Several years ago, I had the chance to work closely with an intern I’ll call Chris. Chris was quite good at the tasks we gave him and you could see strong glimmers of the type of professional he might someday become.
Chris interned with us for two different periods, and at the end of the second period, we held a small “going away” lunch for him. We all gave him small gifts. I gave him two tickets to a concert and a handwritten card where I wrote down all of the worthwhile career advice I could think of, and that was that.
Flash forward about 10 years. Out of the blue recently, I heard from Chris. It turned out that his career path went in several strange directions but he eventually found himself in a field and on a career path that he was happy with, and he wanted to thank me for the experience and the advice. After swapping a few emails, I asked him what advice he found useful, because I could just barely remember even writing that card. He sent back a list of seven things that I shared with him, and they’re the highlights below.
It turns out that, even after a career change of my own and another decade of maturity and life experience under my belt, I can still look at those seven pieces of advice and nod my head at how useful they really are.
If you’re at a job and you have any desire to eventually earn better pay at that job or to stay in that career path, following these tips will help. They’re tickets to success in virtually every job and every career path.
Tip #1: Show up five to 10 minutes early to everything.
Here’s the truth: This tip won’t help you as much as it’ll prevent undesired damage to your opportunities. The truth is that only really observant people will notice that you’re early and ready to go all the time.
However – and this is the really important part – supervisors absolutely will notice if you’re not there when they want you to be, and they won’t be happy about it, and that unhappiness is going to grow and grow.
Simply by showing up for everything a little bit early, you’re going to find yourself present whenever your supervisor expects you to be there or when an interviewer expects you to be there or whenever a recruiter expects you to be there. They’ll open up their office door and see you there and all will be good with the world.
The alternative is that they open their office door and you’re not there. That’s an immediate negative, whether it’s your fault or not.
Even better, you’ll sometimes find that the early bird gets the worm. Showing up early will sometimes enable you to be involved in conversations that you would have never otherwise been involved with. It can sometimes result in introductions that would have never otherwise have been made. It can even result in offers that you may never have otherwise heard. Those things happen simply because you happen to be there at the right moment.
It’s really simple to achieve all of those things at once. Just strive to be there 10 minutes early for everything. Be there early for your shift. Be there early for meetings. Be there early for interviews. Be there early for anything you might possibly write down on your schedule.
That alone will make you appear better than many of the people around you. It’s such a little, easy step, but it pays off time and time again.
Tip #2: Network and keep in touch with people.
Whenever you meet someone new, take a moment and do everything you can to imprint their name, their face, and a few pieces of information about them in your head. Depending on your mental agility, you may find it helpful to do something like ask for their business card or simply pull out a pocket notebook to jot down their name so that you don’t forget it.
Make sure that when you do this, you’re keeping track of at least three pieces of information. You need their name, some method of contacting them (social media contact is great, but an email works too), and at least one piece of info about them that’s worth following up on later. If your primary method of communicating with the person is in the workplace, then the contact info is less important, but the other two are still vital.
Then, if you don’t see that person again within a day or so, use the piece of contact info you have for that person to follow up in some way with that person. Remind that person who you are and then touch base with them regarding that piece of information you learned. If you don’t have anything to share, ask them some follow up questions or for an introduction on the topic.
Ideally, this leads to some message exchanges and the beginning of some kind of connection between you. Keep an eye on what they share and look for opportunities to easily help that person. If they ask for ideas or suggestions, give them. If they’re looking for something, help if you can. If you haven’t heard from that person in a while, touch base with that person again.
The goal is to establish a relationship with as many people in your field as possible. You want your name out there far and wide with a positive reputation, and this is how you build it. It works almost exactly the same in every field – just connect with people. Unquestionably, this is easier for some than for others, but it’s valuable for everyone.
Tip #3: Don’t just do the minimum amount expected.
Doing the bare minimum in order to get by is an easy trap to fall into. You receive a task, you put the absolute minimum amount of effort needed into that task in order to somewhat call it complete, and then you move on. That’s how many people do their jobs, and they wind up spending a lot of time loafing around in the workplace not doing much because of it.
Supervisors and coworkers notice when you’re sitting around doing nothing. It almost never reflects well on you. Coworkers think you’re lazy and not pulling your fair share. Supervisors think you’re not really productive and can potentially be tossed aside.
