When I was a university student who fervently anticipated what we all called “the real world,” I devoured plenty of articles that dished out advice on navigating the interview process, getting along with coworkers and, most importantly, being positively regarded by the boss. Common advice for impressing superiors included “dress for success”, “show up on time”, “be positive” and simply “be really good at whatever you do.” It’s been a few years since I entered the workforce and, looking back, I can confidently say that such guidance barely scratches the surface. As someone who has risen from an entry-level position to management, there are certain lesser-known suggestions I think every young professional should know when trying to impress their superiors.
1) Be a leader within the office
How can you be a leader on a team if you’re not in charge? The most liked and respected leaders are individuals who empowered those around them, a concept that you can start implementing even as an intern. Is the person in the next cubicle over struggling to grasp a task that comes easily to you? Instead of letting him or her flounder in order to make yourself look good by comparison, offer tips to your colleague so you can both succeed and the company can benefit (though don’t let your own goals be jeopardized by your readiness to assist others). By demonstrating that you valuably contribute to the triumphs of others as well as your own, you are making yourself indispensable and a likely candidate for a promotion. Reversely, solely self-serving individuals have a way of estranging themselves from the team, having minimal loyalty and putting their own best interests ahead of the organization’s; no one would logically want to reward such a mindset, regardless of the worker’s productivity.
2) Be a problem-solver
In most workplaces, the one commodity that is equal to money is time. That being said, every time you ask your boss a question, understand that you’re requesting a slither of his or her already overbooked workday. Most of the time, your superiors should be happy to help you navigate a new set of circumstances if it will lead to you increasing your capabilities and productivity. That being said, do not use this as justification to request assistance every time you encounter a minor roadblock. Are you unsure how to calculate a row of numbers’ sum in an excel document? Look up the suggestion online. Are you foggy on what directives were given a week ago in regards to a project? Check your original notes. By asking your boss to help you out with situations that you could most likely straighten out on your own, you have the potential to be regarded as being “more trouble than (s)he is worth.”
Reversely, someone that takes the initiative to solve problems (rather than merely identify them) is highly valued in the workplace. By consistently demonstrating this willingness, you’re displaying that you are self-sufficient, a critical thinker and, ultimately, someone who is ready to take on more responsibility.
3) Don’t approach the office like school
In school, if you do a good job on a report or test, you get a large, happy “A” on the top. In the workplace, if you do a good job, the reward is that you get to keep your job. While some bosses will implement positive reinforcement, the reality is that many office environments don’t regularly doll out pats-on-the-backs on a daily basis. It is expected that you will do your best day-in-day out, and for you to do anything less is a reason for concern. As noted by Forbes, “59% of business decision makers and 62% of higher education influential give recent college graduates a C grade or lower for preparedness for their first jobs.” A lot of this is accredited to millennials having false expectations and an attitude that does not easily accommodate the current structure of the company; unfortunately, you shouldn’t expect to receive glowing verbal validation for every single task you do correctly, or else you’re setting yourself up to feel bitterness.
4) Handle pressure and mistakes with grace
No matter how talented you are, sooner or later you’re going to make mistakes and miss deadlines. The real test is how you maneuver such situations. Always be honest with your superiors, do not blame others and do not try to justify the circumstances. Come prepared with a proposed plan of action on how you can remedy the situation and, more importantly, what safeguards you’re putting in place to ensure that the blunder does not happen twice. While you do not want to act nonchalant about the occurrence, it’s important to not let the error affect your professionalism or productivity; do not dwell on the gaffe and, as much as you can, try to let it roll off your back. The ability to not crack under pressure and to handle tough situations with a cool head and grace is a fundamental characteristic of anyone who handles substantial responsibility. While some people are naturally more inclined to do this than others, reflect on what practices you can do to build this skill. Does going to the gym during your lunch break relieve your stress? Do breathing exercises or meditation help you to defuse built tension? Explore various possibilities and ask others in your life what has personally helped them.
5) Be responsible for your own growth
The Internet is an amazing place that provides endless educational articles, listings of industry lecturers and networking forums. Don’t let your professional growth occur solely between the hours of 9 and 5; instead of waiting for your boss to orchestrate new training sessions or give you exciting new projects, take your own career development into your own hands by learning or strengthening a new skill and offering your services to your superiors. For example, did you recently take a class in graphic design? Why not offer to create an infographic on behalf of the company. Have you always had a knack for writing? Volunteer to contribute an occasional piece of content to the organization’s blog. The major difference between a follower and a leader is that the first group waits for opportunities while the second classification creates them.
Rachel Lowe is the Content Lead at Trinity Insight, an eCommerce consulting agency that specializes in online conversion and optimization.
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