A really great boss notices the employee who comes in every day and does a dependably good job while never causing drama. In reality, though, being a reliable performer who rarely stands out may leave you flying under the radar, especially at a big company.
To score a raise, get a promotion, or just raise your profile, you need to stand out at work. That doesn't you should be a loudmouth, and of course you don't want get noticed for the wrong reasons. Instead, it's important to raise your profile by making a concentrated effort to be exceptional.
Put in the time
At my first real job as a trade magazine editor, we had no real hours. Some people came in at 9 a.m., others at noon, and when the day ended varied considerably as well. My boss, however, came in between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and left between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
I learned quickly that she didn't like it when she went looking for someone who turned out not to be there. I also learned that after a while, she stopped looking for people who kept unreliable hours and failed to inform her when they had reasons to be out of the office for work.
Simply because I was always there when she needed me, I got assigned special projects, and was given opportunities I otherwise may not have. She thought of me as a hard worker (I was) and of others who kept less reliable hours as being lazier (some were, some weren't).
It wasn't as if I was sitting there, biding my time and doing nothing, just to be present. There was plenty of work, and while some chose to do theirs at home or on the weekend, I did mine where it made me visible to the person who ultimately controlled my fate at that company.
Be a good co-worker
Nobody likes the co-worker who's willing to do anything for the boss but less willing to help out his or her peers. It's important that your efforts to stand out include making life easier for the people you work with.
That can mean anything from offering a helping hand as a deadline approaches to covering for someone who needs to leave for a family emergency. There's not a single, defined way to be a good co-worker, but in general you should think about whether your actions will make everyone look good or just you.
Share praise and credit liberally. Make it so whether you lead or follow on a project that everyone feels like part of the team. That will make everyone want to work with you, and they may even be eager to work for you should you ever become the boss.
Always be willing
For a couple of years I ran a giant toy and hobby store. Most of my employees were very good at their jobs because they were passionate about their area of expertise. That made it very hard for anyone to stand out based on daily performance.
The true stars, however, the ones the owner and I marked for promotion or raises, were the people willing to do thankless but needed tasks outside their core jobs. They were the employees who stood with me getting soaked in the rain directing traffic in our overcrowded parking lot on busy weekend days, or the ones who helped shovel out the lot so we could open right after a snowstorm.
In many cases, the workers who stood out most weren't the ones who raised their hands when I asked. They were the people who saw when work needed to be done and simply did it.
Be a good person
Standing out for the right reason sometimes involves sacrifice. You'll have to work harder, and sometimes you'll end up doing tasks you may not want to. Generally, you want to constantly ask yourself, "Am I making things better for my company, my boss, and my co-workers?"
That's perhaps not how many people are wired to think, because it forgoes short-term self interest. Take a long view, however, and be the best employee, teammate, partner, and worker possible -- and you will build a reputation marking yourself as a standout.