By Helen Rothberg
March 19, 2018

Working in a large organization can make you feel invisible — but is there a secret to getting noticed as a go-to person by executives many pay-grades above yours?

I’ve worked with senior executives in organizations large and small across many different sectors like finance and banking, entertainment, technology innovation and manufacturing, consulting and executive training. And while different industries have their own idiosyncratic needs for expertise, I have discovered key similarities when it comes to how those at the top identify talent. Here’s six surefire ways to get the top brass to turn their heads in your direction.

Learn Quickly and Bring Results

It’s no surprise that executives across the spectrum spot people who are enthusiastic, smart, and driven — but they also look for “sponges.” Employees will be taught what the company wants them to know, and they notice those who learn quickly, rise to a challenge and get things done. A former bank president I’ve worked with went as far as hiring people she engaged with in other industries who provided her with great service and the willingness and ability to think through a problem.

When I asked two executives in finance what catches their eye, one said something I have heard often: “evidence of a mind at work” and “aptitude and grit are the holy grail.” Having a sponge-like mind is the way to go.

Read the Room and Be Confident

If you have something to say, say it with deliberate, articulate precision. Assume people in the room are smart and express a perspective that is insightful, unique or inspired. An executive I know in technology innovation says she looks for fearless and inquisitive spirits who “want to be part of the solution.”

That of course, takes tact. Don’t come across as timid, or arrogant. Even if you are disagreeing with the common flow, your contribution is an opportunity for you to provide value. And, know when to stop talking. If no one comments right away on your perspective it doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand. It means that they are thinking about what you said.

Civility First

People are maddening. Clients are maddening. Team members are maddening. Being able to go toe to toe in an even keeled way will impress more than you realize. An executive in the entertainment industry sums it up nicely: “If you have something to say, be concise and don’t be an asshole.”

That includes trying to pull the expert card to “win” your argument and being respectful of differences in opinion. Above all, don’t try to look smarter by making someone else seem less so.

I was once in a planning meeting where two junior executives had different points of view about target market preferences. After one offered a perspective the other barked “You have no idea what you are talking about. If you read the most recent intelligence reports you would know how off the mark you are.” That barker was not invited to the next planning meeting.

Learn the Art of Story Telling

If you are invited to an executive meeting or put on a team with CEO visibility it is because you are expected to contribute your intellectual capital. Whether it’s a well-informed opinion or a point of view outside of the mainstream — if you’re sharing your belief, you need to tell a tight, compelling story. You can be assertive in your argument if your position is well thought-out and if others can readily follow along. No rambling, no insecure qualifiers. If you are going to speak then tell it well.

Do More

If you see something that needs to get done — do it.

A former student of mine was one of the few non Ivy-Leaguers working in a high powered finance company. Knowing an important presentation was to take place the following Wednesday and that his VP hadn’t started it yet, he went in the Sunday before to build a version of the deck. At the conclusion of his presentation, my student became the VP’s go-to person for analysis, and was invited to senior level brainstorming meetings.

Learn Time Management — Of Other People

Executives are busy. Don’t waste their time. If you are repeating what has already been said in a meeting without adding anything new to the conversation they will know you’re faking it. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, own it — then discover the answer and communicate it back quickly. Show up on time and be prepared.

Understand what senior executives care about. A CEO of an international consulting firm I know appreciates when a junior person respects what is important. “Booking time with me to talk about changing file naming conventions on share point had me stop a staff person dead in their tracks- I don’t care about how document files are named.” In other words, choose wisely what your asks are — and know when to name your own files.

Helen Rothberg is a professor in the school of management at Marist College. Her book The Perfect Mix: Everything I Learned About Leadership I Learned as a Bartender is out now.

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