Demonstrating your value and competence to your organization’s higher-ups isn’t about any one specific moment. Impress them by performing well consistently and showing passion for your mission.
Q: I don’t get many opportunities to meet with people who rank above me, so when I do, I want them to see me at my best. Recently, I was in a meeting with my organization’s top brass, and I was asked a question that I didn’t immediately have the answer to. I’m worried it painted me in a poor light. How can I handle this kind of situation better in the future?
A: Most of us have been in the situation you describe or one similar to it. You earned your shot to impress people who have the power to elevate your career, you prepared to the best of your ability, and you felt confident. But then you were blindsided by a question you weren’t ready for, and now you’re concerned about how that one response will affect your potential for promotion.
First: Don’t worry too much about this one incident. It’s unfortunate that it happened, but remember that no one is perfect or knows all the answers. You can use this as an opportunity to reflect on how you prepared for the meeting and what you said in it. Consider what you might do differently next time.
Fortunately, there’s a bigger picture here. Demonstrating competence (or incompetence) doesn’t hinge on one response to a question but instead depends on consistent performance. That includes successfully completing tasks assigned to you and being a good employee and team player.
Demonstrating competence (or incompetence) doesn’t hinge on one response to a question but instead depends on consistent performance.
On the other hand, if you aren’t demonstrating your competence every day and expect to impress the people above you in a meeting, you’re mistaken. Your reputation for being a top employee is built by going above and beyond your job description. It’s seen in your passion for the mission of your organization. And it gets noticed in your commitment to continuous learning—when, for example, you participate in a webinar and then share what you’ve learned with colleagues.
So when you’re put on the spot in a meeting and asked a direct question for which you don’t have the answer, what should you do? Never try to bluff your way through, but don’t hesitate to say something like, “I’ll get back to you this afternoon with a definitive answer.” You haven’t said that you don’t know—you’ve said you want to be able to give the questioner a more complete response.
Your value as an employee will be evident in the work you produce daily and in your contributions to making your organization the best it can be—not in how you respond to one question.