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What to Do If You Are Being Underestimated at Work

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Being passed over for a work project or opportunity that you know you are capable of is frustrating—and it could indicate that your boss is underestimating what you’re capable of. You might assume your boss knows about your credentials and prior experience, and is up-to-date on what your contributions to certain projects have been, but those accomplishments can get lost in the shuffle.

“Many of these misunderstandings are tied to a communication issue,” said Alaina G. Levine, a professional speaker and author of the book Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere.

Determine why you are being underestimated 

The first step is to determine why you are being underestimated, and if the reason is within your control. “We have to acknowledge that if this is happening because of sexism, racism, or some other prejudice, then the rules I’m about to describe do not apply,” Levine said. “There is very little you can do with someone who is sexist or racist. You have to find another employer who will value and respect you for you.”

However, it could also be that the underestimation is due to a miscommunication in what your background is, and what your contributions have been. If this is the case, there are a number of strategies that you can employ to make sure that they know what you are capable of, so they can keep you in mind for opportunities in the future.

Be specific and proactive 

If you are being underestimated because of a miscommunication, Levine recommends being specific about your various accomplishments and contributions. Track metrics on how your various projects have performed, be specific about what your exact contributions were, and reference various aspects of your professional background, including any relevant certifications, jobs you’ve held in the past, or additional skills you picked up in previous roles.

When Levine talks about touting your achievements, she’s not saying you should brag, or bring them up at every possible opportunity. “We’re talking about telling the truth in the most appropriate way, in the most appropriate time and place,” Levine said.

Being specific about what you have done, in the appropriate context, is important because sometimes your boss just doesn’t know what your background is—or they may have forgotten. However, in order to get that next opportunity, they do need to know about what you have done. “What you are doing is convincing your boss or your colleagues why they should invest resources in you,” Levine said.

Levine also recommends being proactive about various opportunities. Find extra ways to demonstrate your capabilities. Think of it like an audition: “There’s a negotiation element to this,” Levine said. “You may have to give a little, to help them understand what it is you can do.”

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