Have you got the "X" factor?

What gives some people that air of success? Why does everyone in the organisation know their names? According to Ros Jay, it's a combination of certain key ingredients. And the good news is, anyone can cultivate them to boost their personal profile. Here's how...

By Ros Jay

To get what you want at work, you need a strong and impressive personal profile. This doesn't mean changing your personality, but simply capitalising on your strengths, and minimising your weaker points. They key areas you need to work on are:

  • Personal image
  • Likeableness
  • Visibility

Let's take these one at a time.

Personal image

The way you come across to people is an important part of how they assess your value, so it's well worth sprucing up your personal image. This isn't a matter of trying to turn yourself into someone else - that never works - it's a case of building on key strengths and minimising weaknesses. The most important characteristics which give you an image of success are: personal appearance, energy and positive attitude.

One of the keys to improving your personal appearance is consistency. It won't work if you look smart four days a week but always look rumpled one day a week. The company dress code may be informal, but make sure your clothes are clean and pressed every day, not just when you have important meetings. And dress appropriately for the job, not forgetting accessories, etc. If smoking isn't part of the corporate culture, keep evidence of it well concealed.

As far as energy levels go, we can all inject more dynamism into our behaviour. Those people with high energy levels are invigorating and inspiring to be around. There are some simple techniques for projecting energy, which include speaking clearly and not mumbling, meeting people with a smile and a firm handshake, making regular eye contact when you speak, and saying "hello" promptly and with enthusiasm. Don't always wait for the other person to speak, be the first person to initiate a conversation, and sound interested in what others say to you. Think about notching up your speed, too - you don't have to rush around or speak at a gabble, but move and talk at an upbeat pace.

As for a positive attitude, you may need to work on this if you're a pessimist (OK, OK, sorry, I meant realist)! Make it a rule that you never bring a problem to your boss without a solution. It may not be the best solution, but it gets you out of difficulty and gives you a proactive image. Realists are useful in ensuring that potential problems are identified well in advance, so don't stop pointing out the pitfalls - just make sure you present them in an acceptable way.

There are three ways to make a realistic objection sound positive:

  1. Make your negative comment specific. "It will never work" is a singularly unhelpful comment. Say, "It will never work because the costs are too high".

  2. Never, never express a negative view without a positive one attached to it. Instead of "It will never work because the costs are too high," say, "It would certainly increase throughput, but it will never work because the costs are too high".

  3. Tone down your language, so that you talk about "worries" and "concerns" rather than insisting that things are "wrong" or "major problems". So you might say, "It would certainly increase throughput. My one concern is that it's going to be hard to get the costs low enough to make it work."


Popular people do better at work, and are more likely to get what they want. They are more fun to have around, generate a positive atmosphere and improve morale. If you're less popular than you could be, take a look through this list and see where there's room for improvement:

  • Be a good listener
  • Show an interest in the people around you
  • Don't be arrogant or pompous
  • Don't gossip behind people's backs
  • Never put people down
  • A strong sense of humour is a definite plus, but don't use it against people
  • If you manage a team, be fair, and always make time for team members.

You're also bound to succeed better if you are regarded as being trustworthy and reliable. So make sure you don't break confidences or act disloyally. Show you can be trusted to get tasks done, especially when they are urgent or important, or running late. Consequently, when there's a sense of panic, your boss will be more likely to put you in charge.

People who are open and honest are also seen as more trustworthy than those who are private or secretive. It's not fair most of the time, but that's the way it is. If you're a private person, try to be a little more forthcoming about yourself. You don't have to bare your soul; just join in talking about your holiday or discussing your favourite music, or a childhood anecdote. It will help your image.


Last, but not least, aim to improve your visibility. You want your name and face to stand out from the crowd. Here are some ideas which will help:

  • Network within your company and forge as many positive links as possible with other departments. Whenever volunteers are needed, step forward. You'll meet other managers and become one of those people everyone knows.

  • Volunteer for high-profile tasks, too. Start with your boss, and then offer your expertise to other departments.

  • In the company of senior management, speak occasionally but not too often. And don't open your mouth until you've come up with a really smart idea or comment!
It's not enough to be valuable to your organisation; you've got to be seen to be valuable. Make sure your boss and everyone else knows what an asset you are, and make it an ongoing policy to present a positive and high profile all the time.

Ros Jay is a business writer. Her advice on boosting your personal profile is taken from her book "Get What You Want at Work" (Pearson Publishing, £9.99). For copies of the book, and information on other titles by Ros, including "How to manage your manager", visit Pearson Education at www.pearsoned.co.uk

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