How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Succeeding in Your Job

Five not-obvious keys to success

I finally got the job. Damn, I hope I don’t fail. They’ll find out I’m not as good as I sounded in the interviews. Deep breaths, deep breaths.

These relatively simple tips can help you succeed.

Try to tweak your job description to fit

Key to success is that your job description fits your strengths and skirts your weaknesses. The good news is that your job description may be cast not in stone but in jello. See if you can get it tweaked to replace a weakness with a strength. For example, if you like writing but are shy, perhaps your boss would let you replace answering customer service calls with writing reports. It may even be worth trying to tweak your own job description without permission.

Talk with stakeholders.  Every organization has unspoken rules and only some employees know them. If you’re one, it will both help you succeed and increase your confidence as you negotiate your workplace’s vagaries—its fairy godmothers, trolls, launchpads, and quicksand pits.

Especially if you’re a new hire, it’s worth meeting privately with your stakeholders, not just your boss and each supervisee, but, for example, an admin, customers, whomever. Ask questions such as, “What should I know that wouldn’t appear in the employee handbook?” and, if you’ve been around a while, “Any advice on how I can do a better job or be better perceived?” Take notes, not just as a memory aid, but to show you take the person’s comments seriously. 

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Be publicly positive, privately negative.  Most American workplaces have little tolerance for people who see the glass as half-empty. So it’s safer to err on the side of mentioning the good.  But there’s good reason to believe that looking for the negative is more likely to lead to improvement. So you might do that. But when you do come up with ideas for improvement, dispense them only so often lest you be written off as a Negative Nellie.

Famed University of Pennsylvania business professor and PsychologyToday.com blogger Adam Grant suggests the following books on the power of negative thinking:

  • The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman
  • Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • The Positive Power of Negative Thinking by Julie Norem
  • The Upside of Your Dark Side, forthcoming by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener

In another of my PsychologyToday.com articles, I’ve made the case that criticism may be more beneficial than praise.

Make your boss’s life easier. In most workplaces, key to thriving is making your boss’s life easier. So you might ask your boss, “Is there anything I can do to make your life easier?”

Make your boss look good. Think of ideas that would make both you and your boss look good. For example, let’s say you know your employer values innovation. You might couch your suggestion as,  “How do you think the higher-ups would react to your suggesting that instead of issuing more written reports, we create a one-minute summary video, perhaps even making it a bit entertaining?”

Take care of yourself.  Most of the previous suggestions focus on pleasing others. Be sure your own needs don’t get lost. Would you be happier telecommuting a day a week? Getting a better admin? Having a mini-office instead of a cube in a cacophonous cube-farm? Especially after implementing the suggestions above, you may well have built up the good will to get what you want.

Wikipedia’s profile of Marty Nemko tells you more than necessary.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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