Reading time: 2,340 words, 6 pages, 5 to 9 minutes
There is much career advice available, especially on the internet. Much of it’s a lot of crap about “maximizing personal growth” and “following your passion” and other gibberish. I’m going to give you career advice you won’t hear from anyone else. I’ll give it to you good and hard, and I won’t pull my punches so if you want icing sugar blown up your butt, you’re on the wrong website.
This is on-the-job advice for the job you’ve landed. I’m not covering job searches, resumes, references, interviews, etc. An internet search will yield plenty of that and some of it is quite good. This article is what you need to know once you have the job.
Many of the lessons below I learned the hard way during a 42-year corporate career with a three-year break for a private commercial real estate venture. Going back even further, I’ve had numerous part-time jobs beginning at age 11 as a baby-sitter and age 13 as a newspaper carrier. At age 15 and beyond I was as a stockroom boy, grocery bagger, theater usher, construction laborer, railroad maintenance gang, postal sorter, truck driver, furniture salesman, renovator and probably a few I’ve forgotten. As well, I worked summers underground in numerous positions in four different hard-rock mines to pay for university tuition, books, and room & board. As you can see, I’ve done a fair bit!
Note: For ease of reading I’ll use the masculine ‘he’ or ‘him’ and screw the cumbersome politically correct nouns. If you have a problem with this; that’s your problem, not mine. I hate when my reading comes to a screeching halt dealing with weird shit.
Below are the things I learned on the job. They’re sorted in alphabetical order to make searching a bit easier.
3 Ups – Sometimes the best advice is the simplest.
- Get up.
- Dress up.
- Show up. 90% of success is just showing up.
After Graduation – Congratulations on your graduation!
Now, forget everything you think you know because your REAL education starts on your first job. It’s on-the-job training, and it never stops. If you want to get ahead and stay ahead, you’ll never stop learning either on the job or in your free time as well.
Ask, Don’t Tell – Keep your mouth shut and your ears open except to ask questions. When given an assignment and you’re not sure of the objective, it’s crucial you ask your boss for clarification. You cannot hit a target if you don’t know what it is. On the other hand, the boss is busy and won’t like petty questions especially ones that your coworkers could answer or found with an internet search.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength because it takes courage to ask. And, remember to return the favor.
Most people want to talk. Few people want to listen. Don’t take it personally; it’s just the way we’re wired so take advantage of one of our many foibles. Here’s an example.
As the Corporate Logistics Manager in a company I once worked for, representatives (sales people) from transport companies would visit. Sales people like to talk. They hate silence, so I gave them the silent treatment. I was pleasant, I nodded, I asked the occasional question to steer the dialogue, but I reined in my ego and let them talk. And, I learned things. They talked about themselves, they talked about their company, they talked about their competitors, and they also revealed things about our customers as well as our competitors (good market intelligence.) When they praised me as a great conversationalist, I tried not to laugh; they had done most of the talking.
Ask, don’t tell customers as well. You’ll get a lot more traction by asking them questions instead of overloading them with bullshit. The answers they give you will help you steer the conversation with further questions.
Assumptions – When you ASSUME something, you make an ASS out of U and ME. Always beware of assumptions. Always verify your and others’ assumptions. It’s not easy, but as with most things the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Assumptions are especially evident when hearsay is involved. The reason hearsay evidence is not allowed in court is that it’s not reliable. Person ‘A’ says Person ‘B’ said, or did, or committed to doing something. Always verify with Person ‘B’ because Person ‘A’ might have misunderstood.
Avoid making Person ‘A’ look bad by telling Person ‘B’ that you are asking for confirmation of what Person ‘A’ said. Chances are you’ll also pick up important details that person ‘A’ missed. Sometimes Person “A” was entirely wrong.
Attitude – Never underestimate the right attitude. I’ve taken several wilderness survival courses as well as a winter survival course. The most important attributes of survival are:
All the gear in the world or all the skill in the world is useless with the wrong attitude. The same holds true for corporate survival or any type of survival for that matter.
A company I once worked for avoided hiring city people. They preferred small-town or farm kids. Why? Because citiots had an entitlement attitude (“What’s in it for me?”) whereas the farm or small town kids had a can-do attitude.
When I hired, I hired attitude, not skill. We can teach skills. Nobody can teach attitude. You either have it, or you don’t.
So what’s the right attitude? NEVER GIVE UP! If you give up, you might as well bend over and kiss it good-bye.
Avoid Distractions – Many people in this instant-gratification world have short attention spans. Avoid distractions like moving graphic screen-savers or active, flashing gadgets. They distract not only yourself, but they distract anyone you’re talking to face-to-face. You want their full attention and not preoccupied with some ingenious device.
Avoid ‘New Guy’ Bragging – When you start a new job, it’s tempting to brag about what you’ve done or what you think you know. Check your ego and don’t brag! Be humble and remind yourself that you’re new and you don’t know shit.
- Everyone hates a braggart, and if you’re the new guy, they’ll find ways to sabotage you.
- You’ve got a lot to learn and little time to learn it. Few people have the time to teach you so if you brag; they’ll hang you out to dry.
