Be the messenger
Volunteer to be the person who announces your team's successes, because the messenger of good news also receives a halo of credit, Cardwell said: In your mind, you associate the person who send the email with good news with that good news, more than the people who are listed in the message below. However, it's key not to overdo this, and never to use it to announce your own successes, she added.
2. Speak up
You need to participate during meetings and events to become visible, Cardwell said. "When you speak up at meetings, and you really must, make sure what you say is concise, on point, and interesting," she added. "Be brief and bold. If you don't say anything during the meeting, no one will know that you're thinking smart things."
This doesn't mean overtake the meeting, she added, but realize that people are interested in your opinion, even if you are lower on the totem pole in your organization.
3. Make friends
This requires honing your small talk skills, Cardwell said. "The ability to engage strangers in conversations is one of the best ways to expand your network," she added. "You have to practice constantly to get better and grow."
One tactic for improving your small talk is when you meet someone, no matter what position they are in, treat them as if they are someone who your friend brought to your house for a dinner party, and focus on making them feel comfortable, Cardwell said. "Just relate as a person, and make them comfortable in the first few minutes of meeting," she added.
4. Sign up
Volunteer for extra credit projects that nobody else wants to take on, and then rock them, Cardwell said. That way, you're thought of as the person who is willing to take on a difficult or tedious task, and you may get to meet people who are outside of your usual department and add to your network.
5. Fix it
Take the initiative to fix the broken things in your company that people have just gotten used to. If you fail, people will continue to do things the same way, but if you succeed, you'll be a hero, Cardwell said.
6. Ask for feedback and advice
Ask for feedback and advice from people you admire, and accept that feedback graciously, Cardwell said. While feedback may be a more formal thing to ask for, you should end ever one-to-one meeting you have with anyone by asking, "Do you have any advice about this?"
"Try to be specific," Cardwell said. "If you can learn to take that feedback and advice graciously, people will see that you're listening to them. And it's also quite helpful, because other people see you in ways you can't perceive yourself."
7. Become a subject matter expert
Find other people in your company who need your expertise, and offer it freely and generously, Cardwell said. "Create a discussion channel around your interest, and invite others to discuss," she added. This may take the form of a Slack channel, for example.
8. Get help
Seek out a mentor, career sponsor, or advocate. Ask these people for 15 minutes of their time to ask about a specific question and learn more about opportunities in the company. "No one will tell you no," Cardwell said. "But if you never ask, you'll never get it."
9. Speak out
Speak externally at meetups, schools, and events, Cardwell said. Reach out to your corporate communications team and let them know you're available for these types of engagements. If you're not comfortable with speaking, start practicing, she added.
Watch the people in your organization who are well-known, and compare their different styles of approaching meetings and problems, Cardwell said. Watch to see if they approach things from a technical, factual, emotional, or other angle, and build a mental picture of that approach. The next time you're faced with a problem, you can try one of those approaches, and see how it fits you, she added.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.