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Eight Keys to Making the Most of Your Job

By Marty Nemko

You think landing a great job is important? Even more important is whether you make the most of it. These rules show you how:

-- Don’t let the cement dry. My daughter got a job in the White House. That was the good news. The bad news was that it was to answer letters to Socks, the Clintons’ cat. I told her: “Right now, your feet are in wet cement. Unless you get pulled out now, you’ll probably be stuck there. Tell your boss, ‘I’m willing to pay my dues but I believe I could contribute more. I’m a pretty good writer and researcher,” In two weeks, my daughter was writing Hillary’s daily briefing. Moral: Don’t like your first job description? Tactfully ask for a change.

-- Be Time-Effective. Jiminy Cricket sat on Pinocchio’s shoulder, ever whispering advice in the long-nosed marionette’s ear. The most productive employees also have a little voice on their shoulder ever whispering in their ear, ‘Is this the most time-effective way?” Not, “Is this the fastest?” Not, “Is this the highest-quality?” But “Is this the most time-effective way?”

-- Get credit. Get credit for your good work. Have a great idea? Don’t just tell your boss. 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 it?”

-- Get the truth and get it fast. Garrison Keillor, host of A Prairie Home Companion, speaks of the imaginary Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average. In real life, also, most people think of themselves as above average, which is why most terminated employees are shocked. So, from Day One, ask for candid feedback, not just you’re your boss but from respected coworkers, customers, etc. And when you get that feedback, don’t necessarily change, but truly consider it.

-- Train for your promotion. What’s the next job you want? What skills and knowledge don’t you yet have? Get them.

-- Recruit a dream team of support. Identify a half dozen people in your workplace and at places you might like to work next. Think of them as seeds: To turn them into flowers, they need to be regularly tended to: Ask them out to lunch, offer to help them, invite them to a party. They’ll 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.

-- Confront your problems. Deal with problems crisply lest they metastasize. When you don’t understand something important, instead of trying to BS your way through, which could get you in trouble, consider getting help from your boss, co-worker, or outsider. Dislike your coworker or boss, or fear someone doesn’t like you? Tactfully address it. For example, “I’m worried that I’ve somehow gotten off on the wrong foot with you. (Insert specific.) What can I do to help?” Dislike your job description? Politely ask for a change. Do it now.

-- Ask for what you want. Much of the above, plus many other keys to success at work and in life, reduces to just four words. As long as it’s ethical, ask for what you want.

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