You should always be looking for assignments and situations in which you can demonstrate the following three qualities, even if the assignments and situations don’t appear all that attractive initially.


It may be nothing more than an opportunity to plan a group or team outing or the chance to be in charge of a relatively unimportant project, but this is the time to step up and show that you can manage other people. It may seem like a little thing, but if your willingness to take charge of small projects and secondary teams becomes a pattern, people will notice.


Really smart people are not always very creative. They may be brilliant at figuring out complex strategies or memorizing a ton of data, but they don’t always see new or cutting-edge approaches. Over time, you’re going to become familiar with the processes and procedures of any job. You should be asking yourself, “Is there a way to improve this process or procedure?” It doesn’t have to be a huge issue, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It may be something as simple as coming up with a two-step approval process that works faster than the traditional three-step approval process. It may involve figuring out a way to improve your group’s video conferencing capabilities by researching new video conferencing providers and adopting a technique or adapting a tool that will enhance the effectiveness of your conferencing efforts.


There are tasks in every department, team, and group that are difficult or that no one wants to do. They may be time consuming or involve overcoming obstacles, but they must get done. It may be something as clerical as making complex travel arrangements so your whole team can arrive at a given location at the right time. It may be writing a convincing proposal designed to obtain funding approval for your department’s new computer system. If you can demonstrate an ability to accomplish these tasks, your ability to execute will be noticed.

Software entrepreneur Flip Filipowski is positively eloquent on this subject. At the start of his career he quickly became a master at executing small but noticeable tasks, and as a result he became chief information officer of A.B. Dick at age twenty-two. Here is how Flip describes his “just do it” mentality: “For two years, I did all the jobs in the IT department that no one else wanted to do. I attacked them with a vengeance, knocking out twenty jobs in one day, and some of them were weeklong or monthlong projects. I just made it my challenge to do them faster. I had no college education and I was competing with guys from Ivy League schools, but I got the CIO job and they didn’t.

man with laptop

“Understand that these aren’t the popular jobs, and they may lead to dead ends. They carry the risk of failure, and they’re difficult. But people take them on as a challenge, and even when they fail at some of them, that’s fine, because you’re not supposed to do marvelous things with them. And if you succeed even marginally, it looks like you hit a grand slam. It’s easier to compete on this level with someone who is an intellectual powerhouse—he won’t even take on these types of jobs. In any organization with a hierarchy, this is the best way to get noticed.”

Unexpected opportunities also emerge through networking. I am not a joiner by nature, but I recognized early on at Eicoff that as a specialized agency we were somewhat isolated from the larger world of advertising, and made it my business to join outside organizations. Over the years, I’ve been an active participant in the Young Presidents’ Organization and the Direct Marketing Association. I have served on university and corporate boards and have spoken to many advertising and marketing associations. I recognize that when you’re starting out some of these opportunities aren’t available to you, but many others are. You have the chance to join volunteer or charitable groups associated with your company or industry; you can participate in local and national trade groups; you can become part of networks of professionals similar to yourself (based on age, gender, area of specialization, and so on). Sports-related activities such as golf and tennis outings, perhaps sponsored by industry groups, are also great ways to make valuable connections.

I realize these connections may not seem directly valuable. You may resist them because you tell yourself, “I work hard every day, and I don’t feel I should have to work hard after work or on weekends, which I would have to do if I join these groups.” If you’re a C student, however, these voluntary activities represent some of your best opportunities to forge alliances and make business contacts. You may not possess a ready-made circle of MBAs from a top school to help your career or high-powered connections who will smooth your path. You need to build these connections one person at a time. What you want to avoid at all costs is a “factory mentality.” I recall one young executive who was bright and personable and had all the potential in the world, but he insisted on working nine to fve and not one minute more. As a result, he rose to a certain level but never moved beyond it. He never developed a network of outside sources who could help him get business. I’ll share with you an expression that you should keep in mind the next time you’re considering signing up for one of these activities.

Here is a video with more help and advice.