23 May 2006

Stay on top in a less-than-dream job

Very few people have the jobs they want to do for the rest of their careers - or the rest of the week.


Very few people have the jobs they want to do for the rest of their careers - or the rest of the week. But rather than melting into a puddle of despondency, here are a few ways to turn your current work into a stepping stone, not a stumbling block.

Write it down. Rather than sitting around wishing for a fairy godmother to “discover” you, draw up a detailed outline of your idea career. Include a list of companies you'd like to work for, as well as qualities you look for in the ideal job. Update it. Feel free to remove Enron.

Discover what you love. If dealing with customers is what revs your motor, being fast-tracked to managing a desk and a budget may not be what you're after. Write down what you like doing, ask for advice and plan accordingly.

Touch base. Regularly check if you're meeting your superior's expectations of you. This is obviously easier if you're doing an exemplary job. But it'll demonstrate that you're committed (There's a corporate buzzword) to giving your best and willing to criticism on the chin when necessary.

Build bridges. You can be the best person in your chosen career path, but if you're known as a sociopath, sexist, racist, or simply have halitosis, you'll be harming your prospects. That's why it's good to foster relationships with the people you work with. The more spontaneous and sincere this is, the more effective it'll be. Some companies spend a fortune on team-building exercises, but you can get as much mileage out of two cups of coffee, especially if you pay for them yourself.

Lighten up. Some companies have inveterate “entertainment committees” and their colleagues keep voodoo dolls on their desks because they dread the activities. Others get it right - a game of beach volleyball, a visit to the local museum of butchery equipment, a lecture on the history of your town's coat of arms. It can be hit-or-miss stuff, but the photographs can be a good for a laugh.

Spread it around. Nothing - not even the theft of stationery - earns enemies like taking the credit for someone else's good ideas. Few deeds will win you more loyalty than singing someone else's praises. Shine the light on them and some of it will reflect on you.

Learn from your mistakes. If you lose an account or lose a job, you really have little choice put to sing that little song about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off. But after that, make a list of things you learned from your failures. Put them at the top of your to-do list for next time.

Get onto the mailing lists. Find out what the important folk are reading and subscribe. That way you avoid wearing a blank look around the water cooler. A few instances of “Oh yes, I saw that piece as well. I thought ...” might earn you a reputation as a bit of a smarty-pants, or a well-read and underrated worker who's worth keeping in mind for bigger things.

Find a balance Workaholics burn out. Accept it and get a life, a gym membership and a good night's sleep. Be clear about your personal obligations. If you tend to work too much, set an alarm for when it's time to leave work.

Take your cue from higher up If your boss's desk looks like he emptied his waste-paper basket onto it, keep yours reasonably tidy. If his is neat, keep yours immaculate. This seems like a trite homily for civil servants, but many old-fashioned bosses draw conclusions about whether someone “fits into the culture of the place”. Boring but true.

Find a guru Identify someone who can be your mentor. They need not be the company luminary, but you should be able to see that they have some sort of insight and advice. – (William Smook)


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