Imagine that you’re at an interview for that dream job you’ve always wanted. You’ve carefully selected your classiest business attire to make the best impression possible. Managers scrutinize each line of your resume, sizing up your experience and qualifications, but you’re ready to play ball. You approach each question lobbed your way with confidence, reciting well-crafted responses and following up with insightful questions of your own. When you land the job, you are ecstatic. You eagerly imagine the ways you will add value to the company.
As time wears on, your enthusiasm dwindles.
You have a lot to offer, but nobody seems to listen. You find your great ideas dying on the vine and notice that almost everything you say is easily dismissed. You take your job very seriously, but it seems like you’re the only one who does.
How can you avoid getting trapped in this demoralizing situation, and command the respect that you deserve? The people we interviewed are experts in their industries, so here are some tips from the pros.
Dress, And Forget It
Sure, showing up to work with inappropriately casual clothing won’t help your cause, but even the best tailored suits you typically save for job interviews won’t help if you’re not good at your job.
As author Charlie Hoehn puts it, “the fastest way to be taken seriously is to be the person who accepts responsibility for projects, holds themselves accountable, and gets things done. Period.”
Hoehn further points out that leaders who meet their deadlines and hit their goals are taken seriously even if they have a casual style. “On the other hand, people will never take you seriously if you don’t add any value or contribute in the way you’re supposed to — even if you act like a professional and dress extremely well,” he adds.
So yes, you should pay some attention to your clothing, but once you’re set with that, relax about it and focus on what’s most important: what you DO. If you’re not providing value through your contributions, even the best suit won’t save you. So set it, forget it and move onto the next step.
Cultivate the Mindset of a Leader
Not getting heard in meetings? Before focusing on external circumstances and how you might be perceived, make sure you look at how you view yourself.
“The biggest saboteur for most people is not a plot by others to hold you down, but rather your own thinking about your right to be a leader,” says business coach and author Pamela Slim. “Be conscious of your thoughts. If you walk into a meeting thinking ‘I hope they take me seriously,’ you are already losing the battle. Think ‘I am ready to be here. I deserve to be here. I am excited about sharing ideas with my peers’ and watch your influence grow.”
Executive management consultant Moira Lethbridge recommends a strategy called interrogative self-talk. “Instead of pumping yourself up emotionally, “YES I CAN DO THIS!!” ask yourself, ‘Can I do this?’ and write fives specific answers to confirm the reasons why you can,” she says. The reasons are reminders that will help reinforce a more substantive response—both internally and externally.
So, don’t just prepare for a meeting by understanding the agenda and the topics on the table- prepare your mindset as well.
Pay Attention to Body Language
How others perceive you is key, and a huge part of that is your demeanor. This isn’t just important in getting others to listen to you when you talk, but also in nipping unsavory power dynamics in the bud.
“I have learned the best lessons about body language from martial artists and gang members,” Pam Slim says. “One of the ways that you try to intimidate your opponent is to look them straight in the eye, and make your body bigger and more intimidating. The solution is not stare down someone like Clubber Lang in Rocky, but rather to assume a clear and confident gaze when you sense someone is trying to intimidate you. My favorite power combination of body language is direct eye contact, good posture and a smile.”
Carry yourself with respect and purpose, and others will follow suit.
Know Your Industry, and Your World
No matter which position you hold at your job, being well versed in the intricacies of the industry can only help.
“Be up to speed on changes in your industry so you can speak about them intelligently,” says Roberta Matuson, author of the international bestseller Suddenly in Charge. “I recommend reading the Wall Street Journal daily, as well as subscribing to a weekly business publication so you can speak intelligently on business matters.”
Strategic marketing expert Noah Fleming takes it a step further, encouraging professionals to move beyond just reading professional journals and attending industry events and to focus on becoming well-versed in a broad range of topics and areas beyond the industry they work for.
“Keep up with technology, sports, and pop culture. Read a new book each week, and a different genre each time. I remember once hearing a top social media guru saying he didn’t read books, he only wrote them. What a waste! You should be able to discuss, debate, and offer opinion across a number of different areas. Serious people have strong opinions! You’re taken seriously when you have and offer your opinions. People will usually remember you when they disagree with you. They won’t remember you if you said nothing. You might not always be right, but the opinions will be appreciated.”
Don’t be afraid to step outside the comfort zone of your industry, and be willing to have strong opinions.
Doing your job diligently and taking responsibility is just the tip of the iceberg. If you really want to step up your game, be prepared to ask for very specific feedback.
“Preparation is key. Vague questions don’t work. Figure out what you want before you meet with the person. This way, you won’t waste your opportunity if you only get a few minutes with them or can only ask one or two questions,” Lethbridge says.
And don’t stop after you’ve asked for feedback. Come up with strategies to address any deficiencies. “When you are open to feedback, you need to take responsibility for mistakes and correcting them in the future. Actions speak louder than words,” she adds.
Seeking feedback will help you understand your blind spots. Taking steps to address them will help you develop the mindset of the craftsman—constantly improving.
Stop Shopping For Advice
Have a decision to make that you’re unsure about? If you’re planning on asking everyone around you for their opinion, stop. What you might think is an open-minded approach respectful of outside perspectives may look like flailing for answers to an outsider.
At the very least, make sure you’ve researched the issue on your own, and put some thought and analysis into it. Pam Slim advises, “Instead of saying ‘Which product do you think we should develop first?’ say ‘I have run the numbers on both products, and both appear about equal in terms of audience demand. Do you have any input or insight that might tip the scale?’”
Asking others for their perspective is important, but being willing to make decisions on your own is crucial.
Rock the Side Hustle
Slim, who ran a non-profit as a volunteer Executive Director for a decade while simultaneously working a day job in a financial services firm, points out that having creative side projects outside of work “allows you to develop skills, experience and a track record outside of the confines of a job role. Take martial arts. Swim in a masters swim league. Develop and sell a small product.”
Fleming points out that there’s more to a career than just a day job. His best advice? “Stand out from the herd. You can show up, do the work and go home. Or you can begin to lay the foundation for something bigger than your day job. Write a book. Start a blog. Create fascinating intellectual property. Speak at conferences. Get out there!”
It’s easy to get discouraged when you feel your ideas are dismissed or you’re not being taken seriously. Don’t. Take matters into your own hands instead – it’s far more empowering. Working through the challenges above will not only help you in your current job, but also throughout your entire career.
Go get ‘em.
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