Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Being a Professional and keeping your J-O-B....

My dad used to say I had to learn everything the hard way because I always thought I knew better.  And, as much as I hate to admit it--he was right about it.  There are a few lessons learned in my 20's and 30's that might be helpful--of course if you are like me--you'll ignore all suggestions and hopefully learn from your mistakes.  Here's my best advice:
  • Own up to your own shortcomings and mistakes...take responsibility early and often.
  • Don't stir up drama at work...it is bad for everyone.  This means watching your gossip, your complaining, your power struggles, your passive-aggressive schemes, bringing your personal troubles to work--whether that be your mood, your personal phone calls that can be overheard by others, your head into your phone texting away, your money troubles--etc.
  • Don't agree to things you cannot do or have no intention of doing...it sinks your reputation and makes you look flaky.
  • Return professional emails and calls w/in 24 hours if you can.
  • If you have a problem with someone at work...talk to them first if you can.  If this cannot be done or isn't possible, consult Human Resources or your manager and see how a compromise can be worked out.  Don't go in with a long list of complaints...plan out what you want to say and make sure you are concise and clear.  Keep in mind that when there is a problem between two people, both people have some responsibility for the problem and the solution.
  • If you have a problem with a policy at your workplace, ask yourself a couple of questions: A.  How likely is it that my input will impact said policy? If there is a chance I can be a part of a conversation about changes...great...but, if not then you need to figure out how to adapt or start looking for another company.  B.  Could there be a reason for the policy that I'm unaware of?  C.  Am I angry about it and if so, I need to CALM DOWN before I do anything. D.  Are there procedures in place for me to voice my concerns?  E,  Always a good idea to write a draft of the things that are concerning you--have a mentor you trust read it to make sure you are communicating in a way that will be effective and respectful.  F.  Do you love your job?  If so, suck it up and evolve.
  • Don't dress too skimpy.  It implies not nice things about you.
  • Always try to participate in meetings in a balanced way...don't withdraw and be silent and don't dominate the discussion.
  • Spellcheck and have a human read anything important before you send it out.  Bill Gates does not catch every spelling and grammar mistake.
  • Remember:  every person you meet (at conferences, luncheons, etc) will leave with an impression of you...make it a good one.
  • If you are having trouble doing your work (for whatever reason)..ask for help from HR and/or your Manager.
  • Don't complain about your job online or at work or anywhere where you might be overheard.  If you need to vent...that is what spouses are for...and if you don't have a spouse...complain to a long-distance friend.  You represent your company--even when you are not at work.
  • Document every single thing you do.  When I was a Social Worker, they used to tell us:  if you don't document it, it didn't happen.  This is for your own protection and to be able to demonstrate what it is that you do everyday.
  • If you are unhappy where you are working...try not to burn bridges.  Sometimes this cannot be helped, but do your best to leave with grace.
  • Volunteer to help others out...even if they aren't in your department...find ways to work with people in different areas of the company.
  • Meet your deadlines and if you can't--be in communication with your Supervisor.  Managers don't like last-minute surprises...
  • Find ways to enhance the knowledge you have as you do your job...whether that is learning a new skill on the computer or attending lectures at local colleges.  Education should not stop.  Wanna get promoted--then be at the top of your game even if you have been at your job for a while.
  • Smile and get to know every one's name...this seems so obvious, but it is unbelievable how many people simply don't make any effort to be any kind of accessible. 
  • When you work with a group...make sure you assign duties, deadlines & a devil's advocate.  There should always be someone there to question everything and say things others are afraid to say.
  • When you call a meeting...have an agenda, send it out early, ask if anyone needs to add anything on and stick to it.  At one position I had, I was always the time keeper...we allowed 10 minutes per item to discuss so that meetings did not drag on.  My infamous line was, "Thank you for sharing, but our time has expired, so let's move on and follow up on this in our  next meeting."
  • Don't be a workaholic...it is just a socially acceptable way of being destructive to yourself and others.  Work hard, play hard and find time & ways to dissolve stress.
  • Don't be saboteur.  If you aren't happy where you are...don't bring your negativity to everyone around you.  Step up and either change your attitude or get another job.
  • Attend company events--when people know you and like you, they are more willing to work with you when you are in the office.
  • Be a solid employee...someone that everyone can count on.  Be honest, humble and dependable.
  • Know your worth...figure out what you bring to your company and know how to articulate it. 
  • Look for ways to increase your worth and skill set.
  • Don't be afraid to be a leader.  Don't be too arrogant to be a follower.
  • If there is a promotion opportunity--even if you have mixed feelings about applying--do it anyway.  It makes you practice making an argument for yourself and what strengths you bring to the table.
  • Don't run to your boss with every little complaint...their time is limited and valuable. 
  • Read corporate memos.  They often contain vital information about your company and its policies.
  • If ever in doubt about how to respond to something...take some time and think on it...talk to someone you trust...make sure you aren't overreacting or under reacting. 
Remember...none of us come out of the womb knowing how to do these things...they are skills we have to learn and re-learn.  I certainly am not perfect, but have tried to follow these things as best I can and when I screw up, I try to own it, fix it and move forward.  Getting a job is tough enough....keeping it is where the real work is and many of these things have nothing to do with practical skills you may have learned.  They are called "soft skills" (which I personally despise because most things called "soft" aren't taken very seriously). 

I am very fortunate to have landed in a career that suits me and my talents.  I love the people I work with and enjoy my work immensely most days.  But the truth is...this wasn't the career I chose originally and I kind of fell into it by all sorts of random events.  Big shocker:  Life doesn't follow a list you plan out in advance.  I feel lucky to have ended up where I am.  It is a privilege to teach.  Period.  It is also a spectacular chance to be surrounded by creative people and learn from them.  Good luck dear readers...

    I Like this quote I dislike this quote“To be able to look back upon ones life in satisfaction, is to live twice”  Khalil Gibran


  1. Good advice for any practicing or erstwhile professional. It always surprised me how many people don't know a lot of this stuff. I guess that's because I learned at the elbow of the world's greates people person. Most of it is purely human relations expertise.

  2. This should be distributed on a mass scale. It is sincere advice that rings true to my own experiences.