You think landing a great job is important? Even more critical is what you do to make the most of it. Here’s how:
Don’t let the cement dry. When you start out on a job vacancies, your feet are in wet cement. If you don’t get out fast, you’ll probably be stuck there a while. So when your boss says you’ll be doing tasks a 12-year-old could do, aim higher. Say something like, “I’m willing to pay my dues, but believe I could contribute more. I’m a pretty good researcher and writer.” Planting that seed often results in an upgrade to your job description. You’ll do more interesting work, plus honchos and co-workers will see you as an up-and-comer.
Be Time-Effective. The most productive employees have a little voice on their shoulder, whispering in their ear, “Is this the most time-effective way?” You want to work in a way that produced the most benefit per minute spent. For example, when filling in numbers for a spreadsheet, ask yourself, “Is it worth it to dig up the exact numbers or, in this case, will estimates do?” When you’re writing a report for the boss, is it worth interviewing one person, five people, or basing it purely on your own experience?
Get credit. Find tactful ways to get recognized for your good work Have a great idea? Don’t just tell your boss—he might steal the credit. Bring it up at a meeting. Have you created a draft work product you’re proud of? Consider sending it to respected colleagues for feedback--and to show them that you’re hot stuff. At evaluation time, ask, “I’ve kept a list of some work efforts I feel good about. Would you like to see them?”
Get the truth—about yourself. Garrison Keillor, host of A Prairie Home Companion, speaks of the imaginary Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average. In real life, that’s how most people think of themselves—which is one reason employees who get fired are shocked. So from Day One, ask for candid feedback, not just from your boss but from respected co-workers, customers, and others. When you get that feedback, you may or may not decide to change, but think hard about what people are telling you.
Train for your promotion. What’s the next job you want? What skills and knowledge don’t you yet have? Get them. If your company is expanding its Beijing operation, should you download those Learn Chinese lessons? If your nonprofit needs help with its fundraising, should you bone up on the best donor-tracking software?
Recruit a dream team of support. Identify a half dozen people you admire, at your own workplace as well as other places you might like to work next: potential bosses, that in-demand computer genius, the political mastermind who seems to get whatever she wants. They can support you on your current job and in getting your next one. But remember the old Chinese warning: Ask before you’ve developed a proper relationship and you will be denied. So build relationships with them: Ask them out to lunch; offer to help them; invite them to a party.
Confront problems quickly. If you put problems off, they can metastasize. So when you don't undertstand something important, don’t fake it. Ask for help from your boss, a co-worker, or an outsider. Afraid that someone hates your guts? Tactfully address it. For example, tell the person, “I’m worried that I’ve somehow gotten off on the wrong foot with you. What can I do to make things better?” Dislike your job description? Politely ask for a change. Do it now.
Ask for what you want. Want to tackle a special project that you’d find fun? Ask. Want an exemption from the reporting requirements? Ask. Deserve a raise? Ask. Most people know that asking is key to happiness and success, but they’re too wimpy to speak up. Don’t be like them.