As we’ve all learned in our own individual post-college struggles, looking for a job is a job within itself. Day after day of firing out resumes, attaching cover letters, and filling out reference sheets proves to be an exhausting and unrewarding process.
It’s a daunting task that only gets worse over time because it’s not easy to talk about yourself that much, that consistently.
The bad news is once you’ve been lucky enough to find employment there’s a second job already awaiting you, in addition to one you’ve been hired to do. It’s called preparing to be an employee — getting to work on time, showing up with the appropriate attire, producing a friendly smile and positive attitude (fake or real), communicating with others about what has to be done, and acting like a normal member of society (even if you don’t feel like one).
These criterion have absolutely nothing to do with your actually work production at the office; rather, this is all on-the-surface shit that shouldn’t matter, but sadly does.
There’s no way of avoiding it, so here are 10 tips to help you become a better employee:
1. Have hobbies
It may sound like I’m blowing smoke, but fulfillment is the No. 1 key to productivity in the office. If you go out and enjoy a successful fishing trip or play 18 holes of golf over the weekend, then you’re going to come into the office laser focused and ready to dominate on Monday. You’re also going to have a more positive outlook on work (and life in general) that will attract the attention of co-workers and bosses alike, and possibly spread throughout the office. All this will work in your favor when a promotion becomes available.
Developing hobbies outside of the office early in your career will save you a lot of effort in the long term because they will keep you motivated to work hard in the office and give you something to look forward to and achieve outside of it.
When you’re able to finally run that 10K or win that poker tournament, you will feel hundred times as satisfied as the bozo who works two cubicles down from you and spends his weekends getting baked and watching Netflix.
In short, take care of yourself outside of your workplace and you will have a lot less trouble on your mind when you enter the building every morning.
2. Turn your phone off
Nothing will ruin your productivity then constantly checking for a barrage of updates on Twitter, Tinder, Instagram, and SnapChat. And no, turning your phone on airplane mode is not a viable solution. There are plenty of distracting games that could curtail your attention and deviate your mind from what you really should be doing.
There’s no question that having an entertainment resource like your phone can save you from a dull work day, but that’s the point of turning it off — you will be forced, though sheer boredom, to focus on the tasks at hand and get everything done on time.
3. Get plenty of sleep
Besides cell phones, I’d say lack of sleep is the second most detrimental thing to any work place. Yawning employees staring blanklessly at their computer screens is probably the most frightening sight for any boss in America.
If I were a manager and I could somehow achieve it without seeming like a fascist dictator, I’d mandate that all of my employees get nine hours of sleep per night. While some industries demand that their workers get half, or less than half, of this amount, I think that any company that triumphs for more sleep is one that would yield immediate positive results.
The more attentive an employee is — and the less exhausted he or she is, the more they can get done. Plus, less amount of stuff will have to be corrected and redone. It’s called efficiency for a reason.
4. Learn what you don’t know
It sounds basic and self-explanatory but I’m sure 99% of American employees eschew doing this on a weekly or, at least, monthly basis. Why? Because too many of us hide under the faulty logic that we have “too much on our plates” to try and learn something new — even if that something could help us get our work done quicker in the future.
It doesn’t make sense really if you spell it out like that, but trust me, we’ve all been guilty of this laziness at least once, if not multiple times.
The lesson: always be willing to learn something — you never know when it will come in handy and it’s a guaranteed way to get ahead of those around you. Speaking of…
5. Out hustle the competition
In the preamble when I listed off all the things you need to do to prepare to be an employee, there wasn’t any mention of showing up early to work. While your contract doesn’t say anything about getting into the office at 8:30, it is one of the best ways you can become a better employee. You can use that first half hour as strictly an adjustment period — you would anyways if you arrived on time at 9 — so by the time your co-workers arrive, you’re already a step ahead. Meeting or beating deadlines is a great way to stand out come review time.
Doing additional research on a client before a big meeting and discussing your findings face-to-face with your boss is always a good way to get noticed, too. While some may say you’re brown-nosing, they obviously don’t understand this isn’t high school anymore — it’s not a bad thing to impress your boss by going above and beyond what is asked of you.
The caveat of out hustling those around you is that you must make sure to get your job done first. No boss wants to see you doing extra work without finishing your priorities. While we’re on that note…
6. Realize your spot in the food chain
Or, don’t step on anybody’s toes.
I’m sure your boss has faults, but it’s not your job to pick them apart or even question them. Instead, you’re job is to make your manager successful — it’s that simple.
Being contentious won’t make anyone’s life easier, especially your own. In fact, challenging your superiors is the number one way to get canned. While your suggestion may ultimately save the company from a huge blunder, it is not your job to incessantly point out what is wrong. If there’s something that is failing in your office, then that’s your boss’s responsibility. Let him or her show why they earn the big bucks and why you’re merely a role player.
7. Pay attention
Part of understanding where you are in the corporate management chain is always paying attention to company news. That way you can never be blindsided or surprised with a development that seemingly came out of left field — like a massive overhaul of one department or the acquisition of another company. While this might not help you be better at completing your day-to-day tasks, it will show that you’re committed to your employer and that you like being part of the team.
Note: as much as we believe we’re in these jobs for our own interests (usually monetary), it’s always beneficial working together with others to come up with something that can help the company. No, you’re probably not a stockholder, but one day you might be.
8. Know your boss
Getting to know your boss’ idiosyncrasies — what he or she likes, how he or she operates— is important, but even more critical is realizing what they need to achieve and how they’d like to achieve it. This means understanding what he or she needs from you and how you need to deliver it to them.
In essence, this is your third job — don’t forget your manager’s preferences. You could look like an Armani model, show up at 7 every morning and be the biggest team player in the entire city, but it won’t matter if you forget that he likes getting reports in person and not via email.
9. Expect to do it yourself
The minute you think it’s your manager’s responsibility to babysit you is the minute you’re priming yourself to find a new job — don’t ever take the foot off the pedal. In the working world, there’s only one speed that everybody feels comfortable with and that’s fast. If you’re sitting around waiting for the light to change, then you’ve already done a great disservice to yourself, your co-workers, and your boss.
Somebody is taking notice; nobody in any office likes the employee who expects others to do the work for him or her.
10. Think on your toes
We haven’t talked about the customer, or client, much here because most of you are entry-level runts who are far from sniffing any meaningful, hands-on action. In case you’re an early riser in your company, then No. 10 could be most applicable to you then any other point on this list: you have to be able to create and offer solutions.
This requires a substantial amount of improvisation and flexibility, but that shouldn’t be sacrificed for other skills like organization and communication. Meaning, if you pitch an idea, you have to be able to back it up and perform it — be able to do what you say, not say what you could do. It’s always about execution.