Tips for Succeeding in Your Job

Ideas from my new book, Careers for Dummies.

Posted Feb 13, 2018

MaxPixels, CC0
Source: MaxPixels, CC0

Here are some hopefully not-obvious tips for succeeding on the job. They’re from my new book, Careers for Dummies. 

Learn the unwritten keys to success in your workplace. It can be basic as whether it’s really okay to ask lots of questions. Or whether in-house communication should usually be by email or by walking to the person’s desk? Then there’s the work-life balance issue. Today, many workplaces feel they must at least claim to value work-life balance but in some workplaces, you're deemed a slacker if you work less than 60 hours a week. Ask your boss or co-workers, perhaps informally in the break room or out to lunch.

Don’t overwork early. When starting a job, you might want to work longer-than-usual hours to get up to speed quickly and to show good attitude. But that’s risky. If you start out at 60 hours a week but soon cut back to 40, you could be viewed as having lost interest in the job. So try to do those extra hours after work. Most people’s target workweek should be the 75th percentile of your peers: above average but not so much that your co-workers resent and perhaps sabotage you.

Dressing.  If you aspire to get promoted, dress one level above your peers. Here in Silicon Valley, many software engineers work in tee shirts and their managers a collared shirt. If so, wear a collared shirt but not a jacket-and-tie or you’ll appear too ambitious or as you're trying to sell yourself on sizzle rather than steak.

Map the power. Many people complain that they’ve struggled at work because they don’t know how to play office politics. That’s often used as an excuse for poor performance but sometimes, it’s true. A first step toward winning at office politics is to map the power in your workplace. Sometimes, the power isn’t just as stated in the org chart. For example, a particular administrative assistant could wield great influence: have the boss’s ear or uses his or her power to sabotage people she doesn’t like. One of my clients was sabotaged by her administrative assistant. When an important fax would come in, the assistant just might shred it instead of giving it to her.

Instill a bit of fear of you.  If you’re too nice, you could be seen as a pushover and get taken for granted. No, your boss and coworkers shouldn’t view you with terror but it’s wise to instill a bit of fear. That way when they get something from you—extra work, forgiveness for their screw-up, etc—they’ll more likely appreciate what you’ve done.

To instill that measure of fear, don’t be nicey-nicey all the time: perennially smiling, quick to praise, always asking about their kids. When someone made your life more difficult, don’t ebulliently say, “No problem!” Perhaps bestow your forgiveness but with a tone that says, “I may not always be so forgiving.” Or with the aforementioned fax shredder, you might say, “I’ve come to understand that not all faxes that come in for me get to me. Please ensure they do.” The accusation and threat of reprisal have been made without undue and possibly unjustified confrontation.

Most of us can’t fully control our basic nature but pollyannish or hail-fellow-well-met types may well want to pull on ropes of restraint and, as the song Man Up in the play Book of Mormon goes, “grow a pair.”

Be the last to speak. In discussing an issue at a staff meeting, it’s usually wise to be the last to speak up. Hearing others will reduce the chances of your comment being idiotic. And your not having said anything for so long makes people wonder whether you were paying attention or simply are vacant. If, at the end, you then comment, perhaps incorporating the best ideas of what was said previously, you may surprise and impress. Sure, it’s possible that someone else will have previously offered your great idea but the benefit of waiting is usually worth it. Besides, it’s not all about your getting credit.

This article is part of a series of simple career tips drawn from my new book, Careers for Dummies. The previous ones are:

Choosing a Career

14 Careers to Consider and 5 Overrated Ones

Landing a Good Job

Stress Management for the Stress-Prone

Managing Your Time and Your Procrastination

Tips on Management and Leadership

Five Preachy Pleas

Low-Risk/High-Payoff Self-Employment.