Succeed at Work: Make Sure Your Star Shines

If you want to succeed at work and get ahead, you’ve got to do more than just work hard and do an excellent job. Being promoted, being considered for interesting projects, and getting those merit raises and bonuses, means making sure that your star shines.

In other words, your bosses (and often coworkers, too) have to know that you’re doing a good job, and that you’re interested in bigger and better things. For example, I’ve always been a hard worker — willing to pitch in, come up with new ideas, help others, work outside my comfort zone, etc. “That’s not my job” has never crossed my lips.

But I used to come in to work, go straight to my desk, work hard, and go home. Some people, of course, did know that I was doing an excellent good job. But not enough of them; and not enough of those people knew what I really wanted to be doing.

Don’t be modest

This article about ways women unintentionally stunt their careers points out one thing that used to be one of my core beliefs:

“Women believe their accomplishments should speak for themselves, and they spend less effort ensuring they get the gold star next to their name. While modesty is a nice character trait, it’s naive to believe that your boss, your clients, or your colleagues will recognize your accomplishments if you fly under the radar.”

The might indeed know what you do, but they won’t remember it at key moments. That’s because if you fly under the radar, by definition you won’t be noticed.

To succeed at work, polish your star

Of course, you do have to do an excellent job to get ahead. But if you really want to succeed at work, you’ve also got to polish your star.

If you feel uncomfortable at the notion of bragging, remember that it’s not necessarily bragging to keep the higher ups informed of what you’re doing. It can be helpful to them as well. Remember that your boss usually has a boss too — and when their reports look good, they look good.

So when you do something great, let them know. It doesn’t have to be a big production. It can be a quick email that says “Hey ABC is up 40% since I implemented XYZ — thought you should know.” Keep a list of your accomplishments each week for yourself too, and then highlight the most important ones during your reviews or regular meetings. We’re all so busy that it’s easy to forget stuff otherwise, but if you write them down and bring them up, it’ll help you to succeed.

Advocate for yourself

If you want to be promoted, get a raise, or to transition into a different job, let them know that too. People have a tendency to assume that everything’s fine unless someone says otherwise. They aren’t mind readers, and most folks are naturally more focused on what’s going on in their own jobs than what others might be doing.

So help them (and yourself) out by asking for what you want.

Don’t just mention something once and then go quietly back to your corner either. You’ve got to advocate for yourself. If you want something, persist. Try multiple people. Volunteer. Help others out. Work hard. And keep bringing up what you want and what you’re doing in different ways.

It’s good to point out the accomplishments of others too. That makes everyone feel good, and helps others realize that you’re not out to take credit that isn’t your due. But you should take credit where it is due, and before you know it others will likely be singing your praises too.


  • I’m also guilty of thinking my accomplishments will speak for themselves. I’m trying to work on this.

  • A great way to succeed and shine at work is to blow your horn during the year and at review time with a long list of accomplishments. No one is familiar with what you do than you.

    • Yeah, that’s why it’s good to keep a list each week of what you’ve done. It’s easy to forget, but this way you’ll have the information handy.

  • Good post.. but what I noticed that worked the best was be a hardworker and make your supervisor or your boss your best friend. People promote, and keep around people the y like. Imagine working with your best friend who also happens be the person you believe will go the extra mile for you? Sounds like heaven doesn’t it? That’s what you need to become. don’t kiss up but really be their friend. The book “How to win friends and influence people” is an excellent primer to achieve this.

  • Definitely don’t be modest at work. Otherwise how else are you going to sell yourself, especially if you ever dream about getting promoted one day? If I accomplish something big, I awlays make sure my boss knows about it.

  • Be prepared. Anticipate questions that will be asked and potential problems. Offer solutions and provide documentation.

    • I think offering solutions is really important, and a good way to stand out. (So many times people have a habit of complaining, so offering solutions instead is a nice change.)

  • I find there are two kinds of people at work.
    a) Those who work their butts off, but never get promoted. They do whatever the employer asks.
    b) Those who are smart about the work they do. Employers usually ask “how long do you think it will take you to do this?” If it will take you 8 hours, say 10. That way if you complete your work after 8 hours, the employer will think you’re a great employee.
    It’s all about playing with the psychology of others.

    • Hm, I don’t agree with that last part. Of course there are people who work their butts off and don’t get promoted, because no one realizes they want to be — or maybe even how much work they’re doing. But I don’t think it’s about playing with the psychology of others or overestimating how long things will take in order to make yourself look good.

  • Tony- I believe that was the advice Scotty gave Geordi on the episode of Next Gen James Doohan was on. I found it funny, but it’s not a strategy I’d implement at work.

    I think it is important to track what you’ve done and be willing to talk about it. I think the other key is be prepared- know what issues are going to come up (as much as possible) so when your boss asks a question, you already have an answer.
    And always end a meeting with your boss by asking the question- is there anything more I can do?