Career Opportunities

A ComputorEdge Column

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A Little Recognition... (Parts 1-4)

© Douglas E. Welch 1998

A Call for Questions
As I approach my one year anniversary of this column I hope I have addressed some of the issues that are important to you as you start or continue your computer career. In an effort to continue meeting your needs for career information I urge you to give me your feedback. What issues would you like to see addressed in these pages? Your input will help to guide my writing over the coming months. You can send your questions or comments to A complete archive of past columns is available on my web site at:
You can also join an on-going discussion of computer career topics by subscribing to the Career Opportunities mailing list. Visit to join.
With that out of the way, let?s move on to our topic for this month.

Many of us have learned the hard way that the best way to stay out of trouble at work is to become invisible. If we do our job well enough then no one ever has to contact our boss with a problem. While this has certain benefits it can also lead to your name being first on the list when downsizing or layoffs are in the air. It is much easier for managers to lay people off if they have absolutely no idea what you do.
No one looks out for your best interests expect you and today is the best time to step out from behind the curtain and get the recognition you deserve. You may not need it today but you need to prepare for the time when you do.

First Things First
The first goal in your search for recognition is to establish the importance of the work you do. Develop a concise job description in coordination with your manager and human resources. This shouldn?t be some grandiose, ?pie-in-the-sky? essay but a detailed and realistic assessment of what you are being paid to do each week. It should even help to explain why the company should continue to pay your salary.
If your job description seems weak then you may want to discuss additional responsibilities that you can take on. If it is loaded with out-dated or unnecessary tasks, then get rid of them. Your manager can?t properly judge your job performance if there is little or no criteria for measuring that performance.
You may also want to re-write your job title. Some of us work under titles that bear no relationship to our actual duties. It may take some time to fight the corporate bureaucracy on this but it can and shoud be done. My partner and I were able to get our titles changed to something more appropriate and I am convinced it lengthened both of our careers at a company known for mass layoffs.

Next week: Building your portfolio

Last week I discussed how to begin building your recognition at your current job in preparation for the day when it may no longer be yours. Developing a good description and an appropriate title ensure that you are meeting your company?s expectations. This generates paperwork that can become the beginning of your work portfolio.

Building a portfolio
The next step in the recognition process is surviving, and even prospering from, the (somewhat) necessary evil of the annual performance review. If you have done your homework earlier in the year, this process should be much easier. You have clarified your job duties and hopefully worked toward performing those duties to your best ability. This should result in a good or even excellent performance review.
You should always maintain copies of your performance reviews. They can be used, along with other documentation, to aid your search for a raise, promotion or even a new job at another company. With this one, easy step you have started to develop a trail of your past work performance.

Get it in writing
Have you ever had someone praise you on the job? Has a client ever offered thanks for going above and beyond the call of duty? Has the secretary in finance breathed a sigh of relief when you recovered that 500K spreadsheet? If so, you have another source of material for your portfolio. As in any business, word of mouth carries a lot of weight. Future employers will be impressed to read testimonials to your skills and work habits. These recommendations don?t come from thin air though. You have to cultivate them.
The next time that someone praises your work, ask then nicely if they would send an email to your manager and a carbon copy to you directly. If they are really nice or very thankful, ask them to type up a paper memo. In some cases, you might ask them to forward a copy to your human resources department, as well. If they find that they are too busy to help you, make a personal note to yourself documenting the situation and place it in your portfolio yourself.
This might sound like tooting your own horn, but in reality, it is self preservation. No one can fault you for looking out for yourself as long as you are not disparaging someone else. Collecting this documentation gives you the ammunition you need when opportunity comes knocking.

Putting it together
As you collect the sort of information mentioned above, make sure to present it in a professional manner. This can be a nicely organized file folder, a three-ring binder or even an actual artist?s portfolio.
Whatever the arrangement, make sure you have multiple copies of everything and store them in different locations. You don?t want your only copy of that glowing letter to be lost to a roof leak or other minor disaster. This also allows you to circulate multiple copies if you find yourself involved in a new job search.

