This is a guest post by Dee Ann Pizzica.
At every stage in your career, you must be prepared to be your own advocate. When you are reliant on others to recognize your effort and abilities on their own, you run the risk of being overlooked in the naturally occurring chaos inside any organization.
Take your career into your own hands with security in your strengths and in the value you provide, so you are positioned to grow in the areas that most interest you.
It’s important that you regularly document your achievements. With a list of accomplishments, you can speak confidently about your value in your current position, as well as when you interview for your next job. From learning how to estimate your own velocity to saying no to unnecessary tasks, it all begins by knowing your strengths and staying focused on your goals.
Document your value
Keep a list of weekly goals and accomplishments. Share this list with your manager on a regular basis. Be diligent in keeping this list up to date.
In the short term, it serves as a quick status check so your manager has visibility into your work with your team. And maintaining this list will serve you in multiple ways into the future.
Your current job
Every project you work on offers you another opportunity to serve the company you work for. While some projects may take weeks or months to complete, you’re still making incremental improvements all the time.
At the end of each week, try making a list with three columns: what you accomplished this week, what you want to accomplish next week, and any potential blockers that stand in your way. You can track this in any number of tools, or even just a notepad will do.
You may notice that every week you accomplish wildly different objectives than what you set out to do. This is an opportunity for you to reflect on whether you maintained your focus. It’s possible that you, or even your whole team, are too distracted or inundated with changing priorities, and recognizing this pattern is the first step in changing it. Hopefully, you learn that you are laser-focused week after week and consistently deliver on all of your goals.
I’d recommend keeping a version of this list you can share with your manager. A simple option is a shared document, spreadsheet or slide deck that you both have available during your one-on-ones. You don’t necessarily want to dig into the details of this every time you meet, but try reviewing the highlights on at least a monthly basis.
This document shows off how well you’re doing, which is important because even the best of managers can’t follow everything that everyone on the team is doing all the time. Don’t leave your success to chance. In the past I’ve hesitated to document my achievements. I want my work to speak for itself, and I balked against the appearance of bragging. I was torn between not wanting to seek credit and a desire to be recognized as an invaluable contributor.
But it’s important to make your accomplishments visible. For example, if you are in a mentoring relationship, that’s immensely valuable in terms of knowledge-sharing and morale, but it can be time-consuming. In a mentor role, while you are helping out more junior members of your team, you may not have as much time to complete your own tasks. If you have a manager that measures productivity by the lines of code you write or the number of bugs you fix, you may not seem to be contributing the same amount of value as your teammates. As a mentee, any new skills you acquire are noteworthy and mark increased growth and value.
Some companies might also have limited resources when it comes to pay raises and bonuses, and often staff members are only evaluated annually. Your manager may have the best of intentions, but in a fast-paced software company, your work may only be as memorable as the most recent project. A year is a long time, so keep a list to refresh your memory from time to time. Keep in mind that your manager may be comparing your efforts against everyone else across your team and competing for resources with other managers across an entire department. The best you can do is be prepared.
Here’s another thought for anyone who has been in their current role for a while. What if you have a different manager than the one who hired you? Have you had an honest conversation with your current manager to discuss what your strengths and interests are? How about what you want to learn? Don’t expect that your current manager and your previous manager had any kind of knowledge transfer. Be upfront about how you like to communicate, how you want to grow and what you can do for your team.
Your next job
Working in tech can be volatile. Acquisitions, layoffs, and job changes are a common occurrence. The task many people despise most when it comes to changing jobs is updating their resume, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine if past you had been considerate enough to help future you by keeping a list of all the great things you did in your job. I bet you would thank past you for being so thoughtful and detailed.
Remember, you are your best advocate. You need to know and practice speaking to the value you provide. How many times have you been in a job interview where you have been asked what your strengths are? This is where it pays to be deliberate. The more you know about your work, the easier it is to answer this question with confidence.
There’s also that other common interview request that hiring managers love: Tell me about a time when your work made a difference. In the midst of a project, you can be certain that your contributions make a difference for those around you. Yet somehow when you’re put on the spot, you’re hard-pressed to describe your value with tangible examples. If you’ve updated your resume from your list of goals and accomplishments, every bullet point has context and a story to tell. You’ll have a wealth of wins, big and small, to choose from.
