advice Business culture Level 3 Study Materials

What can you do to be an exceptional employee?

English speakers love people who are unique. How can you make yourself more unique?

In the US and many other countries employers look for people who stand out, or are uniquely different from other people, to fit into key jobs or positions.

However, how do you stand out in a very big group? What sorts of traits should you have to make yourself an exceptional employee? According to Jeff Haden, a contributing editor to, there are 8 Signs an Employee is Exceptional (Which Never Appear on Performance Evaluations). These traits can help make you be a vital part of any team.

So what are those eight signs? Let’s look at them below:

  1. They think well beyond the job description:

    job description is a short summary of what someone’s duties and responsibilities at a company. If you work in marketing, your job description might include something like: “an amazing, data-driven inbound marketer to own the majority of the marketing funnel” for your company.

    In this case, we are talking about someone who is willing to not just do what they are expected to do, but to do more than expected. As Jeff Haden explains, “When a key customer’s project is in jeopardy, exceptional employees know without being told there’s a problem, and they jump in without being asked, even if–especially if–it’s not their job.”

    Haden uses the word “jeopardy,” which means something is in danger.

  2. They are quirky

    Quirky is a fun word. Quirky means having strange or unique manners. A quirky employee is someone who is strange, but not in a bad way. Rather, quirkiness tends to be a good thing, like someone who is very funny in the office.

    A quirky employee make things different. They add something special that the rest of the group or office doesn’t have. They are not afraid to challenge the group, and they often think of the best new ideas.

  3. But also know how to rein in their personality when needed

    Too much quirkiness can be a bad thing, though: some people’s feelings might be hurt, or there might be a situation where everyone needs to be serious.

    Successful employees know when to be quirky, and also when to rein in their personality. We use “rein in” like “to control,” or to “stop” something. This comes from back in the days when people rode horses. The reins were the ropes used to control and guide the horse: if you pulled the reins “in,” or closer to your body, that would tell the horse to stop.

    We can use “rein in” here to mean the same thing, except instead of a horse we control our unusual personality. Working with a group to accomplish a project sometimes involves everyone being on the same page, or “having the same understanding” about something.

  4. They praise others in public…

    Isn’t it great when someone says “good job” or “keep up the hard work”? Don’t you feel so much better? It might not seem important, but it is very helpful for boosting the morale of a team. “To boost morale” means to help improve or strengthen the emotional or mental conditions of a group of people. I often like to describe “morale” as “work happiness”; you feel more excited to work at your job and feel happy working with your boss and teammates.

  5. But disagree in private

    Sometimes, people are wrong. And sometimes, we disagree about something, even with our boss. And that is okay. What is not okay is going out and insulting your boss or team manager (trust me).

    When there is an issue at your office, you should try and talk to your boss privately. It’s important for managers to learn about issues because they can try and fix it. As Jeff Haden explains, “We all want employees to bring issues forward, but some problems are better handled in private,”

  6. They ask questions that other people aren’t asking

    Sometimes, people are hesitant, or afraid to, talk about something. Sometimes, they are even hesitant to speak in private.

    Exceptional employees have a special feeling for these things, are are not afraid to ask the questions no one is asking. They like to step up and ask the important questions, and do not avoid short-term problems if the long-term helps improve everyone’s morale.

  7. They like to prove others wrong

    While being smart, talented, and unique are all helpful for being an exceptional employee, what matters most is drive. We are not talking about drive as in to “drive a car”. Rather, we are talking about “drive” as a noun, which means “a deep feeling inside yourself to do better or to get something”.

    Steve Jobs, for instance, was very driven; he worked hard to make Apple into a major company because he had a desire to do better. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, is also very driven because he worked hard to build his company to be one of the biggest in the world.

    Drive often comes from the feeling of proving others wrong. It could be a “The woman without a college degree or the man who was told he didn’t have leadership potential often possesses a burning desire to prove other people wrong,”

    Driven employees are not interested in just money. They are interested in something else bigger, and if you want to impress your boss, you need to think of something bigger you want from your job. Is it experience? Is it a good career? Is it the ability to meet new people? Is it just to relax? Whatever it is, figuring out what drives you is very important.

  8. And they are always trying new things

    Exceptional employees might be bored easily; they always want to try new things o new concepts to see what works and what doesn’t work. They are always tinkering, or always adjusting and experimenting on new things, to see what works best and what doesn’t work best.

    A truly exceptional employees find ways “to reinvent” how things are done at a company, because they do not want to get bored.


to stand out (adj.) – to be unique, or special; to be different from everyone else. 
job description
(n.) – the roles, duties, and responsibilities of a job; the things you must do for a job
(n.) –  something dangerous
to rein in
(v.) – to control
to be on the same page
(phrasal v.) – to think in a similar way to other people 
to boost morale 
(phrasal v.) – to improve or strengthen the emotional or mental conditions of a group of people
to hesitate
(v.) – to worry about something, to be scared of something
(n.) – a feeling of wanting to accomplish or get a certain thing, an urge to do something.

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