Don't Be Lost in Obscurity

🚀 Why some talented people struggle to succeed - Issue #207

I’ve been struggling with something this week. I’m having an internal tug of war between needing more visibility but wanting to recede into the shadows.

Even though I force myself to be more active online, my introverted nature hasn’t gone away. I write, speak, podcast, post, and engage because it is excellent for my career and business. But, it doesn’t come naturally for me.

That being said, my social media efforts are finally starting to pay off. People are liking and commenting on my posts. I respond and — of course — that encourages further dialogue.

It’s mostly positive, but occasionally it turns negative. We’ve all encountered it so much that I guess we get used to it. But it’s still unpleasant.

Also, even when things are going well, and opportunities start coming in because of what I’ve published or said on a podcast, I start feeling stressed. My introversion rears its head, and my anxiety kicks in.

  • On the one hand, I want the attention, and I need the engagement for my business to keep succeeding.

  • On the other hand, I wish to disappear into a dark forest and be left alone to write in a tiny cabin, publish my work, and not be under the social media magnifying glass.

For most of my career, I pretty much did that. I avoided speaking up and standing out.

I believed that all I had to do was work hard, do great things, and my boss would notice. I should move up the ladder because my work spoke for itself. I shouldn’t have to call attention to myself and fight for a promotion.

One of my recent tweets on this topic resonated with people who seem to feel the same way:

I see this issue all the time. People invest in their knowledge acquisition and skill development to continuously hone their craft. They become undeniably better than most at what they do.

I know people who have incredible wisdom that is so valuable, yet they rarely share it beyond the few people they encounter in their daily lives. When I meet them, find out what they know, and learn more about the experiences they’ve had, I always say, “You need to share this! Get it out in the world. Your knowledge would help so many people.

They are always surprised and don’t believe that anyone else would be interested or find it useful. Or, they are terrified of putting themselves out there and into the harsh spotlight. They would rather keep their head down, work hard, and hope for the best.

However, those who balance their professional development with networking and building their professional brand tend to climb the ladder more quickly. You can complain about this reality, or take some lessons from it to improve your discoverability.

There are three ways to be discovered:

  1. Wait for a deep-sea diving recruiter to bump into you in the dark.

  2. Document your knowledge and wisdom and float it out into the world.

  3. Find an inside champion who can run your flag up from the depths.

The most successful people tend to leverage all three strategies. They sometimes do it all in parallel too.

And why not? The job market is only becoming more competitive.

Step 1: Become a catch

If you’re counting on a deep-sea recruiter selecting you from amongst a large school of other fish, then you have to work on becoming a desirable catch. 🐠

*Hey, I started with this metaphor, so I have to see it through. 😉

  • Double down on your craft.

  • Become exceedingly good at what you do.

  • Be that person with whom everyone loves to work.

  • Work at the best companies and take on significant projects.

  • Get promoted as much as possible.

However, deep-sea trawling with nets might be a better metaphor than targeted diving. Employers scoop up resumes from dozen, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of candidates for open roles.

The competition has grown even fiercer as companies have transitioned roles to remote positions. Now, they can take applications from people all over the world.

That’s why the left side of my diagram above shows a deep stack of “talent pyramids.” That represents all of the other people competing with you for your next job.

So many people quietly do great work and hope that a hiring manager will discover them. They are hidden beneath the waves and often lost in obscurity for the rest of their careers.

They may even go to the trouble of updating and refining their LinkedIn profile, then sit back and wait for a recruiter to contact them.

Submitting hundreds of job applications and sending your resume to dozens of companies isn’t much better. It is slightly more active than the “wait and see” approach, but the odds of success are low.

Ok, your odds are better if you follow the advice above and become a top 1% dream candidate with the perfect background:

  • You have an advanced degree from an Ivy League school.

  • You have several years of experience at Google, Facebook, Apple, or Amazon.

  • Your domain experience is directly relevant to their needs.

