If You Feel Out Of Place At Work Here Are Five Strategies For Success

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

What does it take to do a good job here? How will I know if my work is valued? What do I need to do to move up? These are typical questions for anyone new to a workplace. But it’s not typical to get concrete answers to these questions, particularly if you’re a young Black woman who isn’t familiar with the mores and hidden expectations of corporate America.

In a recent conversation, Lauren Wesley Wilson, founder and CEO of ColorComm Corporation and author of What Do You Need?: How Women of Color Can Take Ownership of Their Careers to Accelerate Their Path to Success, explains the workplace’s unspoken rules and how to navigate them, even if you’re unfamiliar and feel like you don’t belong. According to Wilson, no matter how unfair or unclear the actual structures might be, you can still take personal responsibility for your own progress, stand out as a superior performer and be rewarded for your performance.

Decide What Relationship You Want With Your Job

In the workplace, not everyone gets a trophy. In fact, if you’re looking for real career success, merely following your job description is unlikely to be sufficient. “If you want to show up and do your job and go home, that’s fine. But don’t expect to show up and do your job well and move up,” says Wilson. “If you want more, you’re going to have to do more.”

If your goal is to quick career advancement, she advises, “there are some things that you’re going to need to be able to do to show your employer that you’re a team player, that you’re all in, that you can be trusted, that you’re loyal, that you’re dependable, that you’re reliable, that if you’re asked to do some extra things that you’re not going to push back on them and say, ‘Well, that’s not in my job description so I’m not going to do it.’”

Claim Your Accomplishments

It’s also impractical to expect that your participation and achievements will be noticed and valued automatically—particularly if you’re a nontraditional employee without connections to the hierarchy. Your colleagues and leaders may be tending to their own concerns and “not always thinking about you,” Wilson notes. “So they’re not always understanding who the person was who drove this forward or the person who really helped on this new business initiative, the person that really was stellar at client service.”

In Wilson’s experience, “The people who speak up the most and the loudest—these are the ones that we know, they’re in the rooms, we know what they’re working on. But sometimes the loudest aren’t necessarily the best producers of work. But they’re speaking up. So you have to start speaking up.”

Break Through If You Don’t Feel Recognized

Sometimes you may feel like your work isn’t being noticed, your boss isn’t hearing you or your colleagues aren’t being supportive. It can be hard to tell why this is happening: Is it about you personally or is it just that no one’s paying attention? If you feel like you’re not being understood or valued at your company, the first thing to do is self-assess, says Wilson. “When you have ideas, are people interested?” she asks. “Are they engaged or are they rolling their eyes? If they’re rolling their eyes, is it because it’s something they’ve already heard before, so it’s not new and fresh?”

Wilson recommends requesting feedback about the quality and perception of your work product. “Do you get kudos and accolades and feedback when you turn in assignments, or do you get no responses?” she asks. “If you don’t get a response, that could mean that someone is frustrated with your work but they didn’t let you know about it, or it could just mean that they’re too busy. We don’t know. You have to ask.” She cautions against waiting for review time to hear what your managers think of you; instead, she advocates checking in and saying something like, “I’ve been noticing that I’ve contributed some ideas, but I feel like I’m unable to break through. Maybe you’re not that excited when I present my work. Can you provide some feedback so I can learn, so I can grow, so I can edit?”

Expand Your Search For Cues And Clues

But direct feedback about your work may not be enough to help you progress if you’re not simultaneously responding to other environmental cues. The best way to pick up clues is to be around people and make an effort, says Wilson. This may mean going to the office sometimes, even if you prefer working remotely. Rather than delaying until someone invites you in, reach out and ask for brief meetings or check-ins.

Wilson acknowledges that establishing personal relationships at work can take time and may even create some discomfort if, for example, your office culture includes social events and you prefer not to go. Take these chances to bond with coworkers and show that you’re truly part of the team; it’s in these more relaxed environments that you may learn workplace information and insights that wouldn’t otherwise be shared with you but which help you to move up.

Try Reproducing Others’ Successes

Observe closely what happens with coworkers’ careers and reverse-engineer their successes if you aren’t seeing the same progress for yourself. “If you see someone else getting promoted every year, then you know that could be you too,” Wilson says. “So you want to figure out what they’re doing and you can start doing what they’re doing.” She recommends going back to the basics: doing good work, asking for feedback and building a network to help you find prospects to bring back to your company.

“There are no shortcuts,” she warns, so “if you want to go for the big jobs,” it’s important to invest in yourself outside your workplace by seeking out professional development on your own time. “If you just go to work and go home, not only are you not going to move up,” she says, but “you might not be there that long because you’re not acquiring the information and skills to be a stronger deliverer and a better person.”

Workplace norms and expectations can be opaque to anyone, and even more so for Black women who have had less opportunity. Wilson’s advice for rigorous self-assessment, self-development and outreach gives you the best shot at navigating the business environment and creating career success.

Onward and upward—
LK

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