Editor’s Note: Eventually, this post will serve as the outline for a new eBook and service offering from Living for Monday, my new company. However, as Chris Guillebeau so eloquently put it in a recent post, ‘Never save it for later.’ So, here it is: 28 tips for young professionals looking to make a splash in the workplace.
Warning: This post is only for those that despise the status quo and are willing to work hard to make things happen. You know… those who want to be the movers and shakers. If you’re not into that kind of thing, check back on Friday for new content.
1) Add value in any way possible. As an employee, we go to work to add value. If we choose not to add value, or if we don’t have the opportunity to add value then it might be time to find a place or role where we can.
2) Just because you’re a new hire… doesn’t mean you’re helpless. Being a new hire is a function of time. Acting like a new hire is a state of mind. This DOES NOT MEAN we should act like we own the place. It does mean we have a role to play and value to add starting on day one.
3) Learning is our greatest asset. We add value to our organization, start down the road to becoming an expert, and make ourselves more marketable as individuals by seeking learning opportunities.
4) Become a conversationalist. One could make an argument that certain professionals do not need conversation (programmers, janitors, toll-booth operators). I disagree. No matter what our role, the ability to create conversation will immensely increase our chances for success in maintaining our job or being promoting.
5) Network professionally with the intent of building meaningful relationships. Networking is GOOD. If done right. Two incredibly important questions: 1) How can I help you? and 2) Who else should I meet/could use help? We may never receive anything in return from a single individual with whom we network (doubtful), but it is far better to be known as a giver than a taker. Period.
6) Work an extra hour to have an extra lunch with a colleague. If it means staying til 6 instead of 5, do it. That lunch will add far more value to our career than eating dinner 30 minutes earlier. Hey, maybe the traffic will die down…
7) Businesses don’t have feelings. If you don’t know what I mean, this might be the most important point I make. Businesses make business decisions. Especially big businesses. If we want to survive, we should do the same. Our emotions will not serve us well in terms of salary, promotions, changing roles, careers, or companies, or dealing with legal matters.
8 ) There are exceptions to most (if not all) rules. Rules are bent, broken and shifted regularly for the right people under the right circumstances. I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT MORAL OBLIGATIONS AND MAINTAINING INTEGRITY. I am talking about rules such as, “First year associates may not serve as project managers,” or “Sick days cannot be used to engage in community service.”
9) Even though your business school might not have taught it… Writing matters. A lot. Again, just as with conversation, some might argue writing does not apply to them. I disagree. Email is rampant in the work place, and writing is a lost art. Those who do it well stand out and those who truly excel have one more marketable skill. Consider it an investment – learn to write clearly, concisely, and with impact!
10) The power of a sincere, handwritten thank you note is endless. Speaking of writing… this is HUGE. When is the last time you received a handwritten thank you note? I have received very few, and every one of them is in my feel good stash. But if we can’t write these notes in a sincere manner, we might as well save the ink. If we can, we create a lasting personal brand and stay on top of mind for all those with whom we interact.
11) Feedback is key – seek it out… and always give honest feedback as well. If we don’t know what we are doing well and what we are doing poorly, there is no way to improve. By seeking and giving quality feedback, we create the opportunity to eliminate those things we are doing poorly, and improve upon the things we are doing well. (It is more productive to improve on strengths and eliminate poor habits than to try to improve on weaknesses. If you want more proof, check out Strengthsfinder – they’ve done a crazy amount of research on this.)
12) Set stretch goals, not ‘good enough’ goals. Setting mediocre goals that get accomplished is not nearly as impressive as setting stretch goals, some of which might not get met. The point of stretch goals is to inspire personal and professional growth. If we are punished for pushing for growth and coming up short, we need to find a new workplace.
13) If you don’t know the correct answer, the correct answer is always: “I don’t know, but I will find out.” But this means we have to actually find out and get back to them. This does not replace proper preparation. It does replace made up answers that make us or our boss look stupid down the road.
14) Give back. Work is about more than just showing up. We need to give back in the community. It feels good, it makes our organization look good, and it will advance our career. We can check with our HR department or boss to see if we are allowed time off for community service. If so, it’s a great way to spend a day in the sun as opposed to the cubicle. If not, we could all spare a weekend day every once in a while.
15) Executives are just people too. Learn to communicate with them. Yes, they have more experience. Yes, they might control our future. But yes, they are also some of the valuable people with whom we can form relationships.
16) Become a resource. Within three months of starting a new job, we have enough experience and we should have learned enough to be a valuable resource to someone in the organization. Find them and then:
17) Teach. Coach. Mentor. Life is a zillion sum game, as Jonathan Fields likes to say. The more we build up our colleagues and peers, the more we all win.
18) Expectations are a two way street: learn to set expectations appropriately and effectively. Just as our bosses and teams will set expectations for us, we should be vocal about our expectations as well. Without managing expectations of our superiors and peers it is easy to find ourselves with extreme workloads and/or disgruntled colleagues.
19) Ask questions. The absolute dumbest thing we can do when entering the workplace is not ask questions. Yes, we might sound stupid for five second. But if the ‘stupid’ question prevents embarrassment for the entire team or organization later, was it really that stupid?
20) Ask questions. Seriously.
21) Learn who the movers and shakers are. Meet them. Now.
22) Find out who makes decisions. Meet them. Now.
23) No is a precursor to yes. Get ok with no. No means the first iteration wasn’t quite right. No means we have more learning to do. No means we have an opportunity to put in the hard work to create yes. No is ok.
24) Meetings are terrible, but they’re not going away. Meetings are often unproductive, wasting everyone’s time. But they’re a reality that’s not going away, so stop complaining and:
25) Speak up or get out… But be informed first. Sorry for the coarse tone. But in all reality, if we sit through an entire meeting without ever saying a word, we truly wasted our own time and we cost our organization money. If we don’t have anything to contribute, we should seek permission to skip the meeting. Alternatively, we should show up well-prepared and ready to add to the conversation. We were hired to contribute and add value… might as well make the most of meetings.
26) Seek responsibility. The average young professional does not seek extra responsibility. They are either too scared or don’t know how to go about it in an appropriate manner. But we’re not average, so let’s brush up on our communication skills and seek the responsibility we know we can handle… and maybe a a little more (stretch goals, right?).
27) Nobody cares how much you drank last night. This one might go without saying, but if we’re going to go out to the conveniently located bars next door to our apartment on a work night, we better be prepared to live with the consequences and perform in our job the next day.
28) Know the industry, feel the business environment. I doubt we will find many job descriptions which include: ‘Know the industry.’ That doesn’t matter. We should set the expectation for ourselves to be informed. Being informed about our industry and the business environment makes us a great resource and allows us to add valuable color to conversations. It might even give us a reason to speak up in a meeting.
29) ‘Optional attire’ means optional if you don’t want to be taken seriously. We should look like who we want to be. If we want to be a partner in our firm, we should dress like the partners. If we want to spend time with the movers and shakers and decision-makers, we should have a jacket on call. WE CAN ALWAYS DRESS DOWN… we can’t easily make up for our lack of attire.
So that’s it – 28 business acumen tips for business rookies. If you found this information useful and you think you could benefit from working with a personal coach to elevate you to the next level as a young professional, shoot me an email and let’s talk.
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