Imagine that you are a senior partner and you have been asked to decide who in the office deserves a promotion. Who do you choose? Do you pick someone who is already on your radar, or are you going to pick someone you do not know very much about because they have always stayed in the background? You want someone that stands out from the crowd, differentiates themselves from their colleagues, and has impressed you before.
It's easy to think that keeping your head down and working hard is enough to get you noticed and rewarded accordingly, but unfortunately the world does not work that way. You need to know how to raise your internal profile at work, which will put you at the forefront of your colleagues’ and managers’ minds when opportunities arise.
1. Take a strategic approach
Many people rely on luck, or fate, when it comes to raising their internal profile. They hope that somehow they will bump into the right people and build an impressive network that will help them get to the top. Sure, this could happen, but it is unlikely to. Therefore, instead of leaving it to chance and hoping for the best, make a plan.
It will help to think strategically, starting with your end goal in mind. Where do you want to end up? What do you need to do to get there?
Review your existing internal network and think about who you already know, and how well they know you. This will give you a sense of where your profile is right now. The next step is to develop your strategy of raising your profile with people or departments that could be of value to you in your career development. Then you can start closing the gap between where you currently are and where you want to be.
2. Think about your personal brand
Everyone has a personal brand, whether you realise it or not and whether you want it or not. It’s your reputation: what people say about you after you leave the room, and what people who haven’t met you yet have heard about you. It affects the opportunities that come your way and how people engage with you, so it’s important that you take control over it.
People form their opinions of you based on what they see, so it’s important to always consider how you speak and act. Just one risqué joke or low-quality piece of work can change how people think and talk about you in the future. Think about what you want them to say about you, and start acting in a way that will emphasise and confirm these judgements in their minds. The trick isn’t to be a fake version of yourself, because people will quickly see through a façade, but to show off the best version of yourself.
3. Take and make opportunities
You need to be constantly alert for opportunities to connect with other people around your office – particularly with those you’ve identified as people you want to network with. You can use the time you’re waiting for your turn with the coffee machine, or while you’re waiting for a meeting to start, to start a conversation with them.
However, this approach will only take you so far. Proactively create opportunities where you can be more visible in your organisation. Doing things like giving presentations outside of your immediate area of expertise, or speaking up at inter-departmental meetings, are great ways of highlighting your communication and leadership skills.
You could also think about starting a company club or group, or offering to mentor new staff members – this will give you a group of people that already look to you for leadership. Attend any company social events, making sure to mingle with people you do not already know. Make sure whatever you do shows initiative and makes you stand out for positive reasons.
4. What do you say and do?
Having people know that you exist is not enough, you need them to have a lasting positive impression of you when they think about you in the future. In fact, you need to make sure you’re not forgotten and they think about you at all after your conversation. Sometimes you may only have a short time to meet someone, and you need a way to quickly shape their perspective of you.
You should be able to say positive things about yourself, without it sounding like bragging or arrogance. Have a couple of pieces of good news, such as a factual summary of something you have recently achieved, that you can share when someone asks, “How are things?” or “What’s new?”. Rather than giving an answer like “Things are okay,” which does not tell them anything or keep the conversation flowing, you can tell a short, engaging story which shows you in a good light.
Using the STAR model can help you structure this well:
Situation: Talk about a situation you are dealing with, or had to deal with recently.
Task: Discuss the task and your part in it by using “I” rather than “We”. Do not make the situation or task sound too easy – make it a challenge or problem.
Action: Say what you did to resolve the situation, drawing attention to specific talents, skills, knowledge and experience you have. Use words which highlight personal attributes you want the person to associate with you going forward. For example, rather than saying “I had to muddle through because I had no idea what I was doing,” you could instead say something like, “It was tricky, but I stayed calm, adapted and worked it out.” These two sentences tell the same story but leave you with a very different impression of how you behaved in that situation.
Result: Describe the positive outcome and, if you can, add a testimonial from someone close to the story, such as: “And my manager said she was really happy with the outcome.”
5. Go beyond words
It’s not just what you say about yourself that matters. Communication is multi-levelled and much of it is non-verbal, which means that you need to consider your body language and voice, as well as what you say. Be mindful of the impression others get from your posture, eye contact, facial expressions and handshake. Consider the volume you speak at and whether you sound confident or timid.
Who would you trust with additional responsibilities: someone who speaks and walks with confidence, or someone who always seems unsure or anxious?
6. How am I doing?
The job of raising your profile and working on your personal brand is never finished. You will always have to meet someone new and make a good first impression, and just because you get one high profile project does not mean it is too early to start thinking about the next.
Try to regularly find time to ask, “How am I doing?”. Go through the first step again: think about all the people you now know and who knows you, and see what your current situation is, comparing it to your current target. You may realise that as your situation changes, your original strategy might need to change too.