  • Your knowledge and skills are a 100% match for the role.

  • You have dozens of patents in your name.

  • You have glowing testimonials and references from big-name leaders.

If you are that kind of candidate, you probably don’t have to work very hard to find your next job. Recruiters are always contacting you first.

But, if you don’t have a picture-perfect background, how are you going to stand out from the crowd? What is it that is going to get you noticed and hired for the best roles?

Step 2: Build your brand

If you’ve been quietly working your tail off and performing well, but no one has come knocking on your door with a dream job, you have to take things up a notch. Do you want to spend the rest of your career grinding away in obscurity?

Some people are happy with that. No, they really are. Their work doesn’t define them. It is just a “job,” and it pays the bills. They live for what their life is like outside of work, and there is nothing wrong with that approach if it makes you happy.

However, some people are working hard and feel like they deserve more. They are ambitious and frustrated by a lack of recognition. They don’t feel fulfilled, but they don’t know how to break out of that trap.

Well, if you don’t want to wait around for the next deep-sea recruiting expedition to find you, there is another option.

Build your professional brand so that people know your name.

I’m not talking about your “personal brand” or becoming a social media influencer. This option is about taking control of your professional reputation and dialing up awareness.

Do those in your industry know who you are and what you do?

Some people have a very narrow base of knowledge, skills, and experience, but they excel at building their professional brand. They create lots of content and consistently promote themselves — as any smart company does with any successful product that sells well and dominates the market.

They are quite good at building a powerful network, as well. This task is more manageable when people know who you are, how you think, and what you are great at doing.

As you’ve probably read before in my newsletter, I highly recommend getting your content out into the world (e.g., writing, public speaking, podcasting, sharing videos). Share your expertise and wisdom through the medium that works best for you to be discovered, and opportunities will begin flowing your way.

Step 3: Find an inside champion

A member of my Career Accelerator just landed a C-level position within a few days of moving to a new city. Guess how he made that happen?

Yep. He had a high-level champion who recommended him for the position.

Another member of the Accelerator landed a great gig with one of the biggest software companies in the world. How?

You’ve probably figured out the pattern by now. She met an inside champion who brought her into the hiring process and made an introduction.

You can have a narrower base of knowledge, skills, and experience and still get a job more quickly than the person who is quietly working harder but never gets noticed. It doesn’t matter how good you are if no one knows that you exist.

What’s the benefit of having an inside champion? Well, take a look at these referral stats:

Your champion can lift you out of the pile of thousands of resumes, take you past the gatekeepers, and introduce you directly to the hiring manager. A well-connected and well-respected champion can influence the hiring decision and make your interview feel like a formality instead of a “trial by fire.”

It starts with building a more powerful professional network and nurturing your relationships. Connect with people regularly and let them know what you’re looking for next in your career.

Instead of waiting and hoping that your exceptional hidden talent will be discovered someday, take control of your destiny and find your champions. They will open doors for you that you didn’t even know existed.

Don’t be afraid of the light

Listen. I get it.

It may not look this way, but I don’t enjoy being in the spotlight. I don’t want to be the center of attention.

I have always been that person who preferred to retreat to a dark corner at a party. When events become too crowded and noisy, I slowly edge my way to the exit.

Even now, when I’m successful with my marketing, and I start receiving more attention on social media, my first instinct is to retreat. I want to shut down and disappear.

However, hiding in the darkness has never done anyone any favors for their career growth. If you’re an ambitious professional who wants to get ahead, you must put yourself out there to be found.

Being in the spotlight may make you uncomfortable too. I won’t promise that the stress will completely disappear. I’m living proof of that. But, it does get a little easier.

Those moments of anxiety are still less painful than the frustration of being lost in obscurity for the remainder of your career. Don’t spend the rest of your life dreaming about how successful you could have been if only you had been brave enough to stand up, speak up, and stand out.

This week’s professional development challenge

Ask Your Boss for Feedback
🚀 Be strategic with your performance review plan…