Make better estimates
Another way to know your own worth is to be realistic about what you can actually accomplish and how you estimate your work. Now that you’re tracking a list of what you plan to accomplish and what you actually accomplish in a week, you will have a better idea of your personal velocity. This is empowering. You will be able to see everything you get done during normal weeks, as well as those beautiful productive weeks when you manage to complete a superhuman number of tasks.
Don’t let this information go to waste! Use what you know about what you’ve done to estimate for the future. You have data to scrutinize the tasks you’re committing to instead of hunches. If you’re being honest about your goals, accomplishments, and what got in your way, you’ll be able to see common pitfalls that slow you down.
You may find that you set goals that are too aggressive. If you’re like me, you document planned tasks that you know will always shift to the bottom of your list because you aren’t actually interested in completing them. When you honestly evaluate your goals versus your output, you’ll have a better idea of what is actually possible for you to finish.
The next part is being clear about that with those who are demanding your time. Once you have what you believe to be an accurate estimate, be clear about it. Be wary of being pressured into accepting a compressed timeline without a change in scope.
Learn to say no
In your quest to be recognized as an invaluable member of the team, you’ll be tempted to accommodate people’s requests. As discussed with estimates, even after deciding how long something may take, someone still may pressure you to take on more work or complete a job in less time than you think you need. You need to greet these challenges firmly and with data. It’s OK to push back when you disagree.
The best-case scenario for saying no is when you’re in a group of people and one member of the group makes a request. You have to weigh the request against what you already have on your plate, and sometimes the best and easiest answer is not to raise your hand. If that feels like a struggle because you’re drawn to help others, try this.
Rather than blindly accepting anything that comes your way, stop and try to understand why you are taking on additional tasks and responsibilities:
- Are you doing it as a favor?
- Will it further your career?
- Will it help your team?
- Is it well prioritized?
- Is it something you legitimately desire to do?
- Do you have time to complete it in a way that meets your standards?
If you’ve been documenting your value, then you know what you can accomplish and how long it will take you. The next piece is to take on the tasks that serve you. Rather than dropping everything to do a favor for someone else, or to take on a task just because you feel no one else will, instead commit only to the items that excite you.
Aggressively create opportunities that will steer you toward growth. A great manager can provide opportunities that will challenge and teach you. Not all managers are great, and not all managers are looking out for your growth. You need to be clear in your goal setting and forthright in lobbying for projects and opportunities. So if the task you’re evaluating doesn’t fit that, feel confident about saying no.
An effective way to push back is to use prioritization. If you have a set of tasks that you’ve already committed to, ask if the new task is more important than the existing ones. This forces the requester to consider more than just the current idea. These tasks will be easy for you to find, because they’ll be documented in your goals for the week.
Don’t agree to tasks that you don’t have the time, energy or interest to complete in a way that meets your personal standards. You’ve heard the saying “Anything that is worth doing is worth doing well.” This is especially true in crafting your career. Not finishing a task, or doing a poor job of it, reflects poorly on you and your work ethic. Instead, stick to your interests so that you can show off your skills.
This comes with some caveats. At the end of the day, you’re doing a job, and you may get assigned tasks that you don’t want to do. But if you’re a good self-advocate, you can make sure that you’re politely declining some of these things. You have persuasive data at your fingertips. You can speak to your strengths and the value you provide to the organization doing other activities. You also have data about the mundane tasks you keep moving for the team that no one else wants to do.
This gives you a position to negotiate from. Hopefully the person asking you to do any given task is reasonable and willing to make adjustments for you, but they won’t know they need to until you speak up.
You have the power
You’re now armed and ready with some tricks to track and understand your own value. Hold on to the nuggets of knowledge you acquire on your journey about the way you work. Challenge yourself to share your strengths and interests with your manager and your team.
Your skills are your power, and tracking them is a gift you give yourself. Maintain a curated list of your accomplishments and be sure to draw on that information to communicate with your manager, estimate your upcoming work, and to empower yourself to say no to the work that doesn’t serve you.
Dee Ann is a passionate and curious software tester. She has over 15 years experience in support of small and enterprise-scale custom mobile and web applications with highly complex business logic for clients across a wide variety of industries. Dee Ann is currently working as the Director of Engineering at BRD where she collaborates with a talented team on a cryptocurrency wallet app for iOS & Android.