Unless you’re pushed up against the wall and have to run through tasks as fast as possible to keep up, you’re better off doing a good job with your tasks and not be seen standing around.
Again, this is one of those things where you sometimes don’t get noticed for doing things the right way, but you usually do get noticed – and not in a good way – for taking the easy route.
Tip #4: Share credit whenever possible.
Whenever you receive recognition for anything, openly and clearly share credit for that success with anyone who helped even a little bit with making that possible. It doesn’t diminish the credit you’re receiving at all – if anything, it enhances it a little – and it makes everyone else in the room feel good.
If your boss calls you out for a job well done, respond in public and point out that it was a team effort and that Darrell did this part well and that Tammy did this other part well. Your boss is now impressed that you’re a team player as well and Darrell and Tammy feel good because they’ve been recognized, too. Everyone is happier with you.
Yes, it’s hard to do this. It feels good to receive all the credit and feel special, and it can feel like a zero sum game where if you share some of the credit, you get less credit. It’s not true, though. There isn’t a cap on how much credit and appreciation there is in a workplace. It’s infinite, and there’s always more to go around if people step up to the plate. If you share credit, there’s more credit to be had all around and everyone benefits, from you to your supervisor to your coworkers.
Tip #5: Watch for opportunities and jump on them when they come up.
Sometimes, opportunities for advancement or showing off your skills will jump out when you least expect them. Someone will miss a shift and the supervisor will look around and see you, the reliable worker who’s been doing a good job (tip #3), and you’ll be pushed into being the shift manager. Take it. Relish it.
You’ve just finished up a project in which you’ve gone the extra mile (tip #3) and you’ve shared a lot of credit for the success when talking about it (tip #4). Your boss will drop a hint about a big project coming up that might reward those involved with a pay raise or other benefits. Jump at it.
Your boss and that person’s supervisor are having a lunch together and going over how a particular project is going. Your boss comments on your performance (tip #3) and leadership (tip #4) and your boss’s supervisor recognizes your name (tip #1). You get a call and a request for a meeting, and you show up early for it (tip #1), enabling you to meet several people up the food chain at work. You find yourself given a great offer, a scary offer, but you take it.
Opportunities happen when you do things to make yourself prepared for them. Pay attention. If you follow the other strategies on this list, you’re going to see more opportunities, and if you’re watching for them, you can jump on them.
Tip #6: Don’t be dissuaded by lazy coworkers.
If you follow these strategies, you’ll probably notice yourself working harder than other coworkers. Some of them will probably suggest that you not work too hard. It can be really tempting to slack off and slow down to their pace, but the truth is that they want you to slow down so that they don’t look bad by comparison.
It’s not advice to help you. It’s a strategy to cover themselves.
Ignore them. This is your job and your career, not theirs. Build your own career. Don’t downshift it just to make a lazy coworker happy.
Tip #7: Find a good mentor and follow their suggestions 110%.
If you do one single thing from this entire article, do this one. Find a mentor. Find someone in your career path who you respect and trust and ask them for advice, then follow that advice to the absolute best of your ability. Help your mentor in exchange for that advice.
You don’t have to formally ask this person to be your mentor. Just simply say that you’ve seen that he or she has achieved the kind of success you want in your career and that you want to be in that kind of position someday and you’d like to know how they did it and what they’d do if they were to start all over again.
It’s usually a bad idea to ask someone to be your mentor when you’re going to be in direct competition at any point. Don’t choose someone who you hope to displace in the future. In fact, in some places, it’s a good idea to choose a mentor from outside your workplace.
Take that person out for lunch. Ask questions. Listen to what they say. Take it to heart and do everything you can to follow their suggestions. If they ever ask you for help, give it your all.
Not only will a mentor provide direct useful guidance, a good mentor will often provide indirect assistance, too. They’ll quietly help get your name out there in a positive way and will sometimes open closed doors for you without you ever seeing it. I know from experience, both as a mentor and as a mentee, that this happen when the relationship is a positive one.
These steps provided the cornerstone of any and all success I’ve found in my careers. It’s all about doing the job, connecting with people, and exceeding expectations. If you do that, you’ll find success; it’s shocking how many people just don’t step up in those areas.