How to Stand Out as a Young Professional

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By Jeff Jardine, CMA, CPA
Member of IMA Young Professionals Committee
Senior Consultant, Deloitte & Touche, LLP

With the highly competitive economic landscape in mind, I have two suggestions for young professionals to positively separate themselves from their peers: be approachable and take initiative.

Times have changed

During the recent recession, statistics show that worker productivity is at an all-time high - even as millions of workers have lost jobs. While this may initially seem counterintuitive, in actuality, the large quantities of jobs lost have forced remaining workers to shoulder an increased workload. Furthermore, because of the continued uncertainty of the global economy, these remaining employees may feel anxiety about the security of their jobs. In consideration of these circumstances, more than ever it has become essential for workers to prove their value to their employers and stand out among their peers.

Be Approachable

In a recent New York Times interview, Michael Mathieu, CEO of the online video advertising firm YuMe, described the characteristics of his best employees, many who often win the company's monthly employee award:

"People vote for the person who best epitomizes my mantra, which is: "Be passionate about what you do and interested in making the people around you better." These people [who win the award] show humility. They're selfless. They will work for other people's success. The people who win are the ones who are the most team-oriented. They're not the ones who have the best skills.  But they're passionate about what they do. They're a positive influence. They're not in the lunchroom gossiping about somebody."

In essence, Mr. Mathieu's best employees are those who are approachable, humble, malleable and able to care about and learn from others. He asserts that approachability is a hallmark element of trust, and trust is well defined as a foundational virtue for any setting, professional or otherwise.

Approachable People

Say you have continual negative run-ins with a co-worker on a particular project. He refuses to make time to talk to you about the project and lacks the ability to provide constructive criticism. On the other hand, you may have another colleague that behaves the opposite - always taking the time to talk with team members and provide updates, as well as offering advice and suggestions to overcome obstacles. Who would you rather work with?

By being more like the second colleague in this example, you can stand out among your peers and improve the overall performance of your team.

Take Initiative

Taking initiative is a key step towards building integrity. To take initiative, you have to: 1) Understand goals and objectives, 2) Be observant, and 3) Be willing to spend time to get things done.

For example, say your geographically dispersed team has difficulty standardizing client deliverables. After consideration and consultation with team leadership, employ an existing platform to help the team improve these deliverables. Though adapting the platform to the team's needs takes extra time, the quality and homogeny of the deliverables will improve. The successful tool will be greatly appreciated by the team and may enhance your visibility within the organization (helpful for future projects). 

As approachability is correlated with trust, so too is initiative correlated with integrity.  Employees with integrity improve themselves and their work beyond expectations, and are thus valuable, visible employees in their organizations. Professionals who are willing to be approachable and take initiative will be seen as individuals of trust and integrity. These are essential characteristics of leadership that will greatly enhance an employee's ability to stand out amid today's difficult economic environment.


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