Today marks 13 years since I started my first formal job. In these 13 years, I have worked in 5 organisations, each with its own peculiarities and many lessons to teach. Here are 13 of things I’ve learnt since I’ve been in formal employment:
About Accreditation, Ability and Attitude
- If you have the resources, get certified, but more than certification, gain skills. Papers aren’t proof of ability to perform; they’re proof of having passed an exam. I know way too many people in my profession who are qualified (according to institutions of higher learning) but can’t demonstrate skills in their jobs. I’ve met a couple of these in my field and not only are they an embarrassment to the colleges they went to, they’re an embarrassment to the profession… But that’s a topic for another day.
- Integrity and a great attitude are the perfect icing on the cake that is ability. Being able to do your job well is accentuated by an attitude that regards co-workers and clients as fellow humans who are able to bring something to the table. It helps to remember that we work with humans who reason and have feelings, unless all your colleagues are made of metal and operate on electric current that runs through a central nervous system that is made of copper wire rather than neurons and synapses.
- There is no excuse for not being good at your job, unless you just don’t know your job. Be so good at your job that you make it a point not to change jobs until you make a significant difference where you currently work. (See my article entitled The Naked Man: A Lesson for Job Seekers.) For as long as you’re getting paid, make it worth your employer’s while.
About Standards, Sacrifice and Satisfaction
- You don’t have to show anybody your accomplishments unless (a) you want to motivate them, or (b) you want them to offer you a job. Compete with yourself; not with your colleagues. (Maybe you can make an exception if there’s an awesome grand prize like a visit to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). Always aim to better your best. If you’re always improving, you’ll eventually overtake those that are ahead of you that choose to never improve. Your abilities will become a live showcase without you saying a word. But even if you’re good at your job, not all your colleagues will like you. In fact, some colleagues will dislike you specifically because you’re good at your job. But it doesn’t matter. Be good at it anyway and determine not to be pulled down by cheap office politicking. Know your worth. Know what you bring to the table. Never compromise your standards. Attain high standards and keep them. No, strive for even higher. Don’t stop. And if your employer wants to settle for less, make it known in no uncertain terms that you never compromise on quality of work.
- To maintain high standards, you may need to develop a thick skin. Still be kind and courteous. This is particularly true in tech support. The thick skin will help you focus on the big picture, the objectives. The courtesy will help you maintain relationships (with the reasonable colleagues). Sometimes you will make mistakes. Own them. Passing the buck when you absolutely know that the mistake was yours is a sign of immaturity, and no employer or boss likes that (even if they probably do it themselves, which many of them do). It all comes back to attitude.
- Sometimes golden sands are more important than green pastures. There isn’t much point in earning a lot of money if you will lack peace. If you actually enjoy your nine-to-five because it allows you to live life, then you have found golden sands. A job that prevents career growth and stifles learning is not a good job. Make it a point to learn as much as possible wherever you work. Of the 5 jobs I have worked, I found that one was highly dissatisfying because it didn’t bring me any new skills even after a full year. That greatly contributed to my decision to leave. But of course there is much more to job satisfaction than just the opportunity to grow your career. Ultimately, your job should be something you look forward to.
- When you work in a team but singlehandedly accomplish many tasks, you’ll be tempted to point out that you are the one that did. Try to acknowledge your team’s effort and use “we” more than “I”. In any public address, remember that you are representing your team and not yourself. The larger group of people doesn’t need to know who specifically did the outstanding work, but if it absolutely must be known by all, let another member of the team announce your superpowers.
About The Boss
- Sometimes your boss will not understand your skillset, but you have to manage him/her well. If he/she isn’t as skilled as you, don’t go out of your way to embarrass them, they’ll eventually do that all on their own. Sometimes your boss will mess up and you will take the brunt. You will sometimes be tempted to take matters in your own hands to prove a point, even if it is against company policy or even illegal. (Yes, I did consider writing a virus to sabotage a certain operation at a previous job. And yes, I did withhold information about how to resolve a certain network security issue. Heck, they annoyed me!) But remember that you don’t have to prove a point. Just do your job well.
- Sometimes your boss or employer will not give you the tools you need to do your job, but you’ll still be expected to do it. Do the best with what you have and when targets can’t be met, you should be able to show clearly why they couldn’t be met.
About Human Resources
- The HR department is there to provide solutions to the human resources that exist in the organisation, not to be the organisation’s mouthpiece. If it can’t look out for the human resource, it is 50% useless. I’m not an HR practitioner, but that’s my logic based on 13 years in employment in very different environments, as well as a half-day HR management workshop for non-HR managers, courtesy of KSM Consultants.
- If you can help someone get a job, help them… In a legal, conscientious way. In the last 2½ years, I’ve helped 11 people get jobs and a couple more some years back. Not because I know people who know people that are related to friends who have neighbours that serve in church committees with cousins of employers, but simply by helping people prepare their CVs and application letters. Few things are as fulfilling as using your knowledge to help uplift someone’s life.
About Changing Jobs
- After you’ve left for a new opportunity, your successor or former colleagues may criticize you for decisions or actions you may have taken when you were at your previous job. But if you made those decisions with a clear conscience and to the best of your ability, given the resources available at the time, then it doesn’t matter what they say or think. You’ve gone to a better opportunity, so focus your energies on enjoying it.
- Regardless of how many of your colleagues do not genuinely celebrate your moving to greener pastures, maintain contact, within reason. One of you might need the other and help to advance each other’s careers. You may even need them for other things. For instance, a collosal amount of the finances I received for my wedding preps came from former workmates. Don’t burn bridges anyhow.