Why you should care
Because to get a promotion, first you have to get noticed.
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Valerie Rainford knows a little bit about getting noticed at work. She was the highest-ranked African-American woman at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York when she left her role there as Senior Vice President, an accomplishment she wouldn’t have even thought to dream of while growing up in the projects, where, she says, “I was a hard-working kid who didn’t really have a choice, because I had to help out my single mom.” Rainford paid her own way through college before forging a career in finance, and today works to inspire more minority talent as Head of Advancing Black Leaders & Diversity Advancement Strategies at JPMorgan Chase. But whoever you are and wherever you’re from, if you’ve got big ambitions and big dreams, first you need to get noticed — an art Rainford teaches young professionals every day.
As September signals a change in weather, wardrobe and outlook, there is a mounting sense that “September is the new January” for switching off autopilot and feeling reinvigorated. After the vacations and not-quite-routines of summer, it’s sort of nature’s fresh start. What better time, then, to set the wheels in motion for your next big promotion? Here, Rainford tells us how to stand out to the people who can help you up that ladder.
Do: Prep one-pagers
“To many, I’m known as the queen of the one-pager,” Rainford laughs, on the phone from her office in Manhattan. “I believe that every employee, no matter their level, needs to be able to articulate their value, progress and accomplishments for a given time period on one single page.” Rainford prepares one-pagers for every month of her work. As well as being a useful document for meetings, she says, “The other value of having that is you become more skilled in the elevator pitch; when you bump into someone and they ask what you’re working on, it will come quickly to you. It’s good discipline to know what your contribution has been, even if you don’t use it in every meeting.”
Don’t: Go out networking
A lot of experts tout the importance of networking, since, according to career experts like Career Horizons:
70 percent of jobs are not published.
Rainford, however, has developed her own formula for success:
Success = excellence + exposure
Exposure means that, in addition to doing good work, you make sure the right people know you’re doing it. But, Rainford says, “A lot of people think about building relationships the wrong way. They think about it as ‘networking,’ about how to meet people over a drink.” Instead, she advises, “I think about it as, how do you get to know the people who benefit from what you do? Find out who these people are, and establish a relationship with them around work.”
Do: Ask for feedback
To get a real sense of how you’re performing, you need an honest environment. “It takes the right rapport and the right feedback,” Rainford shares, calling that the “secret sauce” in the success equation. However, for feedback to be useful, you need to be able to handle it. “Enter all relationships as if you welcome feedback,” she urges, admitting, “that can be hard. You have to be thankful for it and positive in receiving it; you have to teach yourself not to be defensive. Your first response should always be, ‘Thank you for that.’”
Don’t: Forget to reflect
Rainford blocks off periods of her calendar for reflection every single day. She calls these windows “wrap-up,” explaining: “That’s when I try to get my head around what I didn’t get to do today and what I need to do tomorrow.” On Fridays, that window of time extends so she can get a handle on both the week that has gone by, and the week ahead. “You have to figure out what did I do, what was I supposed to do, what do I have to do?” she adds. If you don’t know where you are, you’re less able to figure out where to go next.
In case you’re wondering why this is all necessary, Rainford has an explanation at hand. “A lot of people think someone’s going to come along and make them successful,” she says. “They think, if I come in and do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll get recognized.” But, according to this voice of experience, that’s not how it works. Her final thought: “It takes a combination of strong performance and the right relationships — not just any relationships — to progress.” Don’t wait to get discovered, because you’ll likely keep waiting. Be the CEO of your own career.