How to Be Seen as Competent in the Workplace

Take mistakes seriously.


One of the most valuable currencies in the workplace is perceived competence.

If coworkers view you as competent, they are more likely to respect you and collaborate well with you—and having good professional relationships can only help your career. If the boss believes you are competent, your chances for increased responsibility and advancement grow.

How do you get people to perceive you as competent? The answer is simple: You must be competent—and you need to refrain from doing things that demonstrate that you are struggling to keep up.

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Consider the following to avoid giving your colleagues a reason to doubt your competence:

1. Try to figure it out first. There are plenty of good reasons to ask for help at work: Perhaps you’re a new employee. Or, maybe, you’re using a new or unfamiliar system. It could be that you’re just stumped and you need some assistance.

Before you call for help, however, take five or 10 minutes to try to figure it out. Try some basic problem solving: Identify the problem, come up with some possible solutions, and try out your solutions to see if one of them does the trick.

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Every time you don’t ask for help is one less chance for your coworkers to realize that you are, at times, less-than-competent. Solve your own problem and you preserve the level of competence at which your coworkers already perceive you, and you increase your actual competence by learning something new.

2. Use your memory. As acknowledged above, there are going to be times when you have little choice but to ask for assistance in the workplace. In those cases, it is crucial that you remember what you’ve been told.

Few things are more irritating than a coworker who asks the same question every week only to forget the answer as if he returns his brain to factory settings over the weekend and reboots on Monday morning. The repeat queries are enough to make you question that guy’s competence, right?

Do what you must do to remember things: Take notes. Turn the information into a song. Repeat it—in your head, of course—until the information is seared into your grey matter. If you have to ask the same question three times or more, your perceived competence is going to take a hit.

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3. Be serious about mistakes. That coworker we just talked about—the one who can’t seem to remember anything—also is usually the guy shrugging off mistakes. “My bad,” he says with a chuckle, right before calling IT because his computer won’t activate (turns out the cord was unplugged).

When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. Demonstrate that you now know how to avoid the mistake in the future. And, this is the important one, don’t make that mistake again. Repeat mistakes and you will appear less competent.

Luke Roney is content manager for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information and a free career happiness assessment.