The Betterment Project
work from home

How to Stand Out at Work During Hard Times

By Karla Walsh


Everybody falls into a profession rut at some point. A lot of us feel like we’re in one right now. Even before Covid-19 started shutting down non-essential businesses across the country, 40 percent of Americans reported they had no legitimate opportunity for advancement in their current jobs.


That stinks. Nobody wants to feel stuck or underappreciated, but it’s also a lousy time to go job hunting. So with the world reeling from a pandemic, it’s a good time to ask: What can you do now to set yourself up for a promotion in the future?


First, it helps to acknowledge the ways in which your industry is changing. “Some companies are trying to think of this as business as usual, but it’s not,” says Sara Noll Wilson, a business-leadership coach based in Des Moines, Iowa. “At a company level, there’s a lot of disruption on how to handle remote work, and on a personal level, people are just fried.”


Your company may be dealing with layoffs or pay cuts, and the initiatives you were most passionate about might now be on ice. But in hard times, people get scared. And that’s when leaders stand out the most.


So don’t just sit back and wait for this thing to blow over. Start setting yourself up for success now. Here, Noll Wilson and Ben Pundole, vice president at EDITION Hotels and founder of A Hotel Life, explain the five strategies that will establish you as an essential part of your company’s future.



  1. Do Something That’s Not in Your Job Description.

Think of your career as a highway. You can spend years in the right lane, following the speed limit and moving forward at the same rate as everybody else. Or you can shift left, stomp the accelerator, and start putting miles between you and whatever entry-level job gave you your start.


Down markets present an opportune time to do this. Faced with uncertainty, most people will wait for somebody to tell them what to do next. But you can stand out by stepping up, says Pundole. “Make yourself available for additional tasks,” he says. Maybe somebody needs to beef up your company’s e-tailing platform or reach out to the customers most affected by recent changes. Or perhaps you’re working from home now, and somebody needs to run price comparisons on the workflow-software services that could help your team hit deadlines remotely.  That somebody could be you.


If your boss asks for volunteers, put your hand up. But if not, find your own way to shift left.



  1. Reach Out to Other Departments.

If you’re struggling to find new opportunity within your usual team, consider making contact with colleagues you don’t usually work with. Ask if they want to brainstorm projects, or if they need help with anything. By making new connections, you’ll boost your standing within the company and build a reputation as someone who genuinely cares about the firm’s success.


Plus, the connections you make now could prove to essential to your growth when the workflow returns to normal. “The more people in the organization who see your value, the greater the chance for opportunity,” says Noll Wilson.


  1. Show Some Empathy.

Now is the time to build team unity, and you can do that by showing the people you work with that you know how to be a friend, as well as a colleague. “Ask your co-workers how they’re doing as a person,” says Noll Wilson.


Some of the people you work with might be caring for children or parents. They might be supporting a spouse who was recently laid off. Make sure they know you see their struggle, and that you appreciate everything they’re doing. “We have to make our empathy visible and verbal,” says Noll Wilson. “If you’re thinking, ‘Wow, this must be hard for them with kids at home,’ but you don’t say it, then your team will never know.”


  1. Become an Expert in Your Company.

Just because you don’t build sailboats or play on the New York Philharmonic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a master of your craft, says Pundole. Even if your job feels somewhat artless to you, you can make yourself a valuable resource by taking the time to learn the company’s history and leadership structure, along with whatever initiatives the firm’s taking outside your own department.


The specific strategy for studying your company will depend on what resources you have available. With big corporations, shareholder information is often public, and that can be a terrific resource. Otherwise, talk to people who have been around for a while. When you’re back in the office, chat up the janitors and secretaries, and ask co-workers from other departments out to lunch.


By understanding how things work, “you’ll be more adaptable when jobs open up,” Noll Wilson says.