Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
Is there a surefire way to distinguish myself at work? I’m very ambitious and want to get promoted, but my boss pays me little attention other than my annual performance review.
Dear Upwardly Mobile:
I’m assuming you’re getting good reviews, or you’d be writing about your layoff notice instead. That’s a decent place from which to start. I’m also assuming you are one of a roomful of people your boss supervises, and that she or he knows you by job title — possibly by sight — though probably not by name.
Ultimately, what you are asking for is training and mentoring. You’re going to frame it in the guise of wanting to do more, help more, be more productive, take on some special project, help save him/her time or money. But the core of it is that you want to stand out from the pack, and you’re asking to a diversion of attention to help you accomplish that.
Start by assembling a quick summary of who you are, what your skills are, what you currently do, and how you are under-utilized. That’s your opening paragraph in the email you’re going to send. Then identify one or more specific problems that cost the company (or your work group) more than it should. Send your boss an email that introduces yourself and a possible solution you have to a problem. Then ask if you can meet to explain how the company can be more efficient.
Note that there’s always some risk in being noticed more, whether you ask for it by knocking on your boss’s door, or attract attention through screwing up in some way. Once you’re in the center of the viewfinder, everything you do or say might come into play. So before you request to be mentored and to be made more useful, be prepared. Get rid of the shirts with those little stains. Clean your desk and office. Get your daily habits ready for greater scrutiny, whether it’s the folks you hang with at the water cooler, or the ones to which you forward bad jokes. Review personnel policies to be sure you’re not inadvertently crossing any lines, especially if you are leap-frogging a direct supervisor to get the attention of a higher-up. Anticipate anything that might backfire so you can focus your boss’s attention on your accomplishments, not your flaws. And be ready to work harder. You’re investing in your future, but the returns will come only after some hard work and effort. Good luck.