Feb 24 2010
The United States has an explicit culture, where being modest or not “putting yourself out there” won’t bring you the success you’re looking for. This means that, unlike China, France and Japan, where implicit communications are the norm, in the US you need to not only be able to speak up and talk about your strengths, but show them as well. Only those who stand out from the crowd, have clear, known strengths, will succeed.
One of the important considerations when coming to the US to work, is knowing how to stand out from the crowd. Nowadays, besides you, there are many other Indians, Chinese, French, British or Germans who work in the US, and Americans are quite used to this multicultural landscape in their companies. But how do you make yourself known, how do you stand out without having to resort to tactics that are uncomfortable and might seem over the top?
First of all, having the right attitude and confidence will help you in this move.
In an interview I had with Guy Gecht, Israeli CEO of EFI in Silicon Valley, he answered the question about how to make yourself stand out by saying “It’s a great thing to know you can control forces, you can be in the front, you can think out of the box to win and you can do things that really matter”.
Contrary to other countries, where family or other connections play an important part in defining your role in your company, here in the US, defining yourself is up to you. Marc Onetto, SVP Worldwide at Amazon, told me “…everything [is] doable, it is just a question of hard work, of merit and any door [will] open”. In other words, doors are generally open in the US (think of the “open door policy” for executives in companies) but it is up to you to go through them successfully.
Here are a few ways to position yourself better:
- Develop unique qualifications
In addition to having superior intelligence and a really good education (which many immigrants bring to this country), developing a unique strength is a good beginning. The US business world looks to see what your particular niche is. Do you speak several foreign languages? Many foreigners assume that their colleagues know that they are multi-lingual and that they would ask them for help if they needed it. But don’t assume. Make it known that you are able to communicate in Hindi, Chinese, French, etc. fluently and it will not only set you apart but also give you added value.
Are you an avid social networker? Are you a specialist in the Web 2.0 space? Many companies are starting to use Twitter [micro-blogging] and if yours doesn’t, you could spearhead the integration of corporate twitter into your company, thereby showing your initiative, which also makes you stand out from the crowd.
Even if you come from a well-known foreign university, it helps to attend an executive MBA program at a top 10 university to solidify your intellectual reputation. Or, you can branch out from your field and choose certificate programs to enlarge your knowledge base and your employability. The UC Berkeley Extension, for example, offers many such courses, which gives you an official certificate of completion at the end of the program.
- Work hard
A 40-hour work-week isn’t what most people put in here. The standard is much higher these days, especially on the executive level. However, just showing up at the same time as the CEO, is not going to make a difference. But working longer to develop new white papers or fill an unexplored niche, will.
- Become an expert in your industry
Keep up with your industry journals, set up Google Reader for relevant blogs, know what colleagues from other departments are working on, and understand what makes the competition great. You can be sure that not everyone will have this insider knowledge and being able to share it at the right moment, can make a difference.
- Have a relentless focus on your work and your career development
Don’t just follow the normal career path. Do something different. Think outside the box. Be passionate about a great idea and carry it through to completion. What can you contribute that will make your work process easier, AND, make your boss look better?
If you do everything you can to implement some of these steps, you will stand out and people will recognize that you will be able to carry it all to the next level.
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By Angelika Blendstrup, PhD. Angelika coaches high-level foreign-born executives in International Business Communications, Interviewing Skills, Accent Reduction, Presentation Skills and Personal Branding 2.0. She teaches at Stanford University on topics including cross-cultural communications, managing virtual teams, the art of interviewing successfully and how to do business in the US. Angelika holds a Ph.D. in Bilingual, Bicultural Education from Stanford University, speaks five languages and is the author of They Made It! featuring interviews with major foreign-born leaders of Silicon Valley, and co-author of Communicating the American Way, a guide to succeeding in US business communications.
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