Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Tips to a Successful Career

I recently passed my 16th anniversary working at American Amalgamated Corrugated Conglomerates of America.  For a company with such a big name, you'd be surprised how many people stay there so long.

During a staff meeting, one of the managers asked if I could provide any feedback on what the keys are to a successful career.  I was totally caught off-guard, but after a few moments of awkward silence, I was able to spout off a couple of items.  As the day wore on, I got to thinking - what have been the keys to being successful at work?

1) Show up on time.  You'd be amazed at how many people fail to show up when they are supposed to.  If you are supposed to be at work at 8am, you get there a little before 8am.  You start WORKING at 8am, not GET there at 8am.

2) Do your job as well as you can.  You may hate your job, but you're not doing yourself any favors by doing it poorly.  The way you perform your job determines your reputation.  If you're a garbage collector, be the best damn garbage collector.  If you're a rocket scientist, strive to be the best damn rocket scientist.

3) Have a positive attitude.  Everyone at work says that I always have a smile on my face.  Or if I don't have a smile, I can at least crack some jokes at whatever is troubling me at the moment.  When things get crazy, I just remind myself that this is just a job.  I still need to do it well, but it's a job and I cannot let it own me and make me miserable.  Settle down, figure out what needs to be done, and do it.

4) Set expectations.  This ties to #3.  No one wants to hear that you didn't deliver.  Do you have sales quota?  Or a deadline?  In my job, I determine tasks associated with projects and try to deliver the project within a stated time frame.  The trick is to properly set expectations.  Don't try to be a superhero.  You'll get more attention by wildly missing a target delivery date than you will coming in a couple of weeks early. If you know you're going to miss a deadline, let them know BEFORE you miss the deadline.  Determine why you are missing your deadline and make the changes to improve your process.  And when you inform your superiors that you are not going to meet their expectations, tell them why, tell them what you're doing to fix it, and tell them realistically what the new expectation is.  For example, if you just show up and tell boss man that you are going to miss the deadline, you're going to look like an incompetent fool.  If you say that you're going to miss the deadline, but you've identified the tasks that need to be completed and you'll assign more resources to it, and that you should be able to complete the task in another 5 weeks, you're giving the impression that you recognize the problem and you've proactively tried to come up with a plan to resolve it.

5) Treat people with respect.  I'll admit that I don't like everyone at work.  But I'm polite to everyone, I listen to what they have to say, and I try to negotiate or offer feedback when I disagree.  Don't ever say anything about someone at work that you don't want that person to hear - because they'll hear it somehow.

6) Put in the time when you need to get something done.  Sometimes we go through rough patches at work that require me to put in some overtime.  Generally I work 45 hours per week, which is standard in the amalgamating industry.  Sometimes I end up working 50.  Or 55 hours.  So be it.  It's not every week.  But if you put in the time when it was needed, it usually gets noticed.

7)  Keep in touch with former coworkers.  I have worked for several companies and several departments over my career.  I try to stay in touch with as many people as possible.  Have lunch with former coworkers from time-to-time.  Send a friendly email occasionally to check in on them.  There have been numerous times where my networking has been useful to my career.  Sometimes it's good just to bounce ideas off of someone impartial or to seek advise from them.  And sometimes you'll be without a job and need to find a new one.

8) Always try to look presentable.  There's an old saying: "Dress for the position that you want."  I have found that as I move up and am dressing a little more professionally that I used to dress.  Previously, khakis and any old polo shirt would do.  Now I try to only wear nicer pants or newer polo shirts or Oxford shirts.  Keep the shoes polished.  Avoid looking scruffy.  Totally avoid looking hung-over.  Carry yourself with poise.  Look confident.  Keep your head up when you walk the halls.  Don't stare at the floor.  Make eye contact with people and say 'hello'.  Don't ask them how they are.  Just say 'hello'.

9) Be thoughtful.  As I get older, I find that I am less spontaneous and more thoughtful about what I need to do.  Consider the implications of decisions.  Who would be impacted by this change?  What are possible unintended consequences?  What is the best strategic solution verses the quick tactical solution?  I want people to say, "Wow, I think he put a lot of thought into that."

10)   Say thank you and please.  This should probably be number one.  I'm continuously amazed how poor some people's manners are.  If I help you or give you something, then you say 'thank you'.  If you help me or give me something, I say, 'thank you.'. If I need something, I say, 'please'.  It's the simple things that matter.

What are the things that you think are important to a successful career?

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