I used to often wonder how I could stand out from everyone else at work. I would ask myself, “What do you think my boss is looking for in me?” Sometimes it feels like it may be impossible to stand out or that your boss may not notice you or your accomplishments. When I first joined Innovative Staff Solutions, I found myself always wondering, “What makes a good employee?” I would look at everyone that I was working with and compare ones that stood out to the ones that were considered average employees. I came to the conclusion that a good employee in our organization would most likely be a good employee no matter what line of work they were in. Why is that? I did notice a few common traits in those “good” employees and found these items to be the difference maker in what separates good employees from marginal employees:


1. Have a positive can-do attitude

This is listed first because I feel that if you do this and nothing else, you will most likely still stand out as a valuable employee. Attitude makes all the difference in the world. Regardless of how much knowledge you have about your job, if you demonstrate a positive attitude, I will take you on my team any day. Nobody wants to work with someone that is always complaining or making excuses. We all have to do things that we don’t like or agree with at work; having a positive attitude during those times will set you far above most employees. A positive attitude will generally make up for any shortcomings in knowledge or experience. Attitude is contagious and it spreads to other team members, whether it is positive or negative.


2. Be great at something and be decent at a lot of things

Find something that you can master. Try to pick something out and be the “best” at it. Everyone is replaceable, but if you are known as the best at something, you make yourself that much more irreplaceable. Find something that provides a benefit to your organization and master it. Learn everything there is to know about that subject and don’t be afraid to teach it to other people. Also, be decent at multiple things. You don’t have to be an expert on every part of your job, but have a broad idea about everything you can. Be a utility player. The more things that you have a general knowledge about, the more valuable you become to your organization and the more versatile you become and you open yourself up for promotions across department lines.


3. Be technologically sound

In my opinion, the employees that are the most technologically sound are usually the employees that are the most efficient at their work and are usually the ones that stand out as far as being “skilled”. Almost all software out there today can be self taught. Start by picking a program that you would like to learn more about and play with it for 10 minutes a day, just start clicking on every option available and see what it does. The desire for employees to be technologically sound is only going to increase over time, the employees that have sound computer skills are going to be the ones that get the nod when all else is equal.


4. Never bring a problem without a possible solution

One of my first bosses told me that she never wanted me to bring her a problem without at least two possible solutions and my recommendation. My first thought was, “If I knew the answer, then I wouldn’t be asking you.” But the thought really does make sense. Most likely, you know the situation better than your supervisor and also have more details. In addition, always bringing a solution with your problem forces you to always be thinking and growing. When I encounter a situation where I am unable to proceed and need further direction, I usually have a good idea of what I should do, I just need some reinforcing. Any manager loves to give yes or no answers. Bringing solutions with your problems creates a maintenance free persona about yourself that is viewed as extremely valuable.


5. Be interested in “them”

Always be interested in the person that you are speaking with. Whether this person is your manager, your client, one of your employees, or just someone you meet, I guarantee they like talking about themselves. Everyone enjoys someone else being interested in them. I used to always listen to people tell their story and in my mind I was always thinking of a story of my own to follow up with. Instead of sharing your own story, ask at least two follow up questions about what they were just talking about. Figure out what they enjoy speaking about and show interest in that.


6. Always look for a better way

I feel that many times there is a better way to do most things. This doesn’t apply all the time, but most of the time you can always improve on something or some process. Always be looking for ways to work more efficiently or increase results. Just because something has always been done that way, doesn’t mean that it is the best way. Sometimes, it just means that nobody has ever questioned it before. This doesn’t mean that you should always do things “your way”, but it does mean to always be thinking outside the box.


7. Smile most of the time

It is hard to look at someone who is smiling and not smile yourself. When you smile, you are in a better mood. When you are in a better mood, you enjoy yourself more. Everyone likes to be around happy people. There is no reason why you can’t be happy most of the time. Sure, there are going to be times where smiling is not the answer. But then again, there are not many times when being mad is the answer either. Try smiling while being upset, it will change your perspective.


8. Learn new things – be able to figure it out

Always be willing to learn. Don’t be afraid to “figure it out”. I was never as mad as I was when I called my boss and asked a question and my boss said, “You should be able to figure that out” and hung up. I was furious, but I look back at that now and realize what a difference that made in my attitude. You know what…I can figure it out and I will. Don’t always look for the easy way out and ask for help without making sure that you cannot do at least part of it on your own. Sure, asking might speed the process up, but the next time you have that question, you will probably have to ask again. Don’t be afraid to take a little extra time and do some research and “figure it out”. Once you learn how to get answers on your own, your knowledge potential is unlimited.


9. Do what you say, when you say

Follow up skills are so important and they stick out to anyone that you deal with. If you say you are going to do something or someone has asked you to do something, do it. Also, do it when you say you are going to do it. An employee that responds to an e-mail request on time every time is amazingly far ahead of every other employee in their organization, I promise.


10. Details matter

You don’t always have to be a master of the details, but you have to be detail focused. Someone who recognizes that details matter are generally far more organized then the person next to them. A person with the ability to at least identify which details are critical to the overall goal is the one who I want on my team.  Big picture thinkers understand that the details are what get the big picture accomplished.


11. Work to get your boss promoted

A recent speaker used this line the other day and it really got me thinking.  If you work so hard and perform so well that your boss is promoted…only good things are in store for you. This really takes a shift in your perspective. So often, we are trying to get recognized ourselves and fail to look at how that truly happens. It happens by making your office, your department, your company successful. The only way to do that is to have everyone successful. It is usually true that things roll downhill – good and bad.


12. Be passionate

Give 100% all the time and be excited about what you are doing. No matter what you are doing, be passionate about it and have a desire to do it well and have that same level of desire to make sure that it is successful. You can be passionate about anything, be excited about working on a project. Don’t give 90 percent, it will show. Whatever it is, you can always be enthusiastic about it and try hard.


– Chad Clevenger