Everyone from interns to executives answers to somebody. Even CEOs must answer to stakeholders and board members. Regardless of position, industry or experience level, you should always be prepared with the answer to this question: "What have you done for me lately?"
Don't rely on past successes
Employers want employees who have a lot to offer. Coasting on past success will not get you far. Businesses that succeed are not in the habit of dwelling in the past because their innovation, creativity and profits would suffer.
Imagine if Apple released the iPod and decided to take a little break from new products and services. The world would be a cruel place, devoid of the joys of iPads and iPhones. More importantly, picture what would happen if the medical industry decided to stop their research. No more new treatments or cures for fatal diseases.
No matter what you do for a living, doing a good job consistently is essential. You can be the top salesperson one month, but when the next month rolls around, you will still have goals to meet and sales to make.
I could write an article of pure genius, one that goes viral, gets me a book deal and makes Oprah start following me on Twitter (@ErinEPalmer if you're reading this, O!). But I would still have new deadlines to meet. If I turn in an article that isn't good enough, my editor won't care how good my last piece was. "But my last article was awesome" is not an acceptable excuse.
Focus on now
Try to think of the last time you did something really exceptional at work. Chances are, you're thinking about a past experience. Unless your first thought was something that you're working on, you have room for improvement.
Aim to be the go-to person in your office. When people come to you for help, for ideas, for everything, it keeps you present. Being the person who others rely upon isn't easy, but it increases your status and relevancy.
If you wonder whether focusing on the present is really that important, put yourself in a recruiter's shoes. Two resumes come across your desk, both with amazing skill sets and experiences. But the major achievements of one candidate happened years ago, and not much happened before or has happened since. The other boasts consistent major successes, including the most recent points.
Which would you choose?
So, what have you done for me lately?
Honestly, not every assignment is going to be groundbreaking. When Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it wasn't all genius, all day. He still had to build a scaffold and clean his paintbrushes. The important thing is to put your all into every task, even the small ones. Figure out how to manage your energy and make every assignment the most important one.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to write my best piece ever.
(Erin Palmer is a contributor to Brazen Careerist. She writes about education for University Alliance. Erin can be reached on Twitter @ErinEPalmer. Brazen Careerist is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. This isn't your parents' career-advice column. Be Brazen.)