Monday, August 19, 2013

15 Timeless Work Habits for Career Success

Let’s say one of your kids just graduated college and they are about to start their first real job. If they ask you how to be successful at work - what would you tell them?
Or, you’re asked to be a mentor to a high potential up and comer. They ask you for your best advice on how to get ahead.

You’ve only got 30 minutes. What advice would you give them?

Here’s my list. I’ve learned these lessons through over 30 years of hard knocks, and have made a career out of helping others be successful. A lot has changed the world of work, but I think these lessons are just as important today.
Yours may be different – feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to add to the list.

1. Be on time. While it may sounds pretty basic (like don’t chew gum during an interview), I was in my 40s before I finally learned the importance of this work habit the hard way. Being on time isn’t just for important clients or your boss – it’s a way to show respect (or disrespect) for everyone. 
2. Be nice to people. Or, at least just don’t be a jerk. Not selectively nice, but consistently nice to everyone. Working with jerks is probably the thing that people hate about their jobs the most. Don’t be one of those people, and you’ll have a long and satisfying career. Being easy to work with can make up for a lot of other shortcomings.

3. Don’t trash your boss or co-workers. Always assume whatever you say about someone will get back to them at some point. See #2 – say nice things behind their backs. When someone is gossiping about someone else, assume they are gossiping about you too.
4. Relationships are the foundation of how work gets done. It’s not just what you know – it’s who you know, and how well you know them. The Chinese call it “Guanxi”. In today’s networked society and economy, I think it’s more important now than ever.

5. Never lose sight of what’s really important. Family and faith (for some) come first, and then comes work. Yes, work hard – but don’t become a workaholic. I’ve seen too many workaholics ruin their health, their relationships, and if they are a manager, they burn out their employees.
6. Every year, strive to add at least one bullet to your resume. In order to do that, look for “resume building” projects or challenges.

7. If you don’t like something about your job (or boss, or your co-workers, etc…), you have 3 choices: Do something to make it better, accept it, or leave. Complaining about it will only irritate your co-workers, friends, and family and not change a thing.
8. When it’s time to leave a job, do it gracefully. Never burn bridges, always take the high road, even if you feel that you’re being treated unfairly. Remember, that next hiring manager is probably going to want to talk to your previous bosses. Leave behind a trial of glowing recommendations.

9. Network ALL the time, not just when you’re job hunting. And remember, good networking is about looking for opportunities to help others, not just asking others for favors.
10. Be a proposer, not an order-taker. Sure, we all get paid to do as we’re told, but real success comes from coming up with new ideas, stuff that no one’s asking for. Just keep in mind, a .250 batting average is pretty good when it comes to acceptance of new ideas. Thanks to an awesome former employee for reminding me about this piece of advice – it is still serving her well in her new role.

11. Have a can-do, positive attitude. Look for possibilities, not just problems. Positive and negative attitudes are extremely contagious.
12. Be a continuous learner. Always look for projects where you can stretch and learn, bosses that you can learn from, opportunities to get feedback, and have a healthy appetite for new knowledge and best practices. Make sure each new job is an opportunity to learn new stuff, not just doing the same stuff in a different place.

13. Ask for what you want. Don’t assume your boss or others can – or “should” read your mind. They can't, so it's up to you to wave your own flag.
14. Bring goodies to work. This has always worked for Mrs. Great Leadership. 

15. When faced with an ethical decision, ask yourself: “Would I be OK with my decision being on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper?”, instead of: “What are the chances of getting caught?” Never compromise your ethics – it’s the one thing where the “we get paid to do what we’re told” rule gets overruled.
I’m sure as soon as I hit the “publish” button I’ll come up with more, but that’s probably enough of an earful for 30 minutes. Oh, and I’ll try to say “when I was your age” too often. (-:


Rod J said...

How about "Being Consistent." People above you, below you and next to you in an organization like consistency - especially when it comes to behaviors. Fire drills may be exciting, but distracting in the short run - harmful in the long run. Tirades are simply a .... you know what.

Great List!

Conor Neill said...

Great tips. Essentially "stop looking for shortcuts and build your success brick by solid brick, day after day" ;-)

Dan McCarthy said...

Rod -
Thanks for your comment. Good add. People don't like surprises, they don't like drama. However, consistency in our behavior takes a while to develop. Maybe it comes with maturity?

Conor -
Thanks for the comment. Good summary. Success tips for the 3 little pigs. (-:

Video Conference Room said...

For me the most important thing is stubbornness and systematic pursuit of objectives and do not succumb to adversity

Jennifer V. Miller said...


Great list and I do think these pearls of wisdom stand the test of time.

True story on #8 - I left company "A" for an opportunity at company "B". 18 months later, my former work team leader at company A joined company B as my new boss. Thankfully, we had a fantastic relationship (still do), but it would have been awkward had I burned the bridge when I left company A.

Dan McCarthy said...

Hmm.., "stubbornness"? How about resiliency? (-:

Jennifer -
Thanks! Great example, thanks for sharing.