How to make yourself valuable in the workplace

Posted on August 30, 2018

Soon those caps will be flying in the air and university graduates will be entering the workforce. What these new workers may not know is that employers often have an unspoken expectation that graduates arrive job-ready on day one… sounds pretty “reasonable”, right?

But with advances in technology, many “entry-level” positions of the past have been automated. The result is fewer opportunities for new graduates to get in on the ground floor of an operation and learn the ropes. Instead, today’s graduates are expected to hit the ground solving problems, rather than spending time getting their feet wet.

Employers hire people to either help their company make money or save money. Whether it’s a manager who makes business decisions or a receptionist who makes the first impression on customers, or a maintenance worker who makes the building a safe place to conduct the company’s business, all are hired and paid to contribute to the success of the company.

Research indicates that about 43% of employers do not provide on-the-job training. Instead, they expect these graduates to know everything. Does it make sense to expect a 20-something-year-old whose parents have invested thousands of rands in their university education to have the knowledge, capabilities, and resources to succeed in a position without any training?

Some students have had numerous internships at prestigious organisations, but they still require on-the-job training (it could even look like a mentorship). But no organisation is the same. Each potential employee has to learn the systems, the culture, and more importantly, how to be successful within the specific organisation. So, there are two things that employers can look at  –  skills and talent:

  • Skill: the ability to do something well; expertise
  • Talent: natural aptitude or skill.

Employers can teach skills, but they can’t teach talent. Additionally, there are a few characteristics that employers value in their employees. These are characteristics that should be possessed by all, regardless of their job title or how new they are to the world of work. Here are a few expectations employers generally have of all employees (including new grads):

Positive attitude

Your attitude affects the relationships you have with your co-workers and supervisor, the way you feel about the tasks you are asked to accomplish, and how satisfied you are with your employment. A positive attitude in your work means that you look for the best qualities in those with whom you work, that you take on challenges willingly, and that you find ways to accomplish even the most tedious tasks without complaining. President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“Though my work may be menial, though my contribution may be small, I can perform it with dignity and offer it with unselfishness. My talents may not be great, but I can use them to bless the lives of others. I can be one who does his work with pride in that which comes from hand and mind. I can be one who works with respect for my associates, for their opinions, for their beliefs, with appreciation for their problems and with a desire to help them should they stumble. I believe in the principle that I can make a difference in this world. It may be ever so small. But it will count for the greater good. The goodness of the world in which we live is the accumulated goodness of many small and seemingly inconsequential acts.”


Being dependable means that you do what you say you will do. Your colleagues and manager rely on you to accomplish responsibilities associated with your job. Your efforts contribute to the success of others. Ask yourself what constitutes success in your particular position and then ensure that you constantly work to exceed those expectations. Being dependable will make you a valued employee.

Continual learning

Continual learning enables you to increase the contribution you make to your company. Are you willing to take the time to learn new skills and subsequently make yourself a more valuable employee? Asking questions, taking advantage of training programmes at work, and reading books all count as learning and help you become more valuable in your current assignment. Ask for advice from your team and manager about things you need to learn in order to progress. Learning to take feedback graciously is a vital skill we all need in order to become better.


While there may be specific assignments you are given in your work, there are opportunities to do even more. Have you ever accepted projects that are outside your comfort zone? Have you ever volunteered for a project that no one else wants to take? How often have you approached your employer with new ideas? Taking the initiative to do things better provides insight into the kind of person you are. Instead of doing things the way they have always been done, share your new ideas with your employer and make a case for the investment. Even if your idea is not received as well as you would have hoped, at least you did your best and learned. Take a chance and try a new project; you will be amazed at the impact it will have on you and the new skills you will learn. 


One of the greatest assets anyone can possess is the ability to get along with others and help them succeed. You may not have all the skills required for a job, but if you can get along with your team and can share your talents with others, you would have just made the work environment a better one and you will also have a grateful employer. By helping your team get along, you will make your company a better place for all — this does not go unrecognised.

There are many other attributes that can be added to this basic list, such as honesty and respect. They are all important but they all have their foundation in attitude. A positive attitude is the foundation upon which we must develop our careers.

Ms Suzanne Gericke is a part-time lecturer and PhD student in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences


- Author Suzanne Gericke

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