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 email@example.com.
A complete archive of past columns is available on my web site
You can also join an on-going discussion of computer career topics
by subscribing to the Career Opportunities mailing list. Visit
http://www.onelist.com/subscribe.cgi/career-op to join.
With that out of the way, let?s move on to our topic for this
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org