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I might be a stereotypical Asian-American (kinda geeky and generally quiet). What can I do to get noticed?

I might be a stereotypical Asian-American (kinda geeky and generally quiet). It seems this might be hurting me on the job. What can I do to get noticed?    Signed Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

It’s unfortunate but we all live with that stereotype.  That you are asking about getting noticed indicate you probably don’t exactly fit that stereotype.  The obvious way to get noticed is to do noticeable things.  But what is that?

I’ve been a manager for a long time and I’ve come to realize that there are two types of people I don’t like working for me.  First, there are those that don’t do what I asked them to do.  Second, there are those that will only do what I asked them to do.

To take the cynical view, every manager’s goal is get his staff to make him/her look good to his/her boss.  To be fair though, the good manager is able to align that selfish objective with the company’s goals.  If my subordinate does not do what I asked, then he cannot be counted on to do his job and will obviously cause me and my Department trouble.  Actually, people like this will get noticed, but in a very bad way!

If my subordinate will only do what I tell him to do, then he will need constant management to do a good job.  What’s wrong with that?  A dynamic organization must have strong competent people that have the initiative to help push the unit forward.  It would be a lost cause if the burden falls solely on the Manager’s shoulders.

So how do you get noticed?  You get noticed if you go beyond your assigned tasks and demonstrate leadership, initiative and good business judgment.   Just keeping your head down and doing your assigned tasks well will not get you noticed.  People that will only do what’s asked of them will drift to the lower part of the organizational pyramid.

It might be cultural but Asian Americans don’t generally speak up in group settings.  If you don’t speak up then you are reinforcing the stereotype.  But voicing opinions are risky because you could make a fool of yourself. 

The way to reduce the adverse risk is you must do a lot of homework to understand the business you are in.  You have to look from the inside and from the outside.  Understand what economic and competitive factors drive your industry, your company and your department.  Do your research and think about how your company and your department can grow and improve.  Think about your corporate culture and how things get done within the company.

If you put in this hard work, you will have a firm foundation and frame of reference for making forceful and well thought out comments and suggestions in the group setting and to your manager.  If you can do this, you will be noticed and hopefully assigned more challenging jobs that’ll get you on the “up and comer list”.

There are two other key enablers necessary to get noticed.  You absolutely must be able to communicate your ideas and proposals.   That means you have to work on verbal and written/PowerPoint skills.  If you cannot get your ideas across clearly and concisely then at best you’ve wasted your time and at worst you will appear to your manager to be confused and incoherent.  I’ll write about these necessary skills in a future Blog.