It's the end of commencement season at colleges and universities. No doubt graduates heard inspirational advice from various speakers at their respective ceremonies, but do freshly minted graduates really take all that sage advice and carry it with them? Do they take it to that first job and throughout their careers? To the Class of 2010, here are my tips to set yourself apart and show your value in the new job you were fortunate enough to land in this crazy economy. Joyce E.A. Russell, special to the Washington Post
Ask your manager for his/her goals for your job. Listen to his/her views and take notes. Set your own goals and share those with your manager, then modify them with your manager's input. Many people forget how important it is to clarify expectations, roles and responsibilities when they first start a job. Make sure you understand what measurements your boss will use to define your success.
Work hard. If you want them to see you as a promotable employee, then you need to act like one. Keep quality in the forefront of your mind, especially with your interactions with all company stakeholders — suppliers, vendors, distributors and customers. Develop your skills. Look at the full-time positions you want and see what skills and knowledge they require. Make sure to complete all projects you have been given — be a closer.
Be a good "citizen." Seek out extra work and new projects. Show your willingness to go beyond the job description. Look for ways to make your manager's or co-workers' jobs easier. Opportunities to attend trade shows, industry meetings, seminars and training programs can be very beneficial. Take on all jobs that come your way. Don't turn your nose up at menial jobs. Be willing to do what is needed. Tackle easy, repetitive tasks with enthusiasm and show your ability to get them done quickly and efficiently. Do the extra work. Many employees leave the office at closing time. If you stay 30 minutes later every day, a lot of projects come up and people will appreciate that you are the only one left to do the work.
Have a positive, eager-to-learn attitude — be enthusiastic. Smile. Look like you enjoy being there. Why would they want to keep you around or promote you if you look miserable? If someone asks you to do something, don't be afraid to say, "I've never done that before, but I'm certainly willing to give it a try." They are looking for go-getters with initiative, a strong work ethic and dependability. Those who work well independently as well as in a team environment will be rewarded.
Project a professional image by how you dress and by avoiding office gossip and politics. Keep confidences — especially about things you learn about staff or co-workers outside of the office. Do not use company time for making personal phone calls, sending e-mails, surfing the Internet, texting friends or hanging out on Facebook. Show initiative to find things to do.
Be on time. Arrive to work on time and avoid being late for meetings or project deadlines. Finish projects before you leave the office. Don't leave early unless it is urgent. Don't take extra liberties (e.g., longer lunches or breaks, making personal calls). If you foresee a challenge with a deadline on a project you are working on, make sure to notify your supervisor and ask for his/her input or an extension and have a valid reason for your delay. If you see someone staying late or hear that an employee is overburdened with work, try to share the burden.
Build relationships on the job. Take initiative to introduce yourself, and be positive and friendly to everyone you meet. Develop a strong relationship with your supervisor. Keep him or her aware of your work and accomplishments. If your manager doesn't seem to be trying to build a good relationship with you, take the lead and attempt to build a relationship with him or her. Do this by asking intelligent questions, showing genuine interest in the person's work, letting your supervisor know you are willing to take on extra work, and periodically updating him or her about your work. Also, develop good rapport with your co-workers and show them you can work well in a team environment. And finally, don't burn any bridges. You never know when you might meet those people again.
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist.