A few years back, I wrote a column addressed to the graduates about to enter the workforce. Given some of the changes that have occurred since then, I thought it could be dusted off and updated. With that in mind, here’s the newer version:
Again, to all of you, congratulations. You’ve graduated, found a job, and are now on your way to work.
The following are a few bits of advice that I thought might give you a leg up in your new job. Most have been learned the hard way. You’ll probably ignore them completely and go about earning your own scars. Then, one day, you’ll want to pass on what you’ve learned - only to have it widely ignored too.
Still, here are some hints on how to get ahead at work:
If you think you had a lot to learn in school, wait until you see what’s waiting for you at work…and most of it’s not written down. Do understand, too, that missed assignments here will cost you more than a letter grade.
At work, remove whatever’s plugged into your ears. This will give your boss the idea that you care more about your job (a good thing) than you do about the latest song by "Iron Rooster" or whomever.
Treat company computers as, well, company computers. Use them for anything other than company work and, sooner or later, you’ll get to explain why – especially if it’s anything on the far side of tasteful.
On a similar topic, imagine any e-mail you send on company computers being posted in bright, flashing lights on an I-5 billboard and routed to every newspaper, magazine, and radio and television station in the state. That one simple thought might save you a ton of embarrassment.
Pick up the tab for lunch every now and then. People will love you for it – especially if you cover dessert too.
A lot of people communicate these days somewhat as follows: "So I’m like mad because she’s like not ready. So I’m like ‘Hurry up,’ but she’s like ‘Hold on’ and nothing but attitude." Guess who never (ever) gets to speak for the company.
Fix the problem, not the blame. The former gets things done. The latter makes you somewhat less than popular.
Jerks get promotions too. Get used to it.
Whenever a project has reached the point where really long meetings are being held to plan even longer meetings, that project is doomed.
Avoid committees. Committees are where consensus rules and good ideas wither. A committee formed to paint the Mona Lisa would’ve ended up with Madonna on black velvet.
Watch what you say about the boss because, if it’s bad, it’s guaranteed to get back to him or her. The sound you’ll hear when that happens is your career going down the toilet. More simply: If you don’t say it, they can’t repeat it.
In any project that’s being rushed, it’s always good to remember Meskimen’s Law: "If they want it bad, they get it bad."
Return phone calls. People will love you for that almost as much as for your paying for lunch. Too, the person who called just might want to place the biggest order ever seen at your company. Don’t return calls and think of your boss being told "Well, I wanted to order from you guys, but (insert your name here) never called back."
Get known for doing what you say you’ll do each time, every time, all the time. Funny how promotions often get tied to doing that one simple thing.
Find the people who aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They’re the most fun to work with.
When you’ve completed a project, move on to the next one. When done with that one, move on to the one after that. Never worry about credit. It always catches up.
Make friends with the people who clean up, run the warehouse, handle the mail, fix the lights, answer the phones and do the things that actually make the company work. They’re the ones who can make things happen when you most need them to happen. Anger them and start thinking late mail, lost messages, dim lights, worst car in the car pool, etc.
Finally, never "upgrade" any computer program that’s working. Therein lies the certain path to disaster.