Biases – We are all afflicted with dozens (ok, hundreds) of biases. Learn about them. If you don’t know your shortcomings, they’ll bite you in the ass both personally and on the job. The internet is loaded with too many articles to list although I’ve written several articles about some of the most dangerous biases:
Be Bold – If I could sum up everything I’ve learned in two words, I would advise you to be bold. Nothing good ever comes to those who sit on their asses and don’t take chances. Not taking risks is risky to both your personal life and your career.
You will sometimes fail. You will make mistakes. No one is 100% perfect. The only perfect employee is the one that doesn’t do anything. However, you’ll never get ahead by doing the same old thing. Whether you succeed or fail, not only will you learn, but you’ll show management you’re willing to put your reputation on the line to get things done.
Say, ‘Yes’ to invitations, meeting new people, challenges or learning something new. Yes is how you got your first job and how you’ll get the next one.
You will never have all the information you need before you act. Whatever you think of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, he was right in saying that if he waited for all his ducks to line up, he’d still be waiting.
Brain-storming – Two heads are better than one. There will be times you’re at the end of your rope and just can’t find the solution. A quick, informal meeting with knowledgeable co-workers whether it’s in the lunchroom, in the hallway or their office can provide ideas and direction. Don’t forget to say thanks and give credit where it’s due.
Burn-out – Burning the candle at both ends is like a jet’s afterburners. You can only do it so long before you burn-out. On the job, you will be admonished to work harder and produce more. You will be asked, “What did you do for [me, us, shareholders] today?”
Screw that! Don’t fall for it. You don’t want to work harder and risk burning out. You want to work smarter, not harder. There are ways; find them.
My Grandfather was a doctor who attended numerous deathbeds. He said many people died wishing they had spent more time with family, friends and loved ones. He knew of no one who died wishing they’d spent more time at work.
Career Choice – When I was young, I used to envy friends and classmates who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. I’m close to retirement now, and I still don’t know what I want to be, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know either. I managed to earn a good living simply by being good at whatever I did.
Almost every one of my classmates who knew what they wanted to be has suffered a mid-life crisis, job crisis, turmoil, wrong career change or divorce. To this day, I don’t understand why and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.
Carry Something – Working underground in hard-rock mines, the number one priority is getting to surface alive at the end of the shift. Another thing I learned is never walk anywhere empty-handed.
Before you go somewhere, think about what you could carry that will save you or someone else the trip. This applies to any job, not just mining. Not only does it save time and effort, but it also shows you’re organized, busy and not screwing the pooch.
If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to be bothered, carry a clipboard and walk fast.
Changing Jobs – The best time to change a job is when you already have one. That way, you’re under less pressure, and you’re less likely to make an impulsive decision. As well, you’re more attractive to a prospective employer if you’re already employed and less likely to look desperate.
Complainers – There are two dangerous types of complainers.
- Nobody likes co-workers who complain and belly-ache all the time. Complainers get ostracized, and without a network, their career dies a slow death. Either shut up, fix it or get out.
- We should embrace customers who complain because they’re giving us a second chance to make it right. The dangerous ones are those who don’t complain. They turn around, walk out, never return, and they tell all their friends. It costs many times more to develop a new customer than hanging on to an old one.
Create Your Job – Once you’ve established yourself in a company as a can-do person, don’t be afraid to tailor the job to your fit. I helped to create the last several positions I held. Yes, I’ll do this. No, I won’t do that, and these are the reasons why.
In school, we’re told to spend more time on our weakest subjects. In the workplace, it’s the opposite. By focusing on our strengths, we become experts in those areas. If you spread yourself too thin by trying to do everything you never reach the full potential of your strengths.
I turned down duties that I felt were thankless or better done by someone who excelled in areas that would take me too long to learn. No one can be an expert in everything.
Criticism – When you’re criticized, and you will be, consider it a gift. It’s an opportunity for improvement.
Nobody likes criticizism, and you may not agree with the person or the delivery, but there are always nuggets of truth you can glean from criticism. Bite your tongue, don’t argue, but do ask questions to get a better understanding.
Determination – Whether you’re advancing your career or looking for a career change, determination is critical. Enroll in courses, acquire new skills, increase your knowledge, seek mentors, or other ways to progress in your career. If you’re not moving ahead, you’re falling behind.
Don’t Burn Bridges – I left a 19-year corporate career on good terms. As much as I wanted to tell a few people where to go, I bit my tongue. Little did I know that after a successful three-year venture, my old job came open again when my replacement hadn’t worked out, and the new boss called and asked if I’d be interested.
After having been on my own in this dark, cruel world working half days (12 hours a day), I was indeed very interested. Not only did I negotiate a higher salary, but my talents were now more appreciated than before.
Effective Communication –
- Talking face to face is the best way to communicate because 90% of communication involves body language and tone of voice.
- The telephone is 2nd You get tone of voice, but no body language.
- Texting, emails, etc. is a lousy 3rd as you get neither body language nor tone of voice. Avoid sarcasm until they develop a sarcasm font.
Never hesitate to walk down the hall and talk face-to-face or pick up the phone and call. Text and email suck unless you want to copy numerous people.
Nowadays, most people hide behind their computer screens. You’ll stand out from the crowd if you communicate effectively. This is difficult for young people in the electronic age because many never learned to socialize well.
Painful as it might be, you must learn to communicate effectively. Ours is the information age, so communicating keeps you in the loop.
This is the first of a three-part series that continues with Part 2.
June 1, 2017
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