Next week: Showing the colors

Too often we are content to send out the report, the memo, the information alert without making it clear who created it. In some cases, we might even put someone else?s name on it. This might buy us some short-term friends but does little for us when we really need it. Like a writer who only ghost writes for other people, how can we expect to rise in any business when we have no track record under our own name. It is time you stood up and took credit for your work.

Written, (or programmed, or analyzed) by...
When was the last time you created an Excel macro that saved a department hours of tedious work? Did you compile a report that was distributed to upper management? Did you write a new program that speeds up purchasing by 100%? Did you make sure your name was on the report, program or whatever? If not, you shortchanged yourself.
You never can tell who will be looking at your work so it should always bear your mark in some way. Add your name and extension to the footer of reports. Insert the same into the source code of a program or macro. Have it displayed on the screen whenever the program is run. This isn?t to say that your name should be 3 inches tall and flash on and off but it should be there.
Artists sign their work. Signing shows that they are proud of what they created. IT also shows that they apply a value to the work. Shouldn?t your work be accorded the same respect?

Just like we all learned in kindergarten, sharing is a good trait to learn. In some companies, employees hoard data and use it as a weapon. Departments become little fiefdoms at war with one another. In good companies, though, information is shared.
Make a point of sharing information you have with others around you regardless of company politics. Soon, people will learn that you are the source of good information and come to rely on you. Send out an email detailing innovations in your industry. Develop a newsletter that teaches people how to make better use of their computer. Share your insights on a particularly tough problem. If you share information, you will be better remembered within your company and develop relationships that strengthen your position in the company.

Showing the colors
Another method of gaining recognition is to put yourself into situations where people see your face and learn your name. It is hard to downsize someone you know. The more people you know in your company, the safer you can be when the ax starts to fall
Can you volunteer to give a presentation to other managers? Can you demonstrate a new piece of software the company is evaluating? Do it! Opportunities like these take you out of your normal space and give you visibility. You might also volunteer to give classes to support people or host ?brown-bag? training lunches.

Next week: Tying up the loose ends


Building your work portfolio is a never-ending proposition. You should continue to develop it from job to job and company to company. Eventually, you will have a portfolio that will make a major impression on any future employer you might meet. The mere fact that you have developed this information will put you a step (or more) ahead of your competition.

Just like software documentation helps you make the best use of a program, your portfolio can help employers make the best use of you and your skills. Of course, they have to know your skills before they can use them. One of the best ways to fill them in is by documenting all your projects, especially those that involved unique or interesting solutions.
For example, I once assisted in a project to simulate the movement of vehicles through a theme park attraction. This required me to find and develop specialized software, locate real-time data from the attraction and combine all elements to produce an animation that could be recorded to video tape.
This was not your average project for a Senior Microcomputer Analyst. There were many special challenges that had to be overcome. I have used this project as an example of my skills in nearly every interview I have had since. It was effective in illustrating my knowledge, my skills and my ability to think creatively to solve a large problem.
Using a project like this as an example, you could keep copies of the spreadsheets created to hold and manipulate the date. You could have printouts of the macros involved. You could demonstrate the program on a laptop computer or you could show animations that were recorded to video tape. Any of these can add a unique element to your portfolio.
Even if you don?t have an extreme example like the one above you still have documentation that can be used. Include examples of reports, charts or newsletters that you created. Include any awards or citations that you received. Include the outlines and/or slides from classes or other presentations. I will guarantee that you have more to include in your portfolio than you might first imagine.
It doesn?t even matter if you are just starting out. Class projects, personal consulting work and volunteer jobs, as discussed in earlier columns, can help you develop a portfolio even before you have got that first full-time job.

Honk your own horn
I hope that this month?s columns have encouraged you to take the first steps in gathering items for your portfolio. It is always important to remember that the work you do has worth and you deserve recognition for it. Don?t let anyone tell you any differently. It is in your own best interest to document your work so that you can both protect and expand your career. You are the only one you can count on to honk your own horn.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at