Working within an academic setting often means PhD students miss out on the opportunity to learn how to be more ‘visible’ at work. Knowing how to elevate your visibility in the workplace is integral for your career development, how you progress, and deeply important to nourishing your personal brand. In short, being ‘visible’ is simply the art of making others, particularly those more senior to you, aware and in touch with what you’re doing and the value you’re adding in your role.
Before we dive into how to improve your visibility in the workplace, it’s important to understand why this is important and why it’s such a challenge for those of us who are fresh out of academia. Having visibility leads to others developing more confidence and credibility in your performance at work. Unfortunately, nobody is psychic, and everyone has their own responsibilities at work which sometimes means they don’t always know what everyone else is doing. If you’re not careful, it’s quite easy for you to fall into the background and your contributions to be misunderstood or simply missed/unseen.
This is partly why the reason remote working was such a controversial subject before the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers are sometimes fearful that if staff are left to their own devices they won’t do as much work (although we now know this is in fact the opposite – remote working leads to more productivity). Equally, it’s also why some companies are still intent on having more hybrid working models, or where physical attendance to an office is required. Sure, this can help foster workplace satisfaction and connectedness through more social opportunities, but it also a mechanism to provide reassurance that ‘work is actually being done’. It’s also historically why the person who gets to the office early is glorified – not necessarily because they are doing more work, but because they are seen to be doing more work. In other words, visibility.
Although this feels unfair and possibly not correlated to someone’s actual job effectiveness – it’s nonetheless one of those social phenomenon’s that occur which we must be mindful of. Luckily for you, we’ve got just the tips you need to be able to boost your visibility no matter what your post-PhD career entails.
One of the biggest reasons PhDs find this hard is simply because academia is not set up the same way industry or non-academic jobs are. PhDs are notoriously known for being lonely experiences. Often, we’re operating in silos or relatively autonomously. Don’t be mistaken, this is still advantageous as it forces you to flourish is other areas. Skills like resilience, solving problems, being proactive, and more all come to develop because of this. Consequently, knowing how to work with others or even elevate your visibility doesn’t come naturally. In fact, it’s possibly even one of the biggest challenges of adjusting to a traditional 9-5 role after your PhD. You may go from infrequent or monthly check-ins with your PhD supervisor to weekly or twice-weekly check-ins with your new manager in industry. This can, at first, feel a little intense and possibly patronising, but it’s just a different (and in honesty, better) working model to ensure you succeed and grow.
With this in mind, it’s first understanding the importance of emphasising your visibility – simply doing projects and solving problems in a silo doesn’t necessarily count for much if nobody knows you’re doing it. Equally, learning how to let go of your bad habits from academia where you just ‘get on with it’ only reinforces and perpetuates this problem – making it harder for you to be appreciated and be visible in your career.
The easiest way to improve your visibility is to simply be more vocal and ‘descriptive’ of what you’re doing on a daily or weekly basis. Where possible, provide updates to colleagues of what you’re doing. It can simply be a one liner or a brief informal conversation over coffee – making people aware of what you’re doing is integral for building visibility. It is your own responsibility to not be in the background. You ever get those people at work who you haven’t spoken to for several months, or perhaps you don’t even know what it is they do exactly? Don’t be that person. Most of your direct team and colleagues should know roughly what you’re engaged in and what you’re working on. If they don’t, it’s likely you need to improve your visibility with the methods outlined above.
Another core way to elevate your visibility is to align yourself with deliverables that are currently in the spotlight by the wider team and the organisation. If you’re seen to be supporting on these important areas, the very nature of the project will subsequently assist with your visibility. It also means you’re more likely to be seen by the ‘right’ people and key stakeholders – possibly even the promotion decision makers.
It’s also a lot easier to be visible and seen if you’re working on something that has a specific deadline. This means people will want updates and reports more frequently. In turn, this forces you to be more visible, rather than you doing the leg work of making others aware of your contributions – they will come to you!
Last but not least, it may be harder to be visible if you work remotely due to less opportunities to chat in the kitchen or next to the water cooler. Having said that, if you’re aware of the importance of visibility it’s easy to find a solution. Booking in coffee calls over Zoom or Microsoft Teams works well. Equally, sending weekly or fortnightly update emails on the projects you’re working on to keep everyone in the loop can help.
Overall, it may feel pedantic and can be frustrating at first because we want others to just ‘know’ what we’re doing. In reality however, people have their own stuff going on, and if you’re not going out of your way to be seen or heard you cannot expect others to be psychic and figure things out without your help. Being visible is your responsibility to own and not something to be underestimated. In short, if you’re not being noticed or seen in your role, the solution isn’t to take on more work and be more efficient. The solution is to work on your visibility skills and put yourself in foreground. If you get it right, it can supercharge your career quicker than you can imagine.
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