You might have been the head of your class. People knew you for your smarts and ambition. But something changed between college and today. You are no longer the most talented person in the room because everyone in the room is talented. (This is likely true if you work in a demanding field like finance or product management.) And this is a good thing. Why?

Because you learn from being around people who have more experience than you do. You want to be in a job where you are surrounded by exceptionally capable people. You should be grateful to have such skilled colleagues.

But guess what? All those skilled colleagues can make it hard for you to stand out, especially if you are more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person.

You might especially be feeling this “lost in the crowd” pain if you are working at a large company — where there are many other experienced people working alongside you.

This topic recently came up on, an online community for product managers. Many commenters pointed out that there is actually a good and bad way to stand out.

The “bad” being when you turn work into a competition — distracting yourself with ego and one-upping. Sure, you might get recognized for being the loudest or most aggressive person in the room. But respect will not be yours.

How you measure your impact should not revolve around your image or being craftier than your teammates — it should be about effort, results, and how well you serve others.

Now, those are the values that should matter in a high-caliber organization. But I realize that not every company is like this. Maybe you are working somewhere that rewards managing perceptions much more than tangible outcomes. You can rise above and reject this mindset — making your mark in a way that will be respected and bring real value to the organization.

Here is what you need to show to make an impact in a meaningful way (and be noticed for it):

Do you really understand the company’s purpose? A goal-first mindset should influence every decision that you make. It is critical that you have total clarity. Stay focused on where the company and product are headed and why. And do not let any personal agendas (those of others or even your own) get in the way. Serve the meaningful goals of the company and good outcomes typically follow.

Goals will show you when you need to say “yes,” “no,” or “not right now” to a new idea or request. Stay true and do not let yourself be persuaded by “the-loudest-mouth-in-the-room” decrees or the salesperson who “needs a favor to close this deal.” Instead, be unwavering in your pursuit of doing the best work possible. Aim for conviction with kindness.

Expert skills
In order to do the best work possible, you need the right skills. Hone the ones you have and look to grow where you are lacking. This might mean taking an online class, giving yourself a daily reading assignment, or asking a more experienced colleague to give you feedback on work in progress. And if you are the more experienced colleague, offer up your own skills so you can help your teammates be their best.

Show your teammates that they can count on you. Arrive to meetings on time, do what you say you will, and respond quickly to requests. But even more important — follow through with the big plans. Avoid hiding behind shifting dates. Deliver work in the timeline that you first promised.

If you want to be noticed, you need to notice others. Get to know as many people in your company as you can, at all levels and on all teams. And try to have conversations that go deeper than the occasional inquiry into weekend plans. Question your boss about the strategy. Ask your teammates about what they are working on. What is frustrating them and what is exciting them? What do they want to achieve beyond the task at hand?

This all goes back to standing out in the right way. Do not amplify problems at work by feeding into gossip or drama. Instead, be the answer to workplace problems — doing your best to create a positive workplace and helping your teammates do the same.

The best way to stand out among many is to be the one who consistently produces meaningful results and helps others do the same.

So, understand the plan and get work done. Remember that, especially in a big company, you cannot do this on your own. You need to help your teammates bring their best each day — focusing everyone on the goals and how to achieve them.

Together you can do important work. And you will be loved for it.

What do you do to stand out at work? And what do you avoid?

Originally published on the Aha! blog