Proving Myself: 5 Lessons Learned

2015-12-17-1450386295-2185602-NicoleSmartt.jpgNicole Smartt is the Vice President and co-owner of Star Staffing. She was awarded the Forty Under 40 award, recognizing business leaders under the age of 40. Nicole recently created her website, where she provides advice on workforce and careers, startups, and so much more.

The road from receptionist to team leader was surprisingly fast for me, but it didn't come without a lot of hard work, determination, learning from my mistakes and correcting quickly (without ego), and a little self-made luck.

When I started out at age 18, I knew I had to prove myself to my co-workers, boss and the owners of the company, so I rose to the occasion. I showed up to meetings prepared, asked questions, prioritized my workload and made sure that my word was meaningful. Every time I said I would accomplish something, I made sure I did. It wasn't long before my manager promoted me to recruiter, which is a key position in the staffing industry. I knew what got me to that position wouldn't get me to the next phase alone, so I stepped up my performance even more. I worked harder and smarter, read books from successful recruiters and executed what I learned.

Whether you're new to a position, company, or on the fast track to that promotion, below are the five top lessons I learned to prove myself.
  1. Work harder and smarter. There are sayings about working smarter rather than harder, most of which are empty platitudes. How could you have one without the other? By improving processes and putting in long hours during transition times, your end result will be twice the success in the same amount of time or less. Combine both by working hard and working smart.
  2. Prioritize. Either the night or the morning before your start time, make a list of all the items you need to get done for the day, then number them by order of importance. No matter what happens, make sure you complete the first two tasks. Urgent matters will inevitably come up and get you sidetracked, but if you can successfully accomplish those two most important tasks each day, you'll be making progress and staying ahead. If you expect that on a regular day you'll get only the first two done, you'll be setting realistic thresholds for yourself. The goal is to get more than just two tasks done. Stay focused on that list, and continue to add to it but do it practically. I like to fold my paper "hot dog" style, number items on one side and then make my way to the next side. It's a running list of everything I need to do.
  3. Ask for more. To be seen as a top performer, you need to do your job well and show your potential of being able to do even more work than you've been assigned. When I was a receptionist, I overheard the office manager making sales calls. I asked if I could help during my slow times, and she handed me a YellowBook and asked me to start doing mailings. Once the mailings were done, I asked what else I could do and continued that momentum. I still didn't become a sales representative until five years later.
  4. Ask questions. Period. First, let me say that you should only ask questions that you cannot find answers to on your own. Most can even be found with a little Internet research -- and remember that Boolean search terms can cut out a lot of the fat, especially when you're searching phrases that are made up of fairly common words. Second, don't ask questions just to ask questions. That's one of my pet peeves (and I'm not alone). Getting asked questions for people to "yes" me the whole way through my answer is neither a positive nor productive situation. Ask genuine questions, and you'll get genuine and actionable answers. Think, "How does this piece of information work in the environment of my current task?"
  5. Learn and execute. Never stop learning, but don't forget to figure out how to implement what you learn in your existing environment. If you run into tight spots, see item four. Remember, it's an evolution -- don't worry if you try something new based on new information, and it doesn't work exactly how you envisioned. Learn from the first implementation, and try again.
I went from receptionist to boss in less than seven years, and you can learn from my successes by following these actionable steps.