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Competition: Is It Helping or Hurting Your Career?

Competition: Is It Helping or Hurting Your Career?

Five Ways to Assess Yourself

By Margaret Steen

Bosses like to hire and promote workers with a competitive drive, those who want to win so much that they'll put in the extra effort.

They have a lot of competitive candidates to choose from: An OfficeTeam survey of more than 1,000 senior managers at US companies with 20 or more employees found that almost half of the respondents thought employees are more competitive with each other today than they were 10 years ago.

Boost from a Tight Market

There may be good reason for employees to try to do better than the coworker in the next cubicle. "With the uncertain economy, many employees become concerned about job security," said Dave Willmer, executive director of OfficeTeam, an administrative staffing firm and a division of Robert Half International.

Still, it's possible to be so competitive that you hurt your career rather than help it.

"You probably want to stay away from pushing people aside in order to get ahead," Willmer said.

How can you tell if your competition with your coworkers will enhance your career or derail it? Experts suggest asking yourself these five questions:

1. What Is the Culture of Your Company and Department?

Do the top leaders foster competition among employees (by running internal contests, for example), or do they emphasize team accomplishments?

The answer may depend on your specific job. For example, sales teams tend to encourage competition more than, say, customer service groups.

2. Are You Playing Fair?

You may see short-term benefits from succeeding at the expense of your coworkers, but you'll hurt your career in the long run. Bad-mouthing colleagues to others, for example, will cause you to lose credibility.

Taking sole credit for a team project is another way to hurt you career. So is being overly critical of coworkers or the company.

3. What Are the Consequences of Your Competiveness?

It's possible to harm your coworkers -- and yourself -- without meaning to. For example, if you're so focused on your own work that you don't take the time to pass on a crucial lead to a coworker until it's too late to be helpful, you could get a reputation as an uncooperative colleague.

4. Are You Focused on the Team?

Marianne Adoradio, a Silicon Valley recruiter and career counselor, suggests asking yourself whether you're taking an action because you want the team to do well or because you want yourself to do well. "People always want to know that you can really work with a team," she said.

Some ways to help the team: Recognize others' successes. Say thank you in front of the boss. Managers will see a potential for leadership -- as long as you're sincere. "You don't want to overdo it," Willmer said.

5. Are You Excelling at Your Job?

You may think that you don't need to worry much about the goals your boss has set for you as long as you're doing better than the others on your team. But that's not necessarily true, Willmer said. Make sure you're meeting your boss's expectations, no matter what the others on your team are doing.

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