Pedigreed companies look good on a résumé, and their employees are presumed superior by association.
And then there are companies where star employees are eclipsed by a culture of mediocrity.
Is it possible to develop a good track record and personal stats – in other words, things that look good on a résumé – as part of a second-rate company or an underperforming team?
Yes, as long as the corporate culture doesn’t rub off. Here’s how to develop a career and network as part of a lame-duck organization or team.
1. “Determine which metrics matter in your business, and exceed them by a significant margin,” says Chad Oakley, chief operating officer of the Greensboro, N.C.-based executive search firm Charles Aris.
2. But let’s say you’re in sales and your company’s product is inferior. “If you’ve got a bad product, you’re not going to sell as much as a bad salesperson with a good product,” Oakley says. So emphasize activity instead of productivity, such as number of outbound calls or number of prospective client meetings. Document your accomplishments.
3. Identify a sponsor – a high-ranking, influential person in the organization – who will “step up for you when an opportunity opens up,” Oakley advises. At periodic lunch dates, present your accomplishments and ask how you might do better. You will not only improve, but also prime him or her to laud your specific achievements.
4. Find one or more external advisers for objective advice and a broader view of the industry. “Working your way out of a bad situation is done through connecting with people,” Oakley says.
5. Model the behavior you wish to see. “It’s really important not to conform to the lower standards around you,’” says Dan McCarthy, director of executive development programs at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics, in Durham. You might inspire or embolden one or more lapsed achievers to strive for excellence again.
6. Stay positive. In a cruddy work environment, “complaining becomes the norm because there’s so much to complain about,” McCarthy writes in his Great Leadership blog. “Without going overboard and coming across as out-of-touch or not caring, try to avoid sarcasm, cynicism, finger-pointing and complaining.” These toxic behaviors only make things worse.
7. If everyone else is a dud in a team project, try the “divide and conquer” strategy to increase the team’s chances of success and secure a personal victory. Break down the project into discrete parts and assign them. Make sure the boss knows who is responsible for what, and over-deliver on your part, Oakley advises. Have periodic meetings and provide status reports to the boss to make sure everyone stays on track.
8. Don’t be discouraged when co-workers fail to deliver their portion of a project when you need it to complete yours. Instead, send out an email – copied to your boss – thanking them for the work they’ve done thus far and letting them know that you’re waiting for the rest to come through. “You’re being transparent, not throwing someone under the bus, and you’re giving them a chance to say, ‘Wait, give me a day and I’ll get it to you.’”
9. Turn failure into a résumé builder and interview fodder. “Having failed can very much work to your benefit as a job candidate if you can explain why you failed without finger-pointing and what you learned from the experience,” says Adam Connor, a partner with the Hoboken, N.J.-based execute search firm Spire Search Partners.
10. Feel like you’re going down with a sinking ship? Recognize there might come a time when the best thing to do is “downshift to ride the wave of mediocrity and use all your extra time and energy finding a new job,” Oakley says.
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