With a slow job recovery forecast for 2010, experts say the time may be ideal for reinventing your image for a better job at the place you work.
"So many (companies) are still in the mode of getting done what they need to get done with the people they have. That's a great time for anyone working in management or not to stand out and become more important to the company," said Dan Finnigan, a recruitment and HR expert and CEO of Jobvite, which uses social networking tools for recruiting.
Finnigan said employees should decide what it is they want to do, identify where in the company that kind of work is done, introduce themselves and offer to help.
In boom times, he said, employers tend to look outside the company for people to solve problems. But in a down economy, businesses look internally — for people with good ideas who are willing to sign up for more work and stay late.
"It's really all about making yourself visible," he said. "Volunteer. If you have a boss that has staff meetings, I think you should sit in on every staff meeting and pick up on two or three problems that that boss and that staff need and want to solve."
That's exactly what Leah Jones — owner of Chicago-based Natiiv Arts & Media, a company that teaches clients how to use social media tools — did to get ahead.
When Jones showed up at a Chicago temp agency in summer 2005, they didn't know what to do with her. She had not worked more than two years at any job and her experience ranged from scooping ice cream to managing a residence hall in London. She managed to land a temp administrative assistant job at Edelman, a global public relations agency, where, after raising her hand to volunteer on a number of projects related to social media, she was soon hired on as part of Edelman's Me2 Revolution — a group formed in 2006 to launch their public relations into the digital, and social age.
"If I could participate, I was participating," she said. "I raised my hand and offered to work on a database project regarding blogs. I was talking to my supervisor about creating a position in our group too. I was asking, 'How can we change my job description to better reflect my skills?'"
By the time Jones left Edelman in January 2009, she had been promoted to Digital-Culture Evangelist, helping clients to understand what was being said about their brands online and helping to create strategies to match.
"Don't let a job description define what you do," Jones said.
Tom Musbach, managing editor of Yahoo HotJobs, said it isn't enough to simply work harder. Your boss needs to know about all the good work you're doing.
"CC your boss on an e-mail string that sort of documents some of the steps you've taken. Sort of an FYI," he said. "Be casual and say, 'I just want to make sure you're in the loop on this.'"
Carissa Froome, who was promoted in September at her job with a major financial institution and relocated from Chicago to Kansas City, worked with co-workers to help endorse one another's work.
"I watched co-workers doing that, and they were getting ahead because they were self-promoting," she said. "I developed a close-knit group and we all supported each other."
She also decided to step up her wardrobe, hired a fashion consultant and visited a tailor.
"If you want a better position, you have to dress like you're already in that position," she said. While employers, anecdotally, say they are better positioned to offer raises and promotions than last year, Musbach said ladder climbers will need to stay flexible.
"Employers today are working with smaller budgets so they might be talking about more productivity with fewer resources," he said.
The more you can do to make your boss's job easier, the better you will perceived when promotions are made, he said.
Penelope Trunk, founder of BrazenCareerist.com, said employees should also raise their profiles online. That could mean blogging or creating a professional presence through a career site.
"Ideas are how people network online. The more connections, the higher your profile within your field. ... You need to think bigger than just your company. You should focus on getting your ideas out in the world. Connecting people with your ideas, getting recognition for your ideas, and the rest takes care of itself," she said.
A high profile online can lead to invitations to speak at conferences and other professional events, she said.
"All your boss needs to see is one blogger quoting you and your ideas, and that will make a huge impression on your boss," she said. Tim Courtney, director of marketing and brand strategy at KeyLimeTie, an interactive software design and development firm in Downers Grove, Ill., took it a step further. He used online networks while working at a small server hosting company to organize 300-400 person technology networking events and used LinkedIn and other online networks to keep up with the people he met. Eventually, when he decided he wanted to learn more about social application development, he organized an event around it, learned what it was about and used the connections he'd made to move to a new company, in a better position and at a higher rate of pay.
"I thought, 'I want to meet people who like 'x,' why don't I bring them all together?'" he said. "I was literally a nobody in that community."
At some companies, your online presence could mean leveraging a company's Intranet site if it allows employees to update an internal profile or create groups, said Finnigan at Jobvite.
"You want to be perceived as someone who gets outside the company and can offer solutions," Finnigan said.
And getting outside the company can help in the case of an unexpected layoff. About a year ago, when Scott Bishop, a marketing consultant, was laid off from McGraw Hill in Burr Ridge, he already had enough of an online presence—tweeting about social media and marketing — that the transition to independent consultant was easy, he said.
"If you're going to be on Twitter, you have to have an idea of why you're on there," he said. "It takes time. It's not going to happen overnight, but eventually people start to come to you."
DRESSING THE PART
Don't forget the obvious: style. Chicago fashion stylist and personal shopper Eric Himel http://erichimel.com/ took the Tribune to Bloomingdale's on Magnificent Mile to offer a few, inexpensive tips for the professional ladder climber. Here, Himel turns the gray suit, into a power suit.
Women: Bring the shoes in your bag. Boots and sneakers are fine for walking in the cold, but at the office, the idea is to look "done." Himel picked muted, purple suede heels.
Men: Ditch the slip-ons and opt for patina lace-ups. Just because your office allows you to be casual, doesn't mean you should be.
Women: You can be feminine and appropriate. Swap the button-up shirt for a shell with a scoop neck.
Men: Try the spread collar instead of the "collegiate" button collar.
Women: Save the soft "hobo" style bag for weekends and opt for a bag with structure (think purse chain with briefcase-like bag).
Men: Clutch a briefcase instead of strapping on a messenger bag (too casual for an aspiring boss).
Women: A thin black belt at the waist adds a feminine cinch to a tired suit. Instead of playing it safe with a string of pearls, try a triple-stringed necklace in a conservative color. But wear studs, not dangling earrings. "Sometimes women get caught up in 'Oh, it's fun,'" Himel said.
Men: Tell a joke, but not with your tie. "The tie isn't a place to express your sense of humor," Himel said. Play with color with a subtle pocket square (folded to peek out of a pocket in a straight line instead of a triangle) or slip on a pair of argyle socks.
If you're going to spend money anywhere, spend it on a good tailor. If your clothes are well-fitted, you will look more put together in the clothes you own and won't need to buy new clothes.
TIPS FOR GETTING AHEAD
Volunteer. The best way to move up a ladder is to be known as someone who is willing to help at a moment's notice.
Help with the budget. Businesses are still tied to annual budgets and while the 2010 budget is already in the bag, employees still have a chance to make suggestions that could make room for promotions and raises in the 2011 budget.
Network. Networking online or internally is a great way to raise your profile.
Take on a project. Having a project under your belt is valuable experience that can help win a promotion or beef up a resume.
Be fearless. Fear in the job market means people are playing it safe, offering an environment ripe for creative ideas and solutions.
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. (